Saturday, September 26, 2009

We turn from domestic to foreign policy in big way

A lot happened this week in the foreign policy arena with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and the beginning of the G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh, the latter replete with demonstrations by the nihilistic forces of political and economic incoherence, wearing hoodies and covering their faces with bandanas. Regarding the opening of the General Assembly, I point you to an amusing and insightful piece by Msgr. Albacete: New York: Where nothing unimportant ever happens. The events really began the previous week with the Obama Administration's surprise announcement that the U.S. land-based missile defense we were preparing to deploy in central Europe will not be deployed. Nobody was more surprised than our NATO allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, many of whom will remain vulnerable to both Russian and Iranian aggression.

It seems that Pres. Obama extracted no concessions whatsoever from the resurgent Russians nor from Iran. The shadow of this unilateral decision hung over President Obama's tripartite meeting last Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. I was invited to write an article on this meeting, its likely outcome and significance. The result was a fairly lengthy and provocative piece about the state and future of Israeli/Palestinian relations. If it is not published, I will publish it here. I take what I consider to be a realistic stance with regard to this perplexing and complicated issue, which is usually dealt with in slogans and generalities here in the U.S. that take two forms: why can't they just get along? and the equally ignorant they have been fighting for thousands of years. As to the first question, there are many important issues for both the Palestinians and the Israelis that need to be resolved before they can live side-by-side in peace, not the least of which are terrorist groups, like Hamas, which governs Gaza, and who, like Iran, see the destruction of Israel as the only solution to the problem; the second is just a lie. Two events, both of which happened in the 20th century, drive the current Middle East situation. First, the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and subsequent colonization of the Middle East by European powers. Second, the creation of the State of Israel by the United Nations in 1948, coupled with the post-WWII independence of Middle Eastern nations and the rise of, largely secular, pan- Arabism, which, like Islamic fundamentalism, was hostile to and aggressive toward Israel, resulting in two wars and the territorial expansion of Israel, including unifying Jerusalem under Israeli rule and the acquisition of the Golan Heights in the country's north. Of course, the West Bank, seized from Jordan, as was Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula, taken from Egypt, were later returned, with the West Bank becoming a largely Palestinian area, along with Gaza, and Sinai being ceded back to Egypt as part of the much heralded Camp David Peace Accords.

Mark Helprin, who in addition to being one of our greatest living writers, the author of, among other works, A Soldier of the Great War, which, along with Milan Kundera's Immortality, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and DFW's novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System, is among my favorite works of contemporary literature, is also a wise political observer, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy and national defense. Helprin wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal this past Wednesday, Obama and the Politics of Concession: Iran and Russia put Obama to the test last week, and he blinked twice. This brief article sums up well what we are dealing with and why we should all be as concerned as are our stunned European allies about the Administration's unilateral decision to stop the deployment of the European-based missile defense system.

We all want to live in a world of peace and security. Sadly, peace and security have never been achieved through concession and appeasement with forces of aggression. Our very feisty former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, who looks and often refreshingly speaks like Yosemite Sam, said of Pres. Obama's speech to the General Assembly that it was "a post-American speech by our first post-American president. It was a speech high on the personality of Barack Obama and high on multilateralism, but very short in advocating American interests." Are John Bolton and I the only ones who are troubled by how enamored our president seems to be of his own story? Don't get me wrong, Barack Obama has an amazing and uniquely American personal story, one that, in many ways, should make us all proud and hopeful, but I guarantee that Putin and Ahmadinejad are not impressed.

What we need to be concerned about is the seeming naiveté and domestic political calulation with which our foreign policy is being conducted. Even the illustration by Chad Crowe that accompanies Helprin's piece is misleading. In reality, Ahmadinejad is not hiding his country's nuclear ambitions and offering a handshake. The missiles should be in front of him and, instead of offering a handshake, he should be defiantly flipping the bird.

As to the calling out of Iran for their secret nuclear facility at the end-of-week, how much do you think the regime in Teheran fears sanctions, angry letters, and verbal denunciations by world leaders at international gatherings? Our appeasement of the Iranian regime caused us to be caught flat-footed when popular protests arose after June's elections. We were compromised by our friendly overtures to a regime that is at odds with what we stand for and unpopular with its own people, especially the young, who constitute an ever-increasing majority of the Iranian population, thus rendering us unable to claim the moral high ground and assist the forces of democratic change. Even the president's public statements about the protests were lukewarm, indicating his commitment to dealing with the dictatorial and globally ambitious ayatollahs and their man, Ahmadinejad. This is not an intelligence failure, it is a political failure, a strategic failure, indicative of an ideological idealism at odds with reality. All of this before we get to the recent back-peddling and indecision about our course in Afghanistan, another issue in which Iran is very interested to see what the U.S. will do. Backing-down in Afghanistan would serve Iranian interests well, not to mention those of the freshly reconstituted Taliban and Pakistani-based Al Quaida. Let's not forget the consequences that the collapase of an already politically unstable and nuclear-armed Pakistan would have on regional and global security! I shudder to think of the effects that another administration blinded by ideology and with no long-term, strategic vision will have on our world.

I end with a question: Why does everybody seem so surprised that Gaddafi is still an ego-manical wind bag?

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