Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Or the politics of foreign policy. Senator Barack Obama is being blistered by his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination:

" Barack Obama's offer to meet without precondition with leaders of renegade nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran touched off a war of words, with rival Hillary Rodham Clinton calling him naive and Obama linking her to President Bush's diplomacy.

Older politicians in both parties questioned the wisdom of such a course, while Obama's supporters characterized it as a repudiation of Bush policies of refusing to engage with certain adversaries.

It triggered a round of competing memos and statements Tuesday between the chief Democratic presidential rivals. Obama's team portrayed it as a bold stroke; Clinton supporters saw it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator's lack of foreign policy experience.

"I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," Clinton was quoted in an interview with the Quad-City Times that was posted on the Iowa newspaper's Web site on Tuesday."

As a tactical diplomatic move, a change of administrations is a good time to quietly investigate de-escalating conflicts with adversaries or improving frigid relations with important partners or allies. In principle, it makes more sense than a blanket refusal to ever negotiate. An early, high profile volte-face in relations with previously hostile countries, provided there are substantive achievments with which to point as well, can be a very important signal to the rest of the world for a new president.

On the other hand, giving out something as valuable as presidential face-time, across the board to some of the world's worst state actors, in exchange for nothing, is stupid. It diminishes the value of a presidential summit, undercuts our diplomats and demoralizes our friends while giving our enemies all the wrong incentives. If I were to guess, I'd say this empty, photo-op, gesture was the brainchild of Tony Lake, a fountainhead of bad national security analysis for four decades and currently Obama's top foreign policy guru.

I could be wrong. Lake may have had little to do with Obama's statement but the political fallout at least would have been easy to predict if it had been widely discussed on the Obama team. My two cents is that Obama should broaden his advisory circle, or avail himself of the experience available to him as a Senator in the form of staffers, elder statesmen and thought leaders. The questions are only going to become harder and sharper from this point on.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Mark, Obama (and Mitt Romney) both have essays published in Foreign Affairs this month. Definitely worth a read.
Agreed on Obama.

Clinton and Biden are both impressive when it comes to foreign policy.
Obama is pig-ignorant about foreign policy, and if he gets elected, all kinds of bad things will happen before he figures it out, if he ever does.

He is simply not ready for prime time. Much like Dan Quayle, he is a promising young idealogue who has been promoted over his competence. I hope he craters in the primary, for everybody's good, including his.
"giving out something as valuable as presidential face-time, across the board to some of the world's worst state actors, in exchange for nothing, is stupid."

And yet, presidents give out "face time" to all sorts of people all the time, like financial backers and special interest groups, etc.

What could an intelligent man like Obama learn by meeting head-to-head with the leaders of these renegade nations? How would such an offer and meeting change the battlefield? Note that Obama has not offered the keys to the White House to these men.

Mark, the shadow-boxing style of deciding whether or not to meet with foreign leaders belongs in the past, imo. It's a remnant of 4GW political maneuvering for a world obsessed with how to make opponents appear silly, shameful, degenerate, etc.

In a 5GW world, you want those opponents to feel empowered, emboldened, and moving in a self-chosen path at a self-chosen speed. You subdue by co-opting. You DO NOT shut them in a box (from the globalizing world) and force them to hire/acquire methods for striking from that box.

"provided there are substantive achievments with which to point as well"

The point is: those achievements may come as a result of such meetings -- even if the renegade leaders do not achieve what they think they have or may achieve by such meetings.

The President's duty is to engage in bargaining situations with foreign power. Allowing opponents to feel unduly "empowered, emboldened, and moving in a self-chosen path at a self-chosen speed" may well harm the outcomes of the negotiation.

A state-directed 5GW should either be the result of state-within blossuming into a state-beyond, not an everyday course of presidential policy.
I suspect that part of Obama's motivation on this was to provide something new that goes beyond the "won't talk to the bad guys" petulance we are currently suffering.

Like Curtis, I'm not as sure as the talking heads that this is a bad idea.

If a new president wants to turn some things around, he needs to do things differently.

That said, such things as presidential face time depend on the specifics. Which leader, what is the long-term plan, and what are the circumstances of the week? They've been changing very rapidly in some quarters.

But in the debate format, you can't go into all that.

And oh btw, the current prez might consider this discussion if he's interested in a "Nixon to China" moment, although the evidence so far is that that's not part of his plan.

Hi everyone,


Yes, but did they write them ?


Obama may crater -doesn't seem like it now but no one expected Howard Dean to implode on national television either. Or Hart in 84 or Muskie in 72.


It's safe to say that Obama does not have a 5GW strategy in mind here. He either expressed himself poorly or didn't think the implications through.


I think you are correct that trying to distinguish himself from the rest, esp. Clinton, was probably the impetus for Obama. Specifics do matter - you can't have a dictator's dance card for the new president, throw him in there and hope something good happens.

RE: the China analogy - even if the interest was there, time is running out for Bush and there are few if any equivalents today to Maoist China. Iran -ok, that would be very positive but not on par with Nixon going to China or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

If Bush wants to leave a legacy beyond screwing up Iraq, I'd recommend laying the foundations of a diplomatic process for an East Asian NATO to evolve, a Pacific Rim economic community from India to Chile or at least getting our relations with Russia back on track.


You are correct.

That said, such things as presidential face time depend on the specifics. Which leader, what is the long-term plan, and what are the circumstances of the week? They've been changing very rapidly in some quarters.

But in the debate format, you can't go into all that.

Hillary did just that. While taking a similar line to Obama on engaging the aforementioned countries, she said that she would not promise to meet with them, only to engage them at lower levels up until the time when their intentions became clear.

I suspect that Obama was thinking the same thing, but in an effort to distinguish himself from the President he did not think through the implications of his statement.


Agreed. Clinton and Biden impress, Biden more so than Clinton, but that may just be my own personal bias. :)


Thanks for pointing us to FA.


I agree with Dan and Mark on this (and Hillary), presidential face time is not something you just hand an opponent. When you meet, you have to make sure that there is a real chance for change and not just a photo-op for the dictator, autocrat, etc.


While I agree with you that Obama needs more experience before being ready for prime-time, I don't think he is an ideologue. Rather, he has shown himself to be for the most part a moderate. I do agree, that after this Quayle-like administration, we do need someone with experience to take the reins.

I also agree with you that Obama's presidential hopes should end in the primary, and I add, so should Edwards'.


Didn't Obama's campaign meet with Barnett sometime ago?

I believe Tom met with at least two campaigns' staffers - Sean Meade would know which ones. I'm pretty sure he hit both sides of the aisle though. Lex, do you know ?
Ideologue? While I don't follow this domestic politics item closely, casual reading does not suggest this Obama fellow is at all an ideologue, quite the contrary.

Probably too green as of yet, but that's a voter's choice - one can hardly imagine worse than the current incompetents.
(Drifting a bit OT here.)

Mark, with almost a year and a half to go, GWB has tons of opportunities for a "Nixon in China" moment that he will most likely, I agree, leave to the next president.

These NIC moments become possible because of the outrageous stands GWB has taken on so many issues or has left them to fester, as in the "won't, won't, won't! talk to bad guys" (stamps foot).

There's a group, for example, including Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, and George Schultz, urging GWB to go before the UNSC and make a bold declaration that the US is giving up nuclear weapons. From what I've heard, they're not using all the political capital they could, and we see that GWB's natural inclination is not.

Or how about a real (eschewing the "won't, won't, won't!") peace conference for Israel and Palestine. Or one for the future of Iraq. Or accepting Putin's offer of that radar station in Azerbaijan as a prelude to real cooperation with the Russians on missile defense.

And there are many more that probably don't rise to the NIC level, and probably others that do.

Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /

follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!