Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Obama: Does Change Include Snubbing Our Allies? (Updated)

The title of Amir Taheri's piece in today's New York Post puts it rather bluntly:


Taheri writes that as opposed to other steps taken by Obama such as closing Guantanemo or looking into a faster withdrawal from Iraq--steps that Taheri sees as nothing more than 'political sleight of hand--the steps Obama is taking on the Middle East may lead to significant changes in strategy.

Just sending George Mitchell to the Middle East as a special envoy brings with it 2 significant implications
First: The new president isn't interested in the so-called Quartet created by the Bush administration. This exercise in multilateral diplomacy sought a common front among the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia in Mideast peace talks. Its dismantling would give America greater control over future negotiations - but would also leave it solely responsible for any failure.

Second: By appointing Mitchell without informing (let alone consulting) the Quartet partners, Obama has in effect called for the resignation of the Quartet's peace envoy, British ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Obama clearly thinks that he can succeed in finding a solution to the Arab-Israel problem, where 10 presidents before him have failed over six decades. [emphasis added]
Then there is Obama sending an envoy to Iran to open talks. Again, there are repercussions:
Here, too, Obama is dismantling his predecessor's multilateral scheme. By seeking unconditional talks with Tehran, he is also setting aside three unanimous, mandatory UN Security Council resolutions.

The move also means the effective dissolution of the "5+1 Group," created three years ago to deal with Iran. Apart from America, the group includes Russia, China, Britain and France (the four other veto-holding Security Council members), plus Germany.
Taheri thinks there is a pattern and underlying motive to what Obama is doing:
Again, Obama is clearly counting on the "audacity of hope," not to mention his charisma, to succeed where all US presidents since Jimmy Carter have failed.
One possible consequence of Obama going it alone, without working in tandem with Europe is that any successes Obama has will directly reflect on his leadership.

Another consequence could be that the very allies that Obama has claimed were upset by the US will likely feel snubbed again by a politician who has no record of having done anything substantial, especially when Obama is unilaterally tossing out all of the work that has been done by America's allies--and not just President Bush--till now.

Likewise, by appointing Richard Holbrooke as envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Obama has scrapped plans by NATO and snubbed allies Great Britain and France.

And in the case of Afghanistan, there is a further possible consequence of Obama's actions:
Indeed, Obama may have made it harder to persuade those allies to contribute more troops and money for the Afghan war. By seeking direct, exclusive control of the issue, the new administration may wind up turning Afghanistan into a purely American responsibility, something that Washington had tried to avoid since 2001. [emphasis added]
Talk about irony.

While Obama's pick of Mitchell has received good reviews and his his gesture towards Iran has met with mixed reviews (keep in mind that the Arab world is wary of Iran)--in the case of Holbrooke, there seems to be some baggage he brings with him:
Holbrooke's appointment has received an even cooler response in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he is seen as the man who rubber-stamped Serbian territorial gains, secured through ethnic cleansing and the massacre of Muslims, in Bosnia in exchange for a piece of paper signed at Dayton, Ohio. The Europeans, on the other hand, hope that Holbrooke will somehow succeed in uniting Afghanistan and Pakistan in a joint anti-terrorism strategy.
Keep in mind that in his interview with Al-Arabiya Obama explained Mitchell's mission in the Middle East this way:
I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away," Obama said Monday in an Al-Arabiya TV interview, adding that "what I told him is, start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating - in the past on some of these issues - and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen. He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. [emphasis added]
It remains to be seen what will happen when Obama fails to listen to his own advice--there comes a point when you can no longer blame your predecessors.

UPDATE: From Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya:
I don't want to prejudge many of these issues, and I want to make sure that expectations are not raised so that we think that this is going to be resolved in a few months. But if we start the steady progress on these issues, I'm absolutely confident that the United States -- working in tandem with the European Union, with Russia, with all the Arab states in the region -- I'm absolutely certain that we can make significant progress.
Well, that didn't last long.

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