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Monday, August 30, 2010

What the F-35 negotiations tell us about the Obama administration

Writing in Contentions last week, Evelyn Gordon disclosed some restrictions on Israel's purchase of the F-35 joint strike fighter jet that were previously unknown. I discussed the restrictions here. Jennifer Dyer, who is an expert on military affairs, believes that the dispute over the F-35 could be resolved, if only there were goodwill on the part of the Obama administration.
A constructive approach to this impasse would certainly be possible. A U.S. administration eager to tend alliances would review the sunk costs of the current design, balance that consideration with the importance of America’s global partnerships, and probably make the commitment now to begin a design migration that would work better for allies. Israel might well find it acceptable to be met halfway and may agree without complaint to buy the first 20 fighters as-is.

But this situation is tailor-made for Team Obama’s unique methods. In negotiations with one of our closest allies, the administration has simply left a known sticking point to fester. From the standpoint of professionalism, there is no good excuse for this: the issue has been recognized in the halls of government and industry for some time. But as Evelyn Gordon observes, it’s something the public knows little about. Obama pays no real price for his administration’s behavior.

An explanation for that behavior has to be deduced by process of elimination. Neither a well-intentioned ally nor a motivated seller behaves this way, so we are left with fecklessness or bad intentions. The Obama image is not enhanced by either possibility. When it comes to his administration’s foreign-policy posture, I’m reminded often of P.J. O’Rourke’s characterization of the French, in a 1986 Rolling Stone article (“Among the Euro-Weenies”), as “masters of the ‘dog ate my homework’ school of diplomatic relations.” It doesn’t quite reach the level of a “Twinkie defense” school of diplomatic relations, but it’s still unbecoming in the leader of the free world.
Obama always did want to be more like the Europeans, didn't he?


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