Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today's Reading Assignments

A couple of worthy articles, which remind of an axiom from George H.W. Bush. As the 41st President once observed, "What you don't know about domestic policy will keep you from getting re-elected; what you don't know about foreign policy will get a lot of people killed."

Flash forward 20 years; so far, Barack Obama's international miscues haven't resulted in mass casualties, but the potential for catastrophe is clear. Writing in today's Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes that the President's policy of "engagement with our adversaries" (above all else) has been a colossal failure when it comes to Iran and North Korea:

North Korea responded to administration outreach by testing a nuclear weapon, firing missiles toward U.S. allies, resuming plutonium reprocessing and threatening the United States with a "fire shower of nuclear retaliation." During congressional testimony, Clinton admitted, "At this point [it] seems implausible, if not impossible, the North Koreans will return to the six-party talks and begin to disable their nuclear capacity again."

The Iranian regime's reaction to engagement was to cut the ribbon on a nuclear enrichment facility, add centrifuges, conduct a fraudulent election, and kill and imprison a variety of political opponents. Regarding administration overtures, Clinton recently told the BBC, "We haven't had any response. We've certainly reached out and made it clear that's what we'd be willing to do . . . but I don't think they have any capacity to make that kind of decision right now."

As Mr. Gerson observes, the Obama team has blamed "non-engagement" by previous administrations (read: George W. Bush) for non-existent relations with Pyongyang and Tehran. But such claims are hardly accurate; during his second term, Mr. Bush and his advisers, led by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, made a several overtures to both regimes. In return, Iran accelerated its nuclear development program and increased its meddling in Iraq; North Korea conducted its first-ever nuclear test, and introduced its first crude ICBM, capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.

Besides, the "Blame Bush" rationale is getting a little lame. Six months into his presidency, Mr. Obama owns both problems--for better or worse--and what happens next will be determined largely by his actions, not those of Bush #43.

"...can the lack of a serious conversation with Iran -- or with North Korea -- now credibly be blamed on the previous administration? Obama's diplomatic hand has been extended for a while now. Fists remain clenched. This is not because some magical diplomatic words remain unspoken. It is because of the nature of oppressive regimes themselves."


The Obama administration's public campaign of engaging enemies is headed toward an entirely unintended consequence. Eventually it will raise expectations for action. As the extended hand is slapped again and again, the goals of North Korea and Iran will be fully revealed and the cost to American credibility will rise. Already the administration has given Iran a September deadline to respond to the offer of talks and has threatened "crippling action" if Iran achieves nuclear capabilities. Congress is preparing sanctions on Iranian refined petroleum, which would escalate tensions significantly.

Making matters worse, both Pyongyang and Tehran are fully prepared to call Washington's bluff. With Mr. Obama refusing to respond--or responding with half-hearted measures--Iran and North Korea will escalate the regional crises, and the U.S. will be exposed as impotent on the world stage.

At that point, the Israeli Air Force will head east; Iran will respond with its counter-attacks, and the Middle East's nuclear genie will permanently escape his bottle. On the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jong-il (or his military) will continue to ratchet up tensions, conducting more missile and nuclear tests that will likely lead to a clash with U.S. and South Korean forces. After that, anything could happen. The number of lives lost in both regions could be staggering.

In a similar vein, Thomas Sowell offers the following observation in his latest National Review column: "..if the worst that Barack Obama does is ruin the economy, I will breathe a sigh of relief."

A scary thought, indeed.


David Pelfrey said...

First, a very nicely argued and presented post. Second, as your post in part suggests, Bush 43’s diplomacy and policies toward Tehran and Pyongyang did not achieve results that heightened the security of the United States and its allies. At the same time, the Obama administration’s change of diplomatic tack as it sails into these troubled waters has so far proven just as fruitless.

That both of these very different diplomatic approaches have not proven themselves out suggests that some factor aside from diplomatic philosophy is influencing the behavior of our adversaries. One such factor could perhaps be military overextension. Pyongyang in particular may view the U.S. military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan as precluding a large-scale military effort against its regime. It would not be the first time in history that North Korea has made such miscalculations. In any event, if we were to deal with a nuclear Iran and North Korea, it would be very wise to adjust our global military position and economy so that any diplomatic effort does not appear to be a paper tiger.

Kind Regards,

lgude said...

Obama certainly pleasantly surprised me with his reappointment of Gates, but certainly has performed as promised with his charm offensive against Iran and NK - with just the kind of results that I expected and you describe in your post. I think it is timely to start looking at the potential for either situation to escalate into a serious war. I don't know how we deal with NK given Chinese patronage, but if we don't act on Iran then I agree that Israel will probably act as you point out and we will still have to deal with the consequences. Given that the Iranian regime is shaky I would think this is the time to get really tough on them. I don't think he will regulate oil speculation because of the green lobby, but it sure would sure help his popularity and give Iran fits.

city said...

"can the lack of a serious conversation with Iran -- or with North Korea -- now credibly be blamed on the previous administration?"

No, Obama should have already fixed in six months what Bush couldn't in eight years. There are also a few minor economic issues he's been distracted with.

tfhr said...


Who had the situation with North Korea and Iran "fixed" prior to Bush taking office? Either Bush.

I think you're missing the point and probably doing so deliberately. Neither North Korea nor Iran negotiate in good faith and for Obama to campaign in an election season as though these two despotic nations are just misunderstood simply stretches the limits of the word "disingenuous" while the rest of us are left with the "HOPE" that our President's naivete is only temporary.

J. said...

"What you don't know about domestic policy will keep you from getting re-elected; what you don't know about foreign policy will get a lot of people killed."

Yes, certainly GWB has shown the truth of that statement, let alone you're waiting for Obama to make similar mistakes. The next year is going to be much more telling than this short six month intro. Better you keep your powder dry until then.