May 21, 2013
Warren I. Cohen on Obama’s Foreign Policy Challenges
Posted on Jul 17, 2009
But it’s Pakistan that provides the grimmest part of Sanger’s story. He notes that it is the only nuclear state whose government is threatened by a powerful insurgency led by men hostile to the United States. Assured by Pakistani officials that their weapons are secured, he comes away unpersuaded. During the Cold War, Pakistan took aid from the United States under the pretense of fighting communism—and since 9/11 it has taken aid under the pretense of fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban. Its military, long the dominant force in the country, has always focused its efforts against India, and it nurtured the Taliban for years and almost certainly still does. American Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is hopeful that the post-Musharraf leaders of the Pakistan military will work with us against the militants—and cites evidence that they have begun to take steps to combat the Taliban and other insurgents. Past hopes have always been dashed. For the moment the Obama administration is bolstering hope with Predator drone attacks on suspected militant targets inside Pakistan. The actions of the Pakistani military will be a key determinant to the outcome of the war in Afghanistan, but as Sanger notes correctly, the greatest danger is that of hostile forces in the country gaining control of its nuclear weapons. First Mumbai and then—San Francisco?
Nonetheless, Sanger demonstrates that the Bush administration was all but criminally negligent when it junked the Clinton administration’s “Agreed Framework” and refused to negotiate a new arrangement with the North Koreans until they already had several nuclear bombs. Sanger’s most striking insight is that Bush, “the Decider,” was incredibly indecisive and allowed policy to drift as Cheney and friends pushed for regime change and the State Department urged negotiation. Bush did not come down on the side of negotiation until the North Korean bomb test in 2006. What antics the North Koreans will perform to gain Obama’s attention remains to be seen. The evidence of their collusion in the Syrian nuclear program is conclusive: To whom will they sell bomb materials?
Sanger’s analysis of Chinese-American relations is conventional: Let’s all work together and don’t let China’s rise worry us. He credits Bush for rejecting pressures to contain China and faults him for not engaging the Chinese on issues of energy and global warming. And he insists that how Obama manages relations with China is more important than how he handles Iraq. He appears to endorse James Mann’s argument in “The China Fantasy” that the promise of engagement has been oversold, but so what? Sanger seems indifferent to concerns about China’s military buildup or its human rights record. China is just too important to challenge. Realism run rampant?
In his concluding section, Sanger adeptly lays out the threat to the United States posed by three different kinds of terrorist attacks: nuclear, biological/chemical, and cyber. He demonstrates persuasively that the Department of Homeland Security is not prepared adequately to respond to any of these and once again points to Bush’s focus on Iraq for his failure to recognize how vulnerable the United States is.
Sanger’s epilogue, postelection 2008, on the challenge to Obama is eminently sensible. We, Americans and much of the rest of the world, expect too much of the new president. Sanger sees Iran as the first test, although he acknowledges that a crisis can erupt anywhere. And he hopes that competing views, dissent, will be tolerated in the West Wing, as they were not until too late in the Bush presidency.
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