Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama on Iran: Have you been reading your intelligence briefings?


18 May 2009 03:54 PM PDT
Here's what President Obama said about Iran:

"Their elections will be completed in June, and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process that's already in place, potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran." Well, the Spiritual Guide has instructed people not to vote for candidates who aren't anti-Western. He has his own guy named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who doesn't strike me as the shrinking violet type.

The top Iranian leadership has made Ahmadinejad their candidate not because they are preparing for serious compromise or meaningful talks but precisely because they aren't.

So the question is whether engagement is going to be:

A. For show followed eventually by a tougher U.S. policy.

B. Because Obama seriously thinks it might work but after he gets nothing will understand things better.

C. Obama wants to pretend that his engagement policy is a big success and so will assert that great progress has been made even when it hasn't.

There are U.S. officials who hold each of these views.

I'm tempted to say that after June the Iranian regime is going to P5 all over the West and especially the Obama administration.

But I won't.

Is Anyone Going to Do Anything that Obama Asks?

Posted: 18 May 2009 03:37 PM PDT
Here's an interesting way to look at things: Nobody does what America asks them to do.

The Europeans turned President Obama down flat on all his requests.

Pakistan is only fighting the Taliban to the minimal extent needed to avoid being overthrown. It doesn't fight that hard to wipe out al-Qaida and the country's intelligence services are probably helping both these groups.

Iran doesn't stop building nuclear weapons.

Syria doesn't stop sending terrorists across into Iraq or other countries.

Arab states don't help very much with the peace process.

Israel isn't going to risk its existence if the White House says to do so.

And so on. What we see here is a limit on U.S. power. It is no doubt exacerbated when people don't take the United States seriously as a tough, determined country. Even when the United States does act this way, they doubt its staying power.

One lesson is that multilateralism is not a magic wand for solving problems.

Another is that after you apologize for past use of power and leadership, insist you're going to listen to what everyone else wants, and put a priority on conciliating your enemies, other countries are not inclined to follow your lead.

In other words, Obama has been sabotaging his own effectiveness.

President Teddy Roosevelt memorably said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." And he got the Panama Canal built and earned a Nobel Peace Prize for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war.

He didn't say, "Speak softly and apologize a lot."

Can the Obama administration even succeed in a very small, specific task, say to reform the UN human rights' committee?

On the other hand, though, how much can everyone want to play by Politically Correct rules when they look at Sri Lanka. The government finally defeated a long insurgency by taking off the gloves, launching a major offensive, ignoring civilian casualties, and following through--without foreign interference--to victory.

Countries wanting U.S. and European support aren't allowed to do things that way. Enemies are, or in the Sri Lankan case, countries that fall off the radar. We saw the same thing with the Algerian defeat of the Islamist insurgency there.

Contrary to what many think, we did not see that kind of thing in Israel's defensive wars against Hizballah in 2006 or Hamas in 2009. That's not all due to U.S. policy, of course, but these distinctions should be kept in mind.

As for the current U.S. government, the difference between domestic and foreign policies is that the government controls a lot more variables in the former category. No matter how much the "beautiful people" love Obama at home (and say they do so in Europe), doesn't make him more effective internationally.

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