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April 28, 2009

No "real challenges"? Really?
Posted by James Lamond

Over at Shadow Government Steve Biegum says the following:

"The first 100 days? Still too early to say one way or another. A good start on foreign policy but no real challenges yet either. Kind of seems like the easy part has been upfront -- regards, apologies, photo ops, etc."

Hhhmmmm. I have been reading a lot about Obama's first 100 days, from both progressives and conservatives.  There is a lot being said, but everyone pretty much agrees that this president has faced more "real challenges" than anyone could imagine.  I would certainly count the global financial crisis, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Swine Flu, and well everything else going on in Mexico as pretty "real" foreign policy challenges.

And to say that it is too early to tell one way or another well... he has moved to end the war in Iraq; refocused on Afghanistan and Pakistan; lead a global response to the financial crisis; set out a an agenda on nonproliferation; restored America's relationship with Europe; engaged the Muslim world on an unprecedented scale and about 100 other things


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Obama has not "ended the war in Iraq." US soldiers are dying at a rate of one every other day, and Iraqi civilians and security forces are dying at a rate of about 10 a day. That's not exactly "ended."

Here are my capsule impressions of the foreign policy direction so far, arranged in descending order from better to worse.

Public diplomacy and the promotion of general global feel-goodism: Very good.

Nuclear weapons, Latin America, East Asia, and environment: Good. Thumbs up. Very, very early though.

Global economy? Probably as well as can be expected, given the many conflicts of national purposes and interest in a complex world. It’s amazing the G-20 managed to get its act together to do anything at all, and Obama seems to have been a contributing positive factor.

Russia: Definite shimmers of hope. All the real work remains to be done though.

Iraq: (sigh!) What a mess. “Moving toward ending the war?” I guess so. We’ll see. I have a sneaking feeling we’ll be “moving” at an ever more glacial pace, and that the “ending” part is going to come a lot later than hoped. And so far, Obama has done nothing to move the DC consciousness toward a grasp of the morally atrocious and barbaric dump we have taken on that country. Instead, we’re getting a lot of warm fuzzies about our noble fighting lads. Maybe this is politically unavoidable. But there is still something dismaying about it.

Iran: So far, the administration’s signals have been conflicting and confusing. Obama appears to be following the Dennis Ross playbook – isolation and containment, leading to tougher sanctions – with potential for military action down the road. The much vaunted Iran diplomacy front seems to have degenerated into some occasional happy-talk gestures to Obama’s left flank to keep them on board. But so far it’s not serious.

Israel-Palestine: I think they are quite clueless. Israel has elected a far right government, and its foreign policy is in the hands of a wingnut Prime Minister and an inexperienced far-wingnut buffoonish Foreign Minister, and yet we are seeing no signs of any serious recalibration to take that historic, off-the-deep-end game-changer into account.

Af-pak: Dangeous drift and indecision. There is a serious potential for crisis, quagmire and very, very bad news in a very, very bad neighborhood.

Broader Middle East: Yes, there is a “comprehensive Middle East policy”. But that policy is just warmed over conventional thinking. It is far too dependent on old guard, deeply unpopular Sunni allies in the region. Right now, the focus seems to be on peeling off Syria, and forging some sort of Israeli-Sunni cold war containment front against the Dreaded Persians. This is drearily predictable stuff from Washington, Cairo and Riyadh, with no enduring foundation in Middle East public opinion. Obama is so far missing a major opportunity for change here, and clearly has not been able to cut the cord with the policies of the previous administration. His temperamental disposition toward pragmatic incrementalism may be getting the best of him. This is all going to end in failure and disappointment, and likely violent conflict, unless he manages to make a cleaner break with the past. And screwing up the Middle East means screwing up most of our other major relationships, given the way the lines are entangled in that region.

Abbas? Mubarak? Abdullah? Netanyahu? Please. Wake me when the change happens.

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