Powered by WebAds

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Is Obama's foreign policy really like Bush's?

Time's Tony Karon claims that President Obama has 'defaulted' to President Bush's foreign policy positions (Hat Tip: Instapundit). I disagree, at least where it concerns Iran and the Israeli-Arab dispute. Let's look at what Karon says on those two issues and see what's changed since January 2009. Here's Iran.
Candidate Obama promised to engage with Iran, pointing out that the Bush Administration's policies of setting ultimatums backed by limited sanctions had failed to slow Iran's nuclear program. The Bush team did, of course, reach out discreetly to Tehran during its final year — though Obama made a far more public show in his Persian New Year message, respectfully addressed to the regime. But the turmoil unleashed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contested re-election on June 12 prompted the regime to circle the wagons against alleged "Western plots," imperiling hopes for diplomatic rapprochement. Critics may have chided Obama for declining to grandstand in support of the Iranian opposition, but he has maintained the key demand of the Bush Administration in his approach to Tehran: that Iran halt and then relinquish its uranium-enrichment program. The Iranians refused to do that for Bush, and they are united across their own political divisions in saying no to the same demand from Obama. Now Obama finds himself setting ultimatums and threatening sanctions — with no obvious prospect of greater success than his predecessor.
First, it's unfair to compare Obama to Bush's final year and not to the rest of his time in office. In his final year, Bush had his options for dealing with Iran castrated by the false National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which came out in December 2007 (as an aside, when the Republicans gain control of Congress again, they ought to investigate how that report ever got issued the way it did in the first place).

Moreover, while Bush never moved from his demand that Iran halt and relinquish its uranium enrichment program, Bush never claimed that Iran had a 'right' to nuclear power - as Obama has - and Bush never even hinted at the possibility of living with a nuclear Iran through containment, as Obama has.

Furthermore, Obama may be setting ultimatums and threatening sanctions, but we've yet to see him stick to an ultimatum and he's not willing to go it alone on sanctions as Bush - who was criticized as a cowboy - clearly would have done if he'd had to.

Finally, the entire tone of Bush's approach to Iran was different, and there was a lot more confidence that at the end of the day, Bush was going to meet Ahmadinejad at the Okay Corral with his pistols drawn rather than let the Iranians become a nuclear power and deal with the consequences afterward. Tone matters.

Then there's the Israel - Arab dispute, or as Karon deceptively calls it, 'Israel and the Palestinians.'
On his first day in office, Obama announced that he would prioritize an "aggressive" push for a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians. To jump-start talks, Obama demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction on territory conquered in 1967 and pressed Arab states for more gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel. He had no luck on either front. Indeed, the gulf between Israel's right-wing government and the enfeebled Palestinian leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas is growing ever wider. Abbas has been eclipsed by the more radical Hamas movement, and his failure to deliver significant gains for his years of negotiating with Israel and the U.S. has left his popularity at an all-time low. The Obama Administration has maintained its predecessor's boycott of Hamas and has declined to intervene meaningfully in the standoff in Gaza, where Israel maintains an economic stranglehold aimed at toppling Hamas. So despite his best intentions, Obama closed out 2009 in a situation not unlike that of Bush's valedictory year — pressing for talks between Israel and an increasingly marginal Abbas while wishing away the problem of Hamas. After a year of peacemaking, the Administration is more likely to confront a resumption of hostilities in Gaza (and possibly the West Bank) than it is to see any diplomatic breakthrough.
Here it's tone that matters more than anything else. Deep down, Bush loved Israel. Yes, there was Annapolis in his last year in office, but Bush also visited here twice as President, addressed the Knesset and played to the average Israelis. Obama has shown (and his received in return) palpable hostility from much of Israel's population. While Bush visited here twice, Obama has made a point of visiting Arab and Muslim countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) and not visiting Israel.

Obama's demand to halt all 'settlement construction' - a demand Bush would never have made - has not gone away. Obama continues to issue statements against Jewish construction in 'east' Jerusalem. Bush would never have done that. And Obama has disavowed (in effect) Bush's 2004 letter in which the United States committed to adjusting Israel's borders away from the 1949 armistice lines to acknowledge reality.

Obama would love to interfere in Gaza, but unless he's willing to put troops on the ground, he can't.

And the 'Palestinians' evidently believe that Obama will ultimately force Israel to give them what they want. Otherwise, why would they be digging in their heels so much harder since Obama took office than they did under Bush.

Ultimately, I believe that Obama will attempt to bring Hamas in from the cold (especially if - God forbid - he is re-elected). I also believe that once he leaves office, Obama will behave much like Jimmy Carter and become an ex-President who is openly hostile to Israel.

Obama's foreign policy isn't really like Bush's at all. And if God forbid he gets a second term, we will all see plainly just how different it is.


At 5:34 PM, Blogger J. Lichty said...

I also believe that once he leaves office, Obama will behave much like Jimmy Carter and become an ex-President who is openly hostile to Israel.

The difference is that Jimmy had to rebuild his credibility through his Habitat for Humanity and Carter center before he could really be the elder-statesman laureat for anti-Israel views. Obama will be able to come right out of the gate with it.

At 6:08 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Agreed. If the GOP takes over Congress later this year, the Administration's ability to push through with its most anti-Israel policies will be severely curbed. All Israel has to do is fulfill its word to Obama and after that it can do what it wants. Its been clear since November that its the Palestinians who don't want peace with Israel and yet Obama is reluctant to even censure them for their rejectionism. That says it all.


Post a Comment

<< Home