October 13, 2009
Obama and the Foreign Policy of the Empty SuitBy Abraham H. Miller
Having been one of the journalistic minions to have protected Barack Obama from scrutiny, Newsweek's Howard Fineman has finally figured out what many of us knew. Obama is an empty suit who thinks he can talk his way around anything.
Fineman is upset about what Obama didn't accomplish: the public option, falling over a cliff; cap and trade, all but dissecating on the floor of the House; and the closing of Gitmo, still open after all these months.
From my perspective, these policies ran into a wall of common sense. But unlike Fineman my exuberance is tempered by what Obama has accomplished, especially in foreign affairs.
Here, he has deserted our friends and encouraged our enemies. Jacob Heilbrunn writing in the Huffington Post might think Obama's Iran policy is brilliant, but I doubt if anyone other than some true believers hold that opinion.
Without getting anything from Russia, Obama reneged on commitments to the Czech Republic and to Poland. Russian President Medvedev doesn't anticipate volunteering anything either. In his words, the commitments were bad policy and Obama merely returned to common sense. Obama cheerleaders are seeing this as bringing Russia into the fold on the confrontation with Iran.
Russia, however, seems to be walking off in a different direction. After Iran's test launching a series of missiles with a capacity of hitting Europe, Russian officials said
that we should not make too much of this.
The emergence of a second reactor (are there others?) should only confirm the obvious. Iran is hell bent on having a militarized nuclear capacity. All discussions, meetings, and negotiations are designed as a means to use delay and obfuscation to achieve this goal.
The Russians and the Chinese, for that matter, have shown that they are not concerned about Iran's nuclear program. In their short-sighted view of nuclear proliferation, they see this as another set of weapons aimed at the West.
Infatuated with the power of his own rhetorical skills, President Obama thinks that "engagement" can suddenly reverse Iran's desire to become a nuclear power.
Meanwhile Israel's ability to strike at Iran has been circumscribed by both Obama's diplomatic maneuvering isolating Israel and the administration's linkage of the building of a house in East Jerusalem with Iran's security needs.
The reality that Obama and most liberals fail to confront is that they can talk endlessly about multiculturalism on one hand and the international legal system on the other and not see the contradiction.
The international legal system, as the brilliant legal scholar Ada Bozeman argued, is an outgrowth of Roman law and the Western legal tradition. These ideas have little resonance to the historical and cultural experiences of the non-Western world. Non-Westerners have their own views of the international legal system, but they have long ago learned to mouth the words and sign the documents that make it appear they are playing by the same rules.
Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation agreement, a decision that gave it benefits (nuclear technology) and responsibilities (non-proliferation). Iran has availed itself of the benefits but not complied with the responsibilities. Given the nature of the Iranian regime and its cultural locus, did one expect otherwise?
Few take the time to ask what "multiculturalism" means in the world of international diplomacy. What does it mean when a theocracy like Iran signs an agreement based on secular law emanating from a different cultural tradition? Obviously, those are questions that no one in the administration cares to ask.
For Obama , the answer to the current crisis is to get Iran to reaffirm its commitment to non-proliferation and to admit inspectors. But as Saddam Hussein taught the world, "inspection" itself has more meanings than Bill Clinton's use of the word "is."
Does anyone believe the Iran can envision an end game where it does not have a nuclear weapons capability?
So, where does that leave us? Absolutely nowhere and the Iranians know it. Israel is not going to bomb Iran without refueling rights over Iraq or Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration lacks the leadership to take on Iran.
Obama will make happy talk over "engagement," and "sanctions." Engagement will be used by the Iranians to stall for time, and sanctions of an oil rich country with porous border have as much chance of working as "oil for food" did.
Prepare to treat Iran as a nuclear power and prepare also for the consequences of the dissemination of nuclear devices to those who share its Jihadist eschatology. The Mahdi is coming, according to Ahmadinejad.. Barack Obama will issue a video tape to the people of Iran to praise the Mahdi's imminent return. The Huffington Post will report on how brilliant Obama's video was. Those who object will be chastised by Thomas Friedman as violating the civility obligations of democracy. Obama will then go on David Letterman to say that the benefits of a nuclear Iran are yet to be appreciated. The audience will applaud with the same gusto as the French applauded Moliere, totally unaware they were applauding the ethos of their own demise.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and former chairman of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.