Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's not just Israel: How Obama undermines US allies


For those worried that US President Barack Obama is particularly antagonistic toward Israel, there's good news and bad news: The good news is that Israel is hardly Obama's obsession; the bad news is that his administration's conduct toward it is consistent with its pattern of backing away from embattled American allies - a predictable byproduct of Obama's approach to foreign policy through dictator outreach.
Obama, more than any recent president, has made his own personality and identity cornerstones of American diplomacy. He assumes his potent charm can bend America's adversaries his way, that American history began anew on January 20, 2009 and that hostilities can be resolved through dialogue with him. His tactic of choice has been to visit a troubled region, apologize to the local authoritarians for America's sinful pre-Obama history, disavow acts of previous administrations and suggest that he brings with him a diplomatic "reset-button."

But there are dangerous repercussions to conducting such personality-focused foreign policy: By promoting his unique diplomatic touch as the key to rapprochement, any failure by Obama to harmonize hostile relationships indicates the insufficiency of his skills.

Accordingly, in practice, hostile governments have learned that Obama sets lofty diplomatic goals in public, but is willing to cut almost any deal to keep up appearances. He has made countless concessions and conciliatory gestures to Iran, the Arab world, China, Russia and Venezuela, vainly urging some demonstration of good faith in return. Yet time and again, seeing no downside, America's adversaries simply pocket the concessions without reciprocating.

Refusing to concede any error, Obama has instead doubled his diplomatic bets, paying in the currency preferred by the hostile regimes: by jettisoning the interests of US allies who are thorns in their sides.

Obama has vocally criticized Israeli security policy, coerced a settlement freeze and put the status of established Jerusalem neighborhoods in question. Yet the Arab governments and Palestinian leadership keep moving the diplomatic goalposts, making no concessions, knowing he will only increase pressure on Israel to restart the "peace process."

Obama's one-sided pressure against Israel has earned him, according to an August Jerusalem Post poll, the assessment of only 4 percent of Jewish Israelis that his administration is pro-Israel.

But it's not just Israel. In April he praised "the Czech Republic and Poland, [who] have been courageous in agreeing to host" a missile-defense system, promising deployment "as long as the threat from Iran persists." By July, though the threat from Iran certainly persisted, Obama caved in to Russian objections, abandoning the missile-shield along with those courageous Czechs and Poles.

In Honduras, his administration backed the reinstatement of a power-usurping, Chavez-allied anti-American president in spite of the legal democratic process which had removed him.

In Iran, Obama still talks of engaging the mullahs and slowing down sanctions even as the theo-fascists thumb their noses, ramping up their nuclear capability and mowing down democratic protesters holding signs saying "Obama, are you with us or against us?"

From China, Obama had high hopes for progress on human rights and cooperation regarding Iran and North Korea. He got nothing, save for an ironic lecture on fiscal responsibility from the communist government.

Is there a threatened ally he has ever stood up for? If I were Taiwan, I'd be worried.

OBAMA TRULY believes in his special persuasive powers. "I have a gift," he is famously reported to have said to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. During the campaign, the crux of his foreign policy was his eagerness to immediately meet the world's most brutal dictators and enemies of America, without preconditions; he would personally make them less antagonistic. He wants to hold a Muslim summit, since "I have lived in a Muslim country" [as a schoolboy], "I know it is possible to reconcile Islam with modernity and respect for human rights and a rejection of violence."

Well, that's a relief.

Obama's belief in his own powers was reinforced by a love-struck press. After his vaguely messianic campaign and inauguration, Newsweek's Evan Thomas typified the mood, hyperventilating that Obama was "standing above the country... above the world. He's sort of God." But once president, reality intruded: The leaders of Russia, China and North Korea don't believe in God. And the Islamist God is somewhat less warm and fuzzy than Barack Obama.

With nothing to show for his efforts, Obama's continued belief in his ability to pacify adversaries by personal appeal is as delusional as it is dangerous. Nations don't have personal friends; they have interests. And American interests are not advanced by presidential groveling, but by creating the right mix of carrots and sticks to induce desired behavior.

Obama's willingness to sacrifice embattled allies to appease hostile regimes ultimately weakens America. As Bernard Lewis has said: "A nation can make few mistakes worse than this: to be harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend."

Especially when that nation gets nothing in return.

The writer is an American attorney and political commentator currently living in Jerusalem.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1263147976942&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull

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