Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy Tragi-Comedy

Recent events surrounding some of Sen. Obama's advisors, especially Greg Craig, have prompted many of us to take a closer look into what substance (if any) there might be to Obama's pronouncements about his 'transformational' foreign policy initiatives. First, we should take a look at the advisors he listens to:

Anthony Lake | Susan Rice | Denis McDonough | John Brennan | Gregory Craig | Richard Danzig | Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration | Ben Rhodes | Gayle Smith | Amb. Jeffrey Bader | Mark Brzezinski | Zbigniew Brzezinski | Joesph Cirincione | Richard Clarke | Roger Cressey | Ivo Daalder | Philip Gordon | Lee Hamilton | Lawrence Korb | Daniel Kutzer | James Ludes Robert Malley | Patrick Murphy | Samantha Power | Bruce Reidel | Sarah Sewell | Daniel Shapiro | Ted Sorenson | Mona Sutphen

Quite a list, isn't it? The Obama Power Foreign Policy Team - Ready to Step Up to the Plate and Take Charge, on Day Two, presumably. Now let's separate the wheat from the chaff. The important players are
here with a thumbnail portrait of their several POVs:

Tony Lake and Susan Rice are veterans of Bill Clinton's administration, known for their leftward leanings in debates.

Sarah Sewell helped write Gen. Petraeus' new counterinsurgency field manual.

Samantha "Hillary is a monster" Power is the firebrand Irish journalist who has made a name for herself attempting to 'revolutionize US foreign policy.

Gregory Craig is a top gunslinger, 'trial' lawyer who has defended, among others, Bill Clinton in the Impeachment trial in the US Senate, John Hinckley (Reagan would-be assassin), Elian Gonzalez (immigration dust-up that tanked Gore in Florida), Kofi Annan (UN corruption charges) and last but not least, notorious alleged murderer of US soldiers in Panama, Pedro Pinzon.

Richard Clarke is well known as the indefatigable Cassandra of the intelligence community

Robert Malley is a notorious Palestinian supporter whose middle east think tank: The International Crisis Group is dedicated to presenting the arab-african viewpoint on the conflict, or more accurately the anti-Israel viewpoint.

Zbigniew Brzezinski is a legendary cold warrior whose roots in opposition to the Soviet empire are well documented.

The question is: What do these people have in common? How does it appear to affect Sen. Obama? and... who is running the puppet show here?

Brzezinski, of course, is the Grand Old Man of this group, as National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, he has the oldest and closest experience of how to wield power in the real world, but his focus (not unlike Condi Rice) is purely on the battle of the superpowers, the adversary for him was, is and always will be: Russia. Not that he doesn't understand that there is a 'middle-east', it's just not important.

Bob Malley is the known Palestinian POV for this group, while they all lean in the anti-Israeli direction, Malley is more of the "From the River to the Sea" radical. He argues for including Hamas and Hezbollah in whatever talks there are despite their oft-stated desire to drive the jews into the sea.

Dick Ckarke I would view as a resource for intelligence and process. I spoke with him when he was on a Homeland Security tour, several years ago, talking to the technology crowd on cyber security risks. He struck me as a careful thinker, not given to speculation or magical thinking of any sort.

The coterie of Lake, Rice Sewell and Power are probably the inner group most likely to have Obama's ear on a regular basis. This is not to say that others (Brzezinski, for example) do not have agendas of their own but, given the tone an tenor of Obama's few statements about foreign policy, this group seems to hold sway at the moment.

The general direction of Obama's Foreign Policy (OFP) is that of reaction to the perceived oppression of the Palestinians by the state of Israel. In the simplistic world of Obama-think there is no thread through the maze, there is no maze, in fact. Complex issues of peoples, rights and history assume a crystal-like clarity once you pare away the nuance and identify a victim and an oppressor.

It is the lack of historical knowledge that cripples the OFP. Certainly, the OFP is middle-east centric, despite the presence of Brzezinski, there is almost no acknowledgment of Russia's new found power and wealth, of China's continued surge in Asia, of the emergence of Venezuela and Brazil as new powers, nor the far-reaching ambitions of Iran in the Gulf region - other than their appearance as an opponent of Israel and supporter of Hezbollah.

Indeed, the entire OFP seems to be a rather simple-minded reaction to Bush administration policies: whatever they did, we'll do the opposite. They went to war, so we'll stop fighting - anyone. They won't talk to their adversaries, so we will - with no preparation. They supported Israel, so we'll support Hamas and Hezbollah. These are the policies of children. There is no grasp of the inherent complexities of dealing with real people and their very real agendas. Simply stating that "we'll all sit down around a table and work things out" is delusional nonsense. It also exposes naiveté of a quite dangerous sort: assuming that those people across the table think and speak in the same metaphorical universe as you is an invitation to disaster in negotiation. The very thought of a President Obama sitting down with the various middle east constituencies, who have been dealing in the 'Souk' for four thousand years and expecting to connect because of his schoolboy days in Indonesia, is ludicrous. The Arabs will have him for breakfast ...and then the Chinese will have him for lunch.

Obama's limited and wrong-headed knowledge of geography, ethnology and politics is frightening to contemplate. To aver that the Afghans are lacking Arab translators isn't a simple misstatement, it is a tacit confession that he lacks any understanding whatsoever of the actual situation on the ground in that part of the world. Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis - whatthehell they all look alike.

Here's the point: it isn't enough to rope in some old guard cold warriors, hysterical firebrands, high powered, guns-for-hire lawyers and radical ideologues. Mushing them together doesn't get you a viable worldview, a coherent strategy or a workable foreign policy. You, the leader, must have a deep and strong understanding of how the world works, who has a bone in which fight, what they might be willing to give up to get what they can live with. This doesn't come from pre-digested think tank scenarios, cooked up by a random gathering of advisors.

Rather it comes from doing the cold dreary work of diplomacy, day after day, year after year. That way you gain -dare I say it? - the experience to understand both what you're hearing ...and not hearing; to be able to read between the lines; to detect and respond to a nuanced exchange of views. Working with community organizers on South Side Chicago just doesn't cut it.

America needs to be able to talk to its adversaries and its friends, we need to be able to tell the difference. We have suffered a drastic drop in global esteem not because we are powerful - we are, not because we are arrogant - and we are that, too - but because we have been stupid for the last seven years and everyone in the world knows it. We cannot afford to be stupid anymore, we cannot afford child-like naiveté, we cannot afford to abandon old allies or to credulously acquire new ones. The Obama Foreign Policy offers all these flaws and more: Obama's Foreign Policy offers up America to shame and humiliation, to retribution and retaliation. Obama offers to make America the chamberpot for all the ills, real or imagined, of every injured party, past or present, anywhere in the world. Simply put, Obama's Foreign Policy can be summed up in two words: America Last.

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