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01 April 2009

What on Earth is He (President Obama) Doing? (Part 2)

So, today we discuss the POTUS on foreign policy, which is appropriate because, as we speak, he is in London for the G-20 meeting.

Of course, the commentariat have already declared that the POTUS will fail to achieve his so-called primary goal: getting all the other developed countries to do a combined stimulus. How, exactly, that became his "primary goal" I'm not sure, but they seem to think it is. Sometimes, in Washington, when one news agency reports that something is the POTUS's "primary goal" all the other news agencies start to glom on to that story and all of a sudden it becomes the "primary goal." So, if the POTUS doesn't achieve the "primary goal" he has failed. My point is this: To narrow down such a major foreign trip to a "primary goal" and then, to say that if the goal isn't reached, the whole trip is a failure is preposterous.

Let's think about this very clearly: This is the POTUS's first foreign foray. He's an impressive dude and will impress everyone with his knowledge, erudition, and vision. All the other countries wish they had him because their guys (and gals, in the case of Germany's Angela Merkel) are so unbelievably boring (Gordon Brown, Hu JinTao, etc.) or pompous (Sarkozy) that it's almost embarrassing. Contrast this with when W. would go abroad. Americans wanted to hang their heads in shame every time the guy opened his mouth. He was hated by pretty much everyone everywhere overseas and, therefore, we were hated.

So how does the POTUS start this trip? First, with outreach to Iran and a meeting between Richard Holbrooke and his Iranian counterpart to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. Second, with outreach to Russian president Medvedyev to discuss issues such as the proposed NATO missile defense, nuclear assistance to Iran, and new strategic nuclear weapons negotiations to further reduce the number of nuclear weapons owned by the two countries. Third, a joint statement with Gordon Brown that the U.S. and England are sticking together and are seeking unity on issues regarding both stimulus and financial regulation. He may get less of the former than the latter from our allies and China but the latter is pretty damned necessary. So, let's get real. The POTUS is all over this. Failure? I think not.

After London, the POTUS is going to Strasbourg for a big NATO meeting where he'll get some of what he wants on Afghanistan and a lot of what he wants on everything else because, by that time, the other NATO leaders will feel like they can trust him and that he understands their interests. Then he goes to Turkey -- a Muslim country and important U.S. and European ally and member of NATO that is sponsoring talks between Israel and Syria. That will be a great move and the Turks will love him. Why? Because he undersands them.

I imagine he'll visit the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as well, though that's usually a secret until after the fact. Speaking of Iraq, the POTUS has recognized that 16 months for a pullout was too ambitious so he extended it to 18 months and we're gonna keep several thousand troops there indefinitely. That could change if the situation in Iraq gets better and Iran changes its ways. As for Afghanistan, the strategy is brilliant because it's not just about Afghanistan: It's about that country, Pakistan, and Iran. The POTUS says they're all linked and he's right. Iran wants us out of Afghanistan, but if that's gonna happen they'll have to provide security guarantees which they're in no position to. Pakistan is a major problem. I don't know how that situation will ultimately be worked out. I'm not sure anyone does; but they've got nukes so they need to be watched closely and having tens of thousands of U.S. troops within striking distance of Islamabad is probably not such a bad thing right now.

Relations with China? The POTUS and Hu will get along well because the POTUS won't disrespect Hu by lecturing him about human rights...which in light of our recent history torturing people we're really in no position to do anyway. Besides, China's got us by the shorthairs because they hold several trillion dollars of U.S. treasury bonds. It's been that way for many years and there's not much we can do about it except pursue policies that make the Chinese investment in the U.S. more valuable. Sorry.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict. Fugghetaboutit. Perhaps if the U.S. makes headway with Iran, this will eliminate a major obstacle in the way of peace, but I just don't seen anyone in the new Israeli government willing to seriously negotiate. They're major right-wingers.

There's more to discuss... Suffice it to say, for now, that the POTUS is doing fine on foreign policy and, as the first POTUS in the truly multi-polar world, he has an opportunity to lead in a new way.

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