Obama’s misplaced priorities, foreign-policy edition

At the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl explains why President Obama’s view of the world — and America’s approach to it — hasn’t evolved since he was a college student:

Start with the New START treaty that Obama has made a priority for the lame-duck Senate, at a time when Americans don’t yet know what income tax rate they will pay on Jan. 1. The treaty resembles the landmark U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties that were negotiated in the [1980s] — and it would perpetuate their important verification measures.

The difference is that no one stages marches today about U.S. and Soviet — now Russian — strategic weapons, and with good reason. The danger of a war between the two states is minuscule; and treaty or no, Russia’s arsenal is very likely to dwindle in the coming years. The threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations. Obama believes that U.S.-Russian treaties will lead to better containment of that threat — but that’s at best an indirect benefit.

That doesn’t mean the START treaty is worthless. The Senate ought to approve it if only to ensure the continued monitoring of Russian missiles. But does it merit dispatching the vice president and the secretaries of state and defense to Capitol Hill for a desperate (and uphill) lobbying offensive? It’s hard to see why.

The same might be said about Obama’s preoccupation with stopping Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem — a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement. True, almost everyone outside Israel regards the construction as counterproductive, and only a minority supports it inside Israel.

But that is just the point: The dream of a “greater Israel” died more than 15 years ago. Even the Israeli right now accepts that a Palestinian state will be created in the West Bank. The settlements have become a sideshow; the real issues concern how to create a Palestinian state in a Middle East where the greatest threat is not Israeli but Iranian expansionism. What to do about Hamas and Hezbollah and their Iranian-supplied weapons? How to ensure that the post-occupation West Bank does not become another Iranian base? Those issues did not exist in 1983 — and the Obama administration seems to have no strategy for them.

Not all of the administration’s foreign policy is anachronistic. Obama’s tour this month of India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan reflected a cutting-edge concern with rebuilding U.S. influence in Asia and forging alliances with its democracies in response to a rising China. Iran has been the target of a relatively successful multilateral sanctions campaign, though that has yet to affect its nuclear program. The START treaty with Russia is part of a larger strategy to coax its brutish regime toward more responsible behavior.

Still, this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.

Instead there is Obama, who likes to believe that he knows as much or more about policy than any of his aides — and who has been conspicuous in driving the strategies on nuclear disarmament and Israeli settlements. “I personally came of age during the Reagan presidency,” Obama wrote in “The Audacity of Hope.” Yes, and it shows.

Ouch.

43 comments Add your comment

Allen

November 22nd, 2010
12:34 pm

This misses the point. Republicans have the gall to oppose START purely for political purposes. It’s frustrating that they elevate petty politics over our national security.

And I bet if the Democrats were blocking START, you would not hear the GOP diminishing its importance. The easiest way to get your hands on a nuclear missile is to buy one from an unscrupulous Russian or steal it.

I believe that nuclear weapons pose a greater long-term threat to the U.S. than Islamist terrorism. I’d sleep better at night knowing that we can at least account for what’s out there.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
12:57 pm

Allen: No one, including the Obama administration, claims that we are in danger of a nuclear war with Russia. The most commonly cited threat is the one you mention: a terrorist or similar bad actor buying or stealing one from the Russians. But the kind of nukes that we are talking about in that case are tactical weapons, not strategic weapons. And the new treaty doesn’t cover tactical weapons.

So, you might sleep better thinking that you’re safer, but it will be a false sense of security.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:13 pm

Question: Who is Jackson Diehl and wha type of security clearance does he have access to that he can, with assurance, state the above ^^ comments in the article? If the answer to the second question is NONE – then how can he discern anything looking from the outside and not knowing exactly what’s happening on the inside? His “sources” aside, I think, like the good republican that he is, he’s just trying to stir up controversy and hearsay for conviences sake a la Faux News.

Also, speaking of keeping the country “safe”. Did you happen to catch the 60 minutes episode last night on Viktor Bout? It seems that Viktor, a highly dangerous Weapons Arms Dealer, (who has sold weapons to Al Queda and other terrorists groups bent on killing Americans), had a government contract given to him by the Bush Administration to supply equipment to the troops in Afghanistan. How’s that for “keeping us safe”!!! I’m actually “surprised” that you didn’t bring that up in this article Kyle. Shocked even. I’m thinking it was an “honest” mistake. Am I correct? :roll:

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:19 pm

Also Kyle your source fails to mention that with those treaties in place, Russia has been a partner to the US in upholding some of our key diplomatic doctrines. For instance:

1. The embargo of N. Korea

2. Not selling any nuclear ingredients to Iran

3. Not siding with Hezballah (sp) over Israel

Just an FYI.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:19 pm

Debbie: So, no one without a security clearance can report on national security/foreign policy issues? In that case, you better not trust those “60 Minutes” folks, who clearly are just trying to stir up controversy and hearsay, according to your standard.

And no, I didn’t see the “60 Minutes” piece last night.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:25 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by “those treaties,” Debbie. But other than building a nuclear plant in Iran and supplying it with uranium, as well as selling arms to the Lebanese army, which is de facto controlled by Hezbollah/Syria, sure — Russia’s been a real peach.

Intown

November 22nd, 2010
1:25 pm

The article you cited is just wrong. And yes, nuclear weapon non-proliferation and regulation IS more important than uncertainty over the unsustainable Bush Tax cuts.

Sam Nunn, a former Senator from GEORGIA with quite a bit of foreign policy experience was the architect of New START. Not to mention that it is endorsed by just about every former Secretary of State that is still alive today.

Also, former US Generals with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan knwo that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to further the United States’ policy goals throughout the Middle East.

You are too quick to judge Obama’s foreign policy. Before you write an article perhaps you should analyze the policy in a vacuum. Pretend President X is pushing the policy. If you still find it unwise, then criticize.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:30 pm

So, no one without a security clearance can report on national security/foreign policy issues?

That’s not what I was inferring to, as you well know. What I was saying was how can someone / anyone speak with AUTHORITY about a situation that they know nothing about? It’s sort of like the second shooter on the “grassy knoll” theory. It’s something that someone made up to make themeselves seem smarter than they actually were.

In that case, you better not trust those “60 Minutes” folks, who clearly are just trying to stir up controversy and hearsay, according to your standard.

FYI – 60 minutes had members from the Bush Admin, the CIA Chief in charge of the operation, and they filmed the captured arms dealer. In other words, they had FACTS to back up what they were saying, not supposition, guesses and innuendo. I know, I know…….you’re probably not used to that type of reporting……….

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:33 pm

Intown: Neither I nor Diehl said the treaty is worthless, just that it fails to address the biggest current concerns regarding proliferation. Why not try to improve it before ratifying it?

And of course “former US Generals with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan knwo that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essential to further the United States’ policy goals throughout the Middle East.” No one would argue against such a generic statement. The point here is that the particular strategy the president is pursuing is not helpful, and even misses the point. Kind of like a nuclear-arms treaty that deals with ballistic missiles we’re fairly certain the Russians aren’t going to shoot at us, and fails to deal with tactical nukes that are the real threat when it comes to proliferation.

You’ve not offered an argument to the contrary.

Liberal Zombieland

November 22nd, 2010
1:35 pm

“…t a time when Americans don’t yet know what income tax rate they will pay on Jan. 1″

They almost assuredly will be paying more, just as many of us already know our health care premiums are going up – the exact opposite of what was claimed by the Obama administration (but what else is new there). Here’s a brief summary of what would happen in a perfect liberal socialist twinkle toed fairytale:

The top income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (this is also the rate at which two-thirds of small business profits are taxed). The lowest rate will rise from 10 to 15 percent. All the rates in between will also rise. Itemized deductions and personal exemptions will again phase out, which has the same mathematical effect as higher marginal tax rates. The full list of marginal rate hikes:

• The 10% bracket rises to an expanded 15%
• The 25% bracket rises to 28%
• The 28% bracket rises to 31%
• The 33% bracket rises to 36%
• The 35% bracket rises to 39.6%

Higher taxes on marriage and family. The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) would return from the first dollar of income. The child tax credit would be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child. The standard deduction would no longer be doubled for married couples relative to the single level. The dependent care and adoption tax credits would be cut. And here the mindless liberals are telling us they are fighting for the middle and working classes. Which reminds me – in liberal fairytale land, is there a magical income number where a “working class” household is no longer classified as one?

The return of the Death Tax. This year, there is no death tax. For those dying on or after January 1, 2011, there will be a 55 percent top death tax rate on estates over $1 million. A person leaving behind two homes and a retirement account could easily pass along a death tax bill to their loved ones. And the liberal economic proctologists tell us how evil those rich people are.

Higher tax rates on savers and investors. The capital gains tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 20 percent in 2011. The dividends tax will rise from 15 percent this year to 39.6 percent in 2011. These rates will rise another 3.8 percent in 2013.

Does that sound like a real winning recipe for the future of America’s economic success? If you think so, then you are most assuredly a liberal regressive Democrat.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:36 pm

Here’s the 60 minutes spot I was talking about.

Intown

November 22nd, 2010
1:36 pm

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:37 pm

Debbie: You’re assuming that Diehl, a well-respected foreign affairs columnist, and hardly a “Republican” in spite of your assertions (without FACTS, I would point out), doesn’t also have sources.

Having not seen the “60 Minutes” piece, I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand — the way you have with the Diehl column.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:43 pm

Kyle the person you quoted made this assertion:

“The danger of a war between the two states is minuscule; and treaty or no, Russia’s arsenal is very likely to dwindle in the coming years”.

How can anyone say that unless they have a crystal ball into the future or at least a time machine? Could anyone, 50 years ago, foretell the state of affairs that we are in now with Al Queada, The Berlin Wall coming down etc? Yet your source says, emphatically, that Russia’s arsenal is likely to dwindle in the coming years. Well, Russia, like Israel, has elections — who to say that the Russians, like the Israelis won’t pick some hard-lined sychophant to return Russia to its former “glory”? No one can foretell the future, yet you quote, with glee, someone who claims to have foresight 25 – 35 years down the road.

Zombie: Higher taxes on marriage and family. The “marriage penalty” (narrower tax brackets for married couples) would return from the first dollar of income. The child tax credit would be cut in half from $1000 to $500 per child

Since I happen to know a great deal about the upcoming tax year in 2011 (and the likely adjustments to be made beyond that year) — I know for a fact you’re just lieing. Why? I don’t know…..maybe you just like to start ridiculous rumors or something. It’s amazing what an anonymous blog lets loose in society.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:44 pm

Intown: When I read that, as well as other commentary on the treaty, what I see is that this is a treaty that more or less mirrors the original START treaty — when Nunn himself acknowledges that the world, and the nature of proliferation, have changed greatly in the last two decades.

If we sign this treaty, how long will it take to get the Russians back to the table for a follow-up treaty that covers some of the more urgent proliferation matters? Why not press for a more thorough and inclusive treaty now? Remember, they also have an interest in renewing START…the leverage is not only on their side.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:50 pm

I don’t know, Debbie. Maybe he talked to people with security clearances.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:52 pm

Debbie: You’re assuming that Diehl, a well-respected foreign affairs columnist,

I rest my case. He’s a columnist, not a foreign policy expert. He’s a seamstress, not the designer, he’s the builder NOT the architect. Big difference.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:54 pm

Ok, Designer Debbie.

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:54 pm

Or maybe he just made it up — to sell papers. I remember my history pretty well, and I recall the big send up that all the major US newspapers did for the War in Iraq. WMD’s anyone?

DebbieDoRight

November 22nd, 2010
1:56 pm

Ok, Designer Debbie

LOL funny!! :) Have a great day — I’m out.

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
1:57 pm

For those more interested in the Israel-Palestine angle, here’s another new report from the ground:

View from Mideast: Obama’s a problem
http://bit.ly/aUjB81

(Edited)

AmVet

November 22nd, 2010
2:23 pm

As an MOT and strident anti-Republican (at least since it was hijacked thirty years ago) I predict that American Jews will continue to do what they have, almost without exception, always done.

And that is vote overwhelmingly against Republicans.

Now, why do you suppose that is? Because they view the GOP as such great friends of Israel?

Uh, better come up with a new “explanation” cons…

Ragnar Danneskjöld

November 22nd, 2010
2:26 pm

I do not agree with Mr. Diehl’s suggestion that Obama’s primary deficiency in his administration of foreign affairs is the “absence of a foreign-policy Czar” (my words.) As the final line of the Diehl quote suggest, the greatest foreign policy administration of our times was conducted by a president who called the shots himself (and just reflect on Reykjavik if you have doubts. And I do not disparage George Schultz with the broad observation.)

The problem is the leftist preoccupation with “who is doing it” rather than “what the heck are they doing.”

Intown

November 22nd, 2010
2:36 pm

Right wing and right of center American jews are convinced that Obama is a muslim sympathizer and they then jump to the conclusion that he does not support Israel or worse will weaken it either recklessly or in a premeditated way. The rest of us (still the vast majority of American jews) know better.

Intown

November 22nd, 2010
2:38 pm

Here’s the downside of Senate Ratification of treaties negotiated by Presidents — anyone who wasn’t at the negotiating table thinks they could have gotten a more perfect deal.

Intown

November 22nd, 2010
3:12 pm

Here’s another take. To heck with Senate Ratification. It is unworkable anyways.

From the NY times:

Farewell to the Age of the Treaty
By JAMES P. RUBIN
Published: November 21, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/opinion/22rubin.html?_r=1&ref=opinion?hp

carlosgvv

November 22nd, 2010
3:20 pm

Kyle, you say that “Russia’s arsenal is very likely to dwindle in the coming years”. Since I have not heard anyone in the Government or Military say that I wonder where you get this information? As for the treaty, Russia has thousands of nukes while North Korea, Syria and Iran have few or none. So, which do you think is the most dangerous to us?

Beavis

November 22nd, 2010
4:00 pm

Obozo lives in a bubble; he has no idea what the average American goes through to keep a house, a car and food on the table. The proof is that he rewards bad behavior. Obozo is living proof the rich Ivy League teachers are WAY out of touch, who on earth ever said we could spend our way out of debt… ooppss that was our president…

Kyle Wingfield

November 22nd, 2010
4:07 pm

carlosgvv: Diehl wrote that, not me. I could speculate about reasons why that might be true — an aging arsenal, and a government that is dependent on the price of oil and more focused on its “near abroad” and which would rather spend money upgrading its largely outdated conventional forces rather than maintaining hundreds, if not thousands, more ballistic nukes than it would take to obliterate the entire planet — but I’d just be speculating. Diehl, a longtime foreign affairs correspondent based in D.C., most likely based his opinion on information from…people in the government or military.

As for the second part of your question: NoKo, Syria and Iran, and it’s not even close. It’s not just about capability. The Russians have the capability to destroy us, but why would they, at this point? MAD still holds true today for us and them.

NoKo and Iran in particular are far less unpredictable, far more paranoid, and far more likely to be connected to terrorist groups (and as noted above, the new START treaty wouldn’t deal with the type of Russian nukes terrorists would want to get a hold of, anyway). In my book that makes them far more dangerous.

JF McNamara

November 22nd, 2010
4:20 pm

All that’s true, but uou know what? We don’t have any new wars and we aren’t in some yelling match with a foreign country over nothing. I, for one, don’t miss those days. It appears that respecting the sovereignty of other nations, fighting terror abroad, and drawing down the two wars are our priorities. He also wants a treaty to that we can make sure Russian nukes don’t get out and stay at low levels. What’s wrong with that?

Kyle, why don’t you add to the post what should be we be doing in terms of foreign policy?

carlosgvv

November 22nd, 2010
4:24 pm

Kyle, Iran, North Korea or Syria might smuggle a nuke into America and destroy a city. Russia’s “aging arsenal” includes defense computers which could malfunction and cause them to launch a first strike which would destroy our entire Country. Do you still think North Korea and Iran are “far more dangerous?”

Rafe Hollister

November 22nd, 2010
4:29 pm

First, Barry is so motivated by his domestic policy (economic and social justice) that he has little time for foreign policy. Since his domestic agenda was soundly rejected at the polls, he needs to take a break and divert the attention of middle America. He does this by trying to find something that the American people agree with or so disintrested in, that he can use it to beat the Republicans over the head with it.

He thinks that if he can paint them as obstructionists on foreign policy, he can get the public behind him. Once again he will be wrong, as the American people know that this treaty is just so not important. The Russians are like a snake, they will promise not to bite you, but no one with any common sense, believes what they say.

Barry is once again overwhelmed and under qualified to be President.

Not So Casual Observer

November 22nd, 2010
4:30 pm

Debbie@1:43,

“Since I happen to know a great deal about the upcoming tax year in 2011— I know for a fact you’re just lieing.”

Debbie, the changes listed by Zombie are accurate, as are the details of the marriage penalty and the child tax credit, if the current rates are allowed to expire. Why do you charge the author is a liar?

Apparently you know nothing of the upcoming year. The Congress has yet to act on the rates but the Speaker and the Majority Leader have been clear on their wish to have the current rates expire and have enough votes in their own party to do as they desire.

You are correct on one thing when you write, “It’s amazing what an anonymous blog lets loose in society.” That would be you, Debbie!

The Nuclear Genie

November 22nd, 2010
5:41 pm

My father was an Air Force engineer that helped design and develop the ALCM, Tomahawk and other missile systems in the 60’s-80’s.

I remember growing up across the street from The Pentagon in Arlington, VA during the 70s-80’s. We used to make jokes about “The Flash. The Nuclear Genie is out. It can’t be put back in the bottle. The only defense is intelligence and balls.

When the fit hits the shan they won’t flinch in Beijing.

Where we got it right and how we kept the world safe, was the fact that the Russians were scared stuffless of tactical, long range, smart missiles. Reagan eventually discontinued the land-based versions of this system. Tomahawk only flies for The Navy. Nobody wants a cruise missile pointed at them and the system is 20 years old…

Weakness is not an option.

Never trust Russia or China.

Our tactical weakness is that our generals always fight “the last war”.

Read History.

Left wing management

November 22nd, 2010
6:29 pm

A bit light, don’t you think, Kyle? I mean, just one word in response? C’mon. Why don’t you give us a little more to chew on here?

But in all seriousness, even’s Diehl’s piece is rather thin gruel. It doesn’t actually analyze or challenge anything about Obama’s positions per se other than pointing out that the world sure has changed in 25 years. A bit obvious, don’t you think? I mean, c’mon, tease us with a curve ball here or there, people. How about a bow to the proverbial wisdom about how there’s nothing new under the sun, you know “plus ca change … ” and all that?

AnAnswerForEverything

November 22nd, 2010
6:52 pm

Kyle’s got an answer for everything. By the way Kyle, what are your foreign policy credentials? Living in Europe doesn’t count.

Like they say about opinions and other things, everybody’s got one

Dave

November 22nd, 2010
7:16 pm

Kyle, your 1:33: Why not ratify, and then improve? Or, can you guarantee that the result of more debate will happen soon and be better? If what is up for a vote is good, just not great, why not go with it?

Allen

November 22nd, 2010
7:30 pm

Kyle, I’ll stand by my contention that the greatest long-term threat to our national security is nuclear proliferation. I’ll grant that the treaty doesn’t cover tactical weapons, but my arugment still holds in the absence of monitoring.

Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has accused the GOP pushing back the START vote because they think “the lay of the land is going to be more favorable in January.”

Do you really believe that the balance of the evidence suggests that Republicans are not deliberately obstructing a national security imperative for political gain? If so, please account for why Mr. Lugar is criticizing his own party. (Not to mention the support of Robert Gates, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger, who your columnist mentions approvingly.)

Dirty Dawg

November 22nd, 2010
7:40 pm

Hey Kyle, I’m sure you’re working on a piece highlighting the fact that the latest statistics are out on the ‘most dangerous’ cities in the country…and Atlanta’s not in the top ten, or even he top fifteen (that’s all that the article posted)…damn, the survey must have been fixed…and they certainly didn’t ask the question of the peckerwoods in the counties in ’suburban Atlanta’.

What? You’re not? I’m shocked!

Jefferson

November 23rd, 2010
12:17 am

We have people watching Russia, they can see it.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

November 23rd, 2010
6:16 am

Nearly two-thirds of Americans support the new full-body security-screening machines at the country’s airports. Sixty-eight percent say they put higher priority on combating terrorism than protecting personal privacy compared with 26 percent more concerned about privacy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.-Urinal

Is there any doubt that if Bushie were still the president, the results of the AJC’s fake poll would be exactly the opposite and that all these ate up liberals would be whining and moaning in mindless unison?

Like, uh, when Bush listened in on the cellphone conversations of al Qeada murderers?

Nowadays, government employed sickies grope the crotches of little children and the elderly, and we have a poll! showing our approval!

Oh boy!

How else would a TSA agent get their kicks?

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

November 23rd, 2010
6:23 am

Barbara Bush cool on Palin presidential run – The outspoken wife of former President George H.W. Bush says Palin, who is considering a presidential run in 2012, seems “very happy in Alaska” but then adds, “I hope she’ll stay there.” -Urinal

Aahhh, the same Barbara Bush that announced to the hurricane refugees crammed into the Houston sports stadium that they were now “living large.”

HW Bush begat Ross Perot who in turn begat Willie the Original TSA Agent Clinton, aisle reaching RINOism at it’s finest, so is this really not an endorsement of Palin’s Conservative bonafides?

That’s how I see it, just sayin…

Libby

November 23rd, 2010
5:48 pm

I think Debbie is Cynthia Tucker.