THE SPINE NOVEMBER 23, 2010
What the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl actually wrote was that "Obama's foreign policy needs an update." Diehl is correct.
He is correct in characterizing the president's concern with the New START treaty as much out of date, although I am in a lackadaisical way for it. I suppose much like Deihl himself. But it is an obsession of the president's perhaps because, as the columnist points out, this is the issue with which Obama grew up and made his public debut. After all, he published an article in a Columbia University student publication calling for a "nuclear free world," which sensible liberals knew even then was a chimerical vision, aside from the fact that the "nuclear freeze" played into the hands of the Soviets. But that's another matter. I do not believe that this animated young Obama. But it probably motivated many in the National Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy and Women's Strike for Peace. After all, the nuclear debate was the stage onto which fellow-travelers first stepped after their perfectly understandable but metaphorical "underground" experience during and after the "red scare" McCarthy era.
Now, the Obama administration has America and some of its allies fighting terrorist organizations here, there and elsewhere. Correctly so, and in a just cause. But it has concluded that these wars--I believe it is more probably this war--are quite winnable and in a short time. I do not. This is because our enemies are non-states. They are terrorists who are bounded by quite literally no rules at all. We have not yet absorbed this fact, although I believe that Israel is beginning to do so...and maybe also some of our military intellectuals at West Point and other service academies and institutions.
Diehl also argues that the Obama foreign policy rumpus room is peopled with folk who do not grasp that "Greater Israel" from the river to the sea is dead matter in the Jewish state. Yes, some extremists and some cynical profiteers are clinging to the idea. But the idea has no substance. All it has is blackmail value. And it is being milked for cash, especially among sections of the pious. But not only.
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.
The Palestinians focus on the settlements because they do not want to pay attention to the real price they will have to pay for statehood. That is, if they can focus on the non-symbolic issues of security for themselves and for Israel. What they want is for the pre-negotiation stage to be the setting for the signing.
Diehl makes the point that there are no heavy thinkers in the foreign policy offices of this administration.
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.
OK, there is Richard Holbrooke...but he is neither seen nor heard. And, of course, Dennis Ross who is the most seasoned and most mistrusted in the apparatus. Otherwise, the international affairs segments of the government are being run by amateurs. Of whom Hillary Clinton, with her own ambitious agenda, is the prime instance.
Maybe you've noticed that George Mitchell has disappeared from the line-up. Perhaps it's because even the amateurs have grasped that he is really an amateur. For my prognostications on light-weight doings see here and here and here.
Diehl quotes Obama in The Audacity of Hope as writing, "I personally came of age during the Reagan presidency." A long time ago when the world was different. Diehl concludes that the time lag "shows."