Monday, November 02, 2009

A Year Later (Foreign Policy)

It is quite clear that President Obama has made solid efforts to fulfill his vast promise which was apparent during the campaign and for what he was elected. Fundamentally the tone of American Foreign Policy is changed and rest of the world is comfortable with it. Not only that, rest of the world would like President Obama to continue this approach (and hence the pre-mature Nobel Peace Prize).

Overall President is sticking to what he said about Iraq - planned withdrawal and continued engagement to sustain Iraqi Political structure. It is the other war - Afghanistan - where he is digging his heels. The initial commitment of troops in Spring of 2009 was swift and a clear signal of his intentions to own this war. The Administration also understood need of a local Afghan Partner for a successful war on Taliban and other terrorists. Credible local partner was supposed to come after the Afghan elections. However, what is surprising is how this White House tolerated the Afghan Election fiasco. It is true that most of the things about this election were decided during Bush term and Obama Presidency had less to do with the preparation. But it would have been apparent to anyone that problems were brewing there and some action was desired. Looking back it seems White House essentially missed the bus and failed to be more vigilant and demanding in that election. Considering all complications of working with Karazi (now that his opponent has backed out of the second round); it would have been much helpful if President Obama was more alert and pro-active about this election.

Compared to that Obama Administration has been quite pro-active and engaged with Pakistan. VP Biden has substantially contributed to this policy, honed by his decades of experience in this matter. Senator Kerry continued his 'carrot and stick' approach via Kerry-Lugar aid package and Sec. Clinton as well delivered a message of 'tough love' courageously. This intense American pressure as well as a challenge raised by terror attacks, finally made Pakistani Establishment to undertake cleansing operations in Southern Wazaristan. There is a long way to right the ship in AfPak theater, but Obama Presidency has at least made a right start in Pakistan.

The White House also intended to make a right start in case of Iran and it did so when it agreed for unconditional diplomacy. However, the Iranian hand is turning out to be a tough one for President Obama. First, it was the brutal suppression of Opposition by Ayatollahs. Not necessarily Iranian Opposition would have been easy to deal with in nuclear matters (listen to recent comments by opposition leaders regarding Western proposal of shipping bulk of partly enriched uranium); but it would have helped surely in reducing tensions. After loosing that opportunity, now comes the news that Iran is effectively rejecting the latest offer of Western countries. Earlier President Obama had good success in lining up Russia and China for these diplomatic efforts, but now these diplomatic efforts are likely to come short. In order to keep the credibility, White House will not have any option apart from going for proclaimed sanctions. Question is will Russia and China deliver on that.

By taking Bush's East European Missile Plan off the table, hope has been that Russia would back White House for Iranian sanctions. When Administration claims that it adopted this change in E. European Missile Defense Plan because there are more effective solutions to address Iranian missile challenges; there is an element of truth in that. But the largest expected payout is in case of Iran. Time has come now when that hypothesis will be tested. One can be wrong here, but propensity here is Russians would disappoint.

Even more harder battle is with China. Neither do China has any strained relations with Iran nor is it uncomfortable with strong hand politics of Ayatollahs. (Differences on religion, those can always be skirted by Communists when it comes to the question of business.) China's graduation to undisputed Super Power status is hardly linked to solving the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions or solving the Israel-Palestine dispute. For all that matter, China can perfectly imagine a world where Iran is nuclear as a result of American failures. That is the realization one expects this White House internalizes - necessity of containing Iranian nuclear ambitions (what would happen to Sunni Arabs? why would they be far behind?) which may need more than diplomacy and at the same time to make tangible progress on Israel-Palestine dispute.

Arab Israel dispute is the creation of British Empire and America has essentially inherited the British mantle; at least in eyes of rest of the world. The dispute is intimately related to the history of Western Europe, again the leadership of that falls with America. President Obama understands this primacy and hence has been undertaking appropriate policy measures which can bring Israel to the negotiation table. Asking Israel to stop settlements was a right approach in that respect. However, a staunchly conservative Israel government of Bibi and general Israeli opinion about Present Obama that he is soft on Palestine; both are not helping at all. As a result Obama Administration is not able to stick to it's original demands of stopping Israeli settlements and is required to climb down. It is unknown at this point whether such a tactical retreat will help the Administration. But what is more important is that White House understands many more such months without any improvement in Arab Israel conflict and then the world is inviting currently pregnant violence to the real world.

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