Powered by WebAds

Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama's State of the Union: Foreign what?

Writing in London's Telegraph, Niles Gardiner complains that President Obama gave scant mention to foreign policy in his 77-minute State of the Union address on Wednesday night.
But the scant attention paid in the State of the Union speech to US leadership was pitiful and frankly rather pathetic. The war in Afghanistan, which will soon involve a hundred thousand American troops, merited barely a paragraph. There was no mention of victory over the enemy, just a reiteration of the president’s pledge to begin a withdrawal in July 2011. Needless to say there was nothing in the speech about the importance of international alliances, and no recognition whatsoever of the sacrifices made by Great Britain and other NATO allies alongside the United States on the battlefields of Afghanistan. For Barack Obama the Special Relationship means nothing, and tonight’s address further confirmed this.

Significantly, the global war against al-Qaeda was hardly mentioned, and there were no measures outlined to enhance US security at a time of mounting threats from Islamist terrorists. Terrorism is a top issue for American voters, but President Obama displayed what can only be described as a stunning indifference towards the defence of the homeland.

The Iranian nuclear threat, likely to be the biggest foreign policy issue of 2010, was given just two lines in the speech, with a half-hearted warning of “growing consequences” for Tehran, with no details given at all. There were no words of support for Iranian protestors who have been murdered, tortured and beaten in large numbers by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thuggish security forces, and no sign at all that the president cared about their plight. Nor was there any condemnation of the brutality of the Iranian regime, as well as its blatant sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the example of Iran showed, the advance of freedom and liberty across the world in the face of tyranny was not even a footnote in the president’s speech. I cannot think of a US president in modern times who has attached less importance to human rights issues. For the hundreds of millions of people across the world, from Burma to Sudan to Zimbabwe, clamouring to be free of oppression, there was not a shred of hope offered in Barack Obama’s address.
Max Boot had similar complaints.
Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.
I know - you're all looking at the silver lining in the cloud and saying "at least nothing about Israel." Well, not really. On Thursday, Obama was in Tampa for a townhall meeting and the first question out of the chute was
Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke of America's support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people and yet we continue to support financially with billions of dollars coming from our tax dollars?
And Obama's response:
Obama blamed internal politics both in Israel and the Palestinian territories for constraining peace diplomacy. He cited problems faced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the president said "is making some effort to move a little bit further than his coalition wants to go."

Netanyahu's right-leaning government includes pro-settler parties strongly opposed to ceding occupied land to the Palestinians for a future state.

Obama said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "genuinely wants peace" but has to deal with Hamas, a militant group that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist...
Poor Bibi is constrained by the majority of Israelis voting in a democratic election and Abu Bluff, who has no interest in peace, is constrained by Hamas. What could go wrong?


At 3:25 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Carl - don't post:

"out of the shoot" = "out of the chute"


At 3:53 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

Yeah, Honduras has been being constrained like that too, of late. And equally shunned by this administration. One might conclude that Obama doesn't actually know how to distinguish friends from enemies. Either that or this administration is utterly incompetent. I don't really know which would be worse.


Post a Comment

<< Home