Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama’s ‘Soft Power’ Strategy Makes U.S. Look Weak

James Carafano, PhD, Presidential Policy: Does It Make the Grade?

Last week, Washington seemed to lose more ground in dealing with its most intransigent foreign policy challenges.
Topping foreign policy news for the week was Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea where he got to “grip and grin” with the supreme leader Kim Jong-Il and secure the release of two American journalists imprisoned in the country. Sending Clinton, essentially Kim’s price for releasing the two Americans, was a mistake, argues Heritage North Korean expert Bruce Klingner. “Clinton’s mission risks undermining ongoing international efforts to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. The Obama Administration should have instead insisted on resolving the issue through existing diplomatic channels, including special envoy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth.” Rather than seeing how the crisis unfolded as good news, Klingner concluded, “Clinton's visit has roiled the North Korean policy waters beyond their already tumultuous state. There are great uncertainties over North Korean and U.S. intentions, escalating the risk of miscalculation, confrontation, and crisis.” While it is great to have the journalists back home, allowing North Korea to orchestrate the event may have the perverse affect of making it harder not easier to manage the rogue regime.

Other breaking national security news involved another troubling state – Russia. Last week several news agencies broke the story of Russian nuclear subs resuming patrols off the US coast. Also making headlines were new reports of Russian arms sales to Venezuela. According to one press report, “President Hugo Chávez said Venezuela would purchase dozens of Russian tanks, in a move signaling growing military ties between the two countries that have frequently clashed with Washington.”

Iran has been sending tough signals to Washington as well. Recently, an editorial in Conservative Iranian daily concluded, according to a translation provided by MEMRI.org that “the Americans are sending a desperate message to the world, begging Iran for dialogue.” Last week, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in to a second term as president (despite continuing protests over claims of election fraud) he showed little interest in playing nice with the United States. His speech included a rebuke of the West as well as an affirmation of a determination that Iran would play a lead role in managing the world. Meanwhile, in what seems like an instant reply of what happened in North Korea, Iranian officials claimed to have arrested three Americans that strayed across the border into Iran.

The administration had little to say about of any of these incidents.

By electing not to speak out forcefully on Russia’s muscle flexing in the Western Hemisphere; Iran’s intransigence over its nuclear program; or showing much outrage over incarcerating American citizens in Iran and North Korea and then using them for “bargaining chips,” the administration looks weak. In addition, its vaunted “soft power” campaign focused on negotiation and accommodation appears only to be encouraging these countries to be more, not less belligerent.

FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is a leading expert in defense affaires, intelligence, military operations and strategy, and homeland security

at the Heritage Foundation. Feedback: editorialdirector@familysecuritymatters.or

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