Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

11/9/2008

Obama Already Failing on Foreign Policy

Filed under: General,Politics,World — Tags: , , — Dangerous Dan @ 12:56 am

During the campaign, Joe Biden infamously observed that now President-elect Obama would be intentionally challenged with a foreign policy crisis within the administration's first six months, a statement he then followed up by stating that it won't be initially apparent that they're right (no word on whether they'd subsequently appear right either).

"Mark my words.  It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate.  And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you – not financially to help him – we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."

Obama is certainly setting things up nicely for that test.  Despite contrary assertions from Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Obama's people have said the following concerning the President-elect's commitment to the missile shield in Poland and eastern Europe:

President Kaczynski raised missile defense, but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign: that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable.

That's real inspiring talk for our allies.  Unfortunately, it really does inspire the Russians, whom the statement is meant to placate.  Russia, under the tender leadership of Vladimir Putin, has been gradually re-Sovietizing and flexing its military and international muscle.  The U.S. has already been soft on this power that is openly challenging it.  We keep politically couching the terms under which the missile shield is being positioned as being for protecting those countries from rogue regimes like Iran.  We may as well be honest about the shield's role in largely opposing Russian aggression, especially as exemplified and proven in the invasion of Georgia.  Russia for its part isn't fooled in the least and has deployed missiles explicitly to counter the shield as well as issued thinly veiled threats that missiles in Poland would make a natural target in case of a conflict (as if it wasn't already a target).

Obama, though, is stepping the vacillation up a notch by declaring 'no commitment' to the shield (apparently a variation on voting 'present').  Obama and his supporters may perceive this as nuance or not wanting to unnecessarily agitate a powerful state.  Russia, however, doesn't need reasons to be agitated nor does it need excuses.  It only wants them and when they're not presented, it will merely create them.  Where Obama sees nuance, Putin sees weakness.  Weakness to be exploited.  A fundamental mistake in the west is to believe tyrants are reasonable men who, like themselves, can be reasoned with.  Tyrants rule by force and see the world as one in which enemies must be crushed if possible or exploited and fooled if not.  The reasonableness of reasonable men is only something to be turned against them to the tyrant's advantage.  Saddam tried to keep the international community dithering in 2003 so that an invasion would not occur.  Iran has succeeded in keeping the world dithering for the past five years, making the chance of any kind of substantive action against it negligible.  North Korea has nearly perfected the art of rattling sabres, appearing to back down, rattling again for concessions, and appealing to other countries' charity for the suffering of its people, a suffering it created.

Russia, of course, is a much bigger, more powerful nation than these, and Putin is a master in manipulative statecraft.  Few politicians can match his cunning and raw will.  After eight years of dealing with him, Bush still isn't in his league.  Obama, with no international experience, protestations of international cooperation resulting from American abdication to the right of unilateralism, waffling on steadfast American posturing and support for allies, and coming into office when Putin is already at full stride… well, Obama is at best a triple-AAA player compared to Putin's MVP major leaguer.

As if Obama's no commitment position wasn't bad enough, his spokesman threw in the stipulation that the technology will be deployed when workable.  Considering missile interceptors have already proven their workability, though not perfection, in several tests, it's not clear what more Obama wants until it gets his stamp of approval.  Unfortunately, the missile interceptor has long been a target of liberals, who ostensibly opposed it because of expense and initial poor tests.  This means it's likely to be cut in an Obama administration.  The problem here is that no technology is perfect, good, or even necessarily reliable when it's first introduced.  It requires investment, testing, and improvement.  Many on the left, though, have shown little patience with any of this and use initial failure as an excuse for cancellation of projects.  Many of the same also believe that investment in military technology is unnecessary due to America's already clear technological advantage among the world's militaries.  Aside from the silliness of this position and how it ignores that it was only previous investment that got us here, it's not entirely true.  China has already demonstrated its intentions of directly targeting our technological edge by shooting down a satellite and continually probing our computer security.  Both Russia and China have begun deeply investing in their militaries and are trying to modernize them closer to U.S. abilities or at least to counteract our strengths.  While we are now focusing more attention on asymmetric warfare against enemies such as Iraqi insurgents, this is no time to be idyll when it comes to conventional warfare.  Major threats against the U.S., its allies, and its interests still exist in the world.

Biden made an interesting comparison to JFK.  Kennedy may have faced an intentional international test in the Cuban Missile Crisis, but interestingly, he helped invite it.  His actions in the Bay of Pigs were interpreted as weakness by the Soviets.  At least when the big test came, he passed it.  I'm not so confident Obama would do the same.  Kennedy was one of the last prominent Democratic hawks before the absorption of the New Liberal peace lobbies in the 60's and 70's eviscerated the party's guts.  Obama on the other hand is a product of that evisceration and he hasn't the will the party once had in Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy.  His one other response to international crisis, Russia's Georgia adventure, certainly does not make one think of Jack Kennedy.  It makes one think of a Eurocrat.

At least one former president we can be sure Obama is not is Ronald Reagan.  In the 80's, Reagan took technology that didn't work and pretended it did when he supported the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, aka Star Wars).  His bluff fooled the USSR and they invested resources they didn't have in their attempt to counter it.  Obama is using the opposite tactic by taking technology that works and pretending it doesn't.  Reagan's action helped destroy the Soviet Union.  What shall we suppose will be the result of Obama's decision?

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