Escalating fallout from President Obama's castigation of a Massachusetts police officer could damage the credibility of a leader who speaks boldly about complex foreign policy matters without showing comprehension of the underlying issues. If Obama rushed to judgment without knowing all the facts about an arrest in Cambridge, what does this tell us about the basis for his foreign policy pronouncements?
Indisputably, the President knows less about the Middle East and other overseas regions than he does about Cambridge, where he spent three years at Harvard Law School. Obama's initial reaction --castigating the policeman for supposedly acting "stupidly" -- was based on assumptions (some would call them prejudices) anchored in the President's belief system.
On several different fronts, Obama's foreign policy initiatives are likewise being challenged as based on warped analysis. Mackubin Thomas Owens, a professor at the Naval War College and recipient of a Silver Star for valor as a combat officer in Vietnam, asserts in the Wall Street Journal that in foreign policy "Obama has demonstrated a disturbing propensity to curry favor with our adversaries at the expense of our friends." As cases in point, Owens -- who is editor of the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute -- cites Obama's abandonment of the Czechs and the Poles to placate Russia over placement of missile defense and "Obama's attempted bullying" of Israel.
Like other analysts, Owens shows that Obama's pressure on Israel is counterproductive, in that it encourages the Palestinians to believe they need not make any concessions because the U.S will "deliver" Israel. After a July13 meeting with American Jewish representatives hand-picked by the White House, the Administration hastened to suggest that it was equivalently pressuring the Arabs.
Ira Forman, CEO of a cheerleading crew known as the National Jewish Democratic Council, circulated Obama's claim that "we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street." When I e-mailed Forman to ask for the proof, I was referred to NJDC's website, which contains no such proof. The Administration has not coherently explained why all its visible pressure in the Middle East -- to the extent of repudiating assurances given Israel by President Bush -- is applied against a democracy which has already made massive tangible concessions, e.g., the Oslo Accords and withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon (for each of which it was rewarded with a war aimed its civilian population).
Obama displayed the chutzpah to tell Israel's leaders, who - -unlike him -- are experienced in matters of war and peace, to engage in "serious self-reflection." No symmetrical suggestion was directed to the Arabs, who refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and demand the "Right of Return" for four million allleged refugees.
Are Obama's views about the Middle East skewered by some of the misapprehensions revealed in his Cairo speech to the Muslim world, e.g., that Jewish attachment to Israel commenced in the 1940s, that Palestinian displacement is similar to the Holocaust or that there are seven millions Muslims in the U.S?
Equally incomprehensible to many experts on Latin America is Obama's demanding reinstatement of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed by his country's Supreme Court for trying to rig an unconstitutional referendum -- with ballots printed in Venezuela -- to perpetuate his rule. A referendum to evade constitutional term limits is a favored and exported tactic of anti-American Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Nicaraguan Communist President Daniel Ortega announced plans last week for a referendum which would allow him, like Chavez, to become president for life.
Moises Starkman, a respected Honduran diplomat and technocrat, said of Zelaya's so-far futile efforts to return to Honduras: "This is a showdown which will determine if the Chavista model triumphs or not." My friend Jaime Darenblum, Costa Rica's foremost lawyer who served six years as his country's ambassador in Washington, told the Weekly Standard:
"Zelaya tried to hold an unconstitutional referendum. The Supreme Court rebuked him. Zelaya embraced mob tactics and launched his own coup against democracy. With judicial backing, the army (as well the Congress) moved to stop him. If you want to blame someone, blame Zelaya."
What followed could have passed for comedy. At a leftist summit, Chavez and Cuba's Raul Castro stridently demanded that "democracy" be respected in Honduras! Zelaya has been credibly linked with smuggling planeloads of cocaine which end up in the U.S. He is charged in a case where three of his top officials were caught stealing two million dollars from Honduras' central bank -- in suitcases! -- to fund his election campaign.
Secretary Clinton had the good sense to criticize Zelaya for "reckless" conduct in trying to storm his way back into Honduras. But the Obama Administration is threatening all kinds of sanctions and terminating aid if Zelaya is not restored. Obama has not explained why it is in our country's interest to make another hate-America caudillo a president-for-life in contravention of his country's laws. Nor why he immediately jumped on the Zelaya bandwagon while showing reluctance to "meddle" when the Iranian mullans were shooting peaceful demonstrators. If Obama knows something about Zelaya that regional experts like Starkman and Darenblum don't know, he should explain it. Otherwise, it may be concluded that our President just has a penchant for leftist dictators and that he knows less about Honduras than he knows about Cambridge. .
The briefings I have received at U.S. Southern Command in Florida make vivid the threat to our country of terrorism from the South; Iranian agents are already active in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Do we want to give them another base in Honduras? AND you might say, perhaps in a special box: Within 24 hours, the White House distanced itself from Biden's ruminations,
Obama is unwittingly assisted by his Vice-President in exposing our foreign policy as feckless. Mr. Biden is quoted as saying about Russia -- in a front-page Wall Street Journal interview conducted during a trip to two of its understandably frightened neighbors -- that Moscow's "withering" economy will compel it to make wide-ranging concessions to the West. Biden is correct about the Russian economy. But anyone with even scant knowledge about dealing with the Russians, something I have been doing for almost 40 years, understands that this kind of foot-in-mouth critique will inevitably get the Kremlin's back up -- very high!
Russians substantially support Putin's authoritarianism because they resented the humiliation of relegation to the status of a second-class power. See, for example, Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia. Vice-President Gaffe's remarks may come back to haunt when we need Russian help on Iran and North Korea, which we surely will because Obama opts for reliance on the dysfunctional United Nations.
One could go on about other Obama foreign policy disasters. With all his apologetics in Europe, the President was unable to enlist any additional NATO combat forces for Afghanistan. Lacking these reinforcements, Obama's war of choice is not going so well. In the coming months, it will be increasingly remembered that Obama -- a neophyte in security matters -- was dead wrong about the surge in Iraq.
No one yet knows what the contours of "engagement" with Iran are. The reality is that every day Tehran comes closer to ultimate game-changing nuclear-power status. Secretary Clinton's recent comment about a U.S. security "umbrella" implied that Obama was accepting Iranian nuclear weaponizing, though this was quickly denied. No one has made sense of the claim of Obama's U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice that their weakened legitimacy would somehow make Iran's mullahs more forthcoming.
Nor can we forget North Korea, Iran's partner in crime (the term, "Axis of Evil has been outlawed), which violates U.N. resolutions with impunity and fires salvos of missiles. Obama's aims have been reduced to hoping Pyongyang "will return to the Six-Party talks" Those talks have resulted in enormous concessions to North Korea, such as food deliveries for its army, while its civilians starve to death, in return for which every promise made has been broken.
It was Tip O'Neill, a powerful Massachusetts pol, who taught that "all politics is local politics." So let us return to Cambridge.
It did not take long for the uproar from Massachusetts policemen and lots of plain folks, offended by presidential maligning of what appeared to be a fine officer acting professionally, to be heard with alarm in the White House. It was said by sources close to the President that his focus on health care -- another subject on which much of what he says is difficult to verify -- was being undermined.
Obama's credibility was being questioned by folks who previously accepted his explanations.
Although Obama came to realize that he had erred, the backlash did not move him to apologize for defaming a good man. The most self-responsibility he could muster was to acknowledge, in perpetual campaigning mode, that he could have "calibrated" his words differently. The arrest of Gates and the mistake Obama made -- based on his belief systems -- in responding to it are in themselves small events. But the mistakes Obama is making -- based on his preconceptions -- in his foreign policies are not small events with small consequences. Will Obama's inability to apologize prevent him for recognizing adverse consequences resulting from his policies? If Obama can't get Cambridge right, how can he get the Middle East and .Central America right?
Joel J. Sprayregen, a Chicago lawyer, is associated with JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) and other think tanks dealing with international security issues.