Saturday, May 17, 2008

George Bush Flunks His Final Exam in Foreign Policy 101

Wikipedia is usually useful in establishing a neutral frame of reference:
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics and culture. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or polite manner. Diplomatic recognition in international law is a unilateral political act, with domestic and international legal consequences, whereby a state acknowledges an act or status of another state or government. Recognition can be accorded either de facto or de jure, usually by a statement of the recognising government. Recognition of a government implies recognition of the state it governs, but not vice versa ... De jure recognition is of course stronger, while de facto recognition is more tentative and more connected with effective control of the recognized state over its territory .....
To save time this morning, I'll let a couple of other articulate observors make my points.

Jon B. Alterman is director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to joining CSIS, he served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

So, first I present exhibit 1, Alterman on Bush:

It has become impossible to credibly argue that the Bush Administration's Middle East policies have advanced the national interests of the United States.

On every issue that the administration has prioritized -- promoting Arab-Israeli peace, liberating Lebanon from Syrian and Iranian influence, democratizing Egypt, stabilizing Iraq, and containing Iran -- America's foes have grown stronger and its allies have grown weaker. Even more troublingly, virtually all of these problems are worsening as the administration prepares to leave office.

The problem is not merely one of happenstance or bad luck. Instead, it has to do with fundamental errors in analysis and planning, an intolerance of ambiguity, and a deeply flawed assessment of the capacities of American power. . . .

But there was an equally important failing. That was the conviction that among the most powerful tools that the U.S. government could use against its foes was withholding recognition and refusing dialogue. It is hard to find a single instance in which such boycotts were effective. Rather than being on the ropes, the targets of those efforts -- Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian and Iranian governments, and more -- are all far more secure than they were two years ago. That's not a birth pang of democracy, it's a whiff of failure.

Next, exhibit 2, a conservative columnist who needs no introduction, David Brooks, channels Barack Obama from his interview notes:

. . . . . Obama being Obama, he understood the broader reason I was asking about Lebanon. Everybody knows that Obama is smart (and he was quite well informed about Lebanon). The question is whether he’s seasoned and tough enough to deal with implacable enemies ... Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that
they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims ... [but] ... if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that. That’s an evolution that should be recognized.

The debate we’re going to be having with John McCain is how do we understand the blend of military action to diplomatic action that we are going to undertake. I constantly reject this notion that any hint of strategies involving diplomacy are somehow soft or indicate surrender or means that you are not going to crack down on terrorism. Those are the terms of debate that have led to blunder after blunder.
Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does:
The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough.
I asked him if negotiating with a theocratic/ideological power like Iran is different from negotiating with a nation that’s primarily pursuing material interests. He acknowledged that
If your opponents are looking for your destruction it’s hard to sit across the table from them ... There are rarely purely ideological movements out there. We can encourage actors to think in practical and not ideological terms. We can strengthen those elements that are making practical calculations.
Obama doesn’t broadcast moral disgust when talking about terror groups, but he said that in some ways he’d be tougher than the Bush administration. He said he would do more to arm the Lebanese military and would be tougher on North Korea.
This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans ... It’s an argument between ideology and foreign policy realism. I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the early 1990s, the Democrats and the first Bush administration had a series of arguments — about humanitarian interventions, whether to get involved in the former Yugoslavia, and so on. In his heart, Obama talks like the Democrats of that era, viewing foreign policy from the ground up. But in his head, he aligns himself with the realist dealmaking of the first Bush. Apparently, he’s part Harry Hopkins and part James Baker.

This column by Brooks corroborates my thinking. Obama can insert a terminal punctuation to the Bush-McCain apostasy in American foreign policy. We can believe in our hopes and Obama's promise for a restoration of our American traditions of realism, sanity and legitimate leadership of the free world.

Obama is the one who can put America Barack on track!