May 22, 2013
Warren I. Cohen on Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenges
Posted on Jul 17, 2009
The Chinese and the Israelis loved George W. Bush, but most Americans and most friends of the United States would judge his foreign policies to have been disastrous. Those of us who came of age during the Cold War cannot remember a time when the prestige of the country was lower or when it had less influence with allies and adversaries. And now, in the midst of a financial crisis approaching the depths of the Great Depression, the new Obama administration’s attention cannot be diverted for long from the economy. But the world has great expectations of Barack Obama. Somehow he will bring peace to Israelis, Palestinians and Afghans, bring American troops home from Iraq without allowing that benighted country to slip back into chaos, persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons program and the North Koreans to surrender their nukes, keep Pakistan’s nuclear material securely in friendly hands, and prevent al-Qaida or its knockoffs from attacking an American city with a weapon of mass destruction. All this he will do without walking on water.
David Sanger is a distinguished, highly knowledgeable foreign affairs reporter for The New York Times. Publication of his book, “The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power,” was timed to have it on the desks of the new administration’s national security mavens their first day on the job. He tells a familiar story of our nation’s tribulations over the last eight years and provides an accurate description of where we stand today, but he is not an analyst of the caliber of Fareed Zakaria or Robert Kagan, Eric Alterman or James Mann.
There is no doubt that Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would roil the Middle East, quite likely provoking Israeli airstrikes, especially in light of the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power as prime minister this year. There is also no doubt that the Obama administration will reach out to Iran and try every peaceful means to stop the weaponization of its nuclear program. Unhappily, there is a great deal of doubt as to whether anyone can come up with a grand bargain that will satisfy Iran’s leaders without sacrificing the security of Israel or the interests of the United States. In the February 12th issue of The New York Review of Books, Tom Pickering, former deputy secretary of state, and two colleagues spelled out as hopeful a plan as we’ll see. But don’t bet what’s left of your pension plan on success.
When he turns next to Afghanistan, Sanger reminds us that the Bush administration was distracted from the battle there by its determination to attack Iraq. He calls it the biggest miscalculation in American military history, allowing the resurgence of both the Taliban and al-Qaida—although other analysts (STRATFOR, for one) argue that al-Qaida has been weakened by its isolation. U.S. Gen. Karl Eikenberry sounded the alarm years ago, and Obama’s appointment of Eikenberry as ambassador to Kabul offers some slim hope that a renewed effort there will stabilize the country. Forget about democratization: A democratic Afghanistan with equal rights for women is not likely to come in the lifetime of anyone old enough to read this.
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