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Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama's foreign policy: Projection and Cognitive Dissonance

Michael Barone identifies two aspects of Barack Obama's foreign policy. He projects onto other nations his own approaches to foreign policy. And then he ignores contrary evidence as if the reality would cause too much cognitive dissonance for him to deal with.
Even so, there was a sharp contrast between his wary references to Iran on Wednesday and Thursday, and his sharp criticism on Friday. There were probably good reasons -- protecting intelligence sources? -- for not disclosing the information before this week. But shouldn't the president's rhetoric on Wednesday and Thursday have reflected all that he knew?

Obama has based his policy toward Iran on the hope that its leaders would see the problem as he does -- projection -- and was apparently discounting contrary evidence like the Qom facility -- cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps he views himself as, in the words of the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "the first president of the nuclear age who grew up with a nuanced view of American power."

Unfortunately, it is clear that even in the year 2009 the interests of nations and peoples are not as unanimously shared as Obama proclaimed Wednesday. Our diplomats and those of five other nations are scheduled to meet with an Iranian counterpart in Geneva on Oct. 1, but the Iranians have indicated they don't want to discuss nuclear weapons issues.
And if Russia and China won't go along with tough sanctions? Will we keep stumbling along in the hopes of some sort of eventual engagement when the Iranians have played us for dupes all through Bush's presidency and are continuing the process now during Obama's term?

Meanwhile, Arthur Chrenkoff attempts to find out what the Obama approach, the Obama Doctrine if you will, is. He sees one pattern.
Obama is a multilateralist, which in this scheme of things means he wants to govern from the center. For Obama, that’s where the “votes” are — in the great middle that comprises the majority of states and the majority of the world’s population. In order to appeal to the middle — Russia, China, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the United Nations — Obama is willing to slap down, snub, or sideline the allies, the traditional party of America. He might justify it under the rationale that the allies can take it. After all, and just as with the voters of a domestic base, where else can they go? And even if some of them do peel off and “stay at home on the election day,” it’s still worth it because the new-found respect, friendship, and cooperation from the center will compensate for any loss from the base.

The unspoken assumption is that with the base and the center behind him, Obama will have built the winning international majority with sufficient moral gravity to deal with the party of anti-America. And by deal, I do not mean act in terms of “crude” power and force, but multilaterally — to use the united international sentiment to persuade the party of evil of the incorrectness of their ways.

That’s why sacrifices have to be made. Hence the snubbing of Honduras and Colombia for the sake of the rest of the Americas, Poland and the Czech Republic for Russia, Israel for the amorphous “Middle East,” and Iraq for the sake of an even more amorphous “international community.” Having thus appeased the long-standing wishes and desires of the international center, Obama is now expecting a pay-off. As he told the United Nations: “We have sought, in word and deed, a new era of engagement with the world. Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”
Of course, that second step won't take place. This is because of the faulty assumptions that Obama has based his approach on. He assumes that he will build up such a foundation of good will that other countries will want to go along with us in our initiatives. And he has further faulty assumptions that are at the very foundation of his approach to such difficult questions as Iran.
2. The rest of the world shares America’s assessment of dangers and challenges — for example, that a nuclear Iran or an overly assertive Russia are a threat. Iran doesn’t think so and Russia doesn’t think so, either about themselves or about each other. Neither does China and many other states, who might believe instead that whatever keeps the United States off-balance and preoccupied is actually a good thing rather than a danger to international peace and stability. As Nile Gardiner commented in London’s Daily Telegraph the other day: “The UN loves Barack Obama because he is weak.”

3. Even if some countries agree with America as to the ideal state of international affairs, it is highly questionable whether such general agreement, relying on its own moral force and the power or suasion and diplomacy but not backed by the willingness to use force as the last resort, will actually convince the rouge and misbehaving states to desist and toe the respectable line.
We're back to the confluence of Obama's projection and cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps the news that Iran tested two missiles today will serve as an answer to Obama's hope that good will and the threat of those tough sanctions that may never arrive will be enough to deter Iran. Or perhaps Obama will face up to the reality that Eliot Cohen writes of today. There are really only two choices left on the question of Iran's nukes.
Pressure, be it gentle or severe, will not erase that nuclear program. The choices are now what they ever were: an American or an Israeli strike, which would probably cause a substantial war, or living in a world with Iranian nuclear weapons, which may also result in war, perhaps nuclear, over a longer period of time.
There are only bad choices left. Obama didn't run to become a war president, but he will have no choice. It's all very chilling, but then reality usually is.

4 comments:

Pat Patterson said...

Foreign policy modeled after the grand finale of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. "Don't Dream It Be It!"

tfhr said...

Both North Korea and Iran have been running parallel programs - one for "disclosure" and "negotiations" and another to stay on course for developing a nuclear weapons capability. We've known this with North Korea for more than a decade and Iran's widely distributed effort has been less of a secret than we would indicate of late.

The problem is that successive administrations have tolerated it to buy time or evade confrontation.

Clinton engaged in "negotiations" with an opponent that will never bargain in good faith. That is a historical fact and offers of appeasement created a third world growth industry.

George W. Bush did use his time to build ABM defenses but like Clinton, Bush was also unable to effectively use third parties like China to prevail against North Korea or to push the European nations harder in their "negotiations" with Iran. In the end, Bush gave us a defensive option with some deterrence value but did nothing to reduce the threat programs, with the exception of Libya.

Obama is still new to the job but Iran and North Korea are bringing their same old game. Inexplicably, the President threw away both his best defense and bargaining chip with regard to a future Iranian nuclear missile threat, the ABM system based in Europe. Now his administration is going to sit across the table from the Iranians and have to hear that Tehran is not interested in negotiating away what it claims it does not have or does not seek. At some point Obama will hear the same from Pyongyang. Then what? Concessions to abandon officially "denied" programs?

It is all so ridiculous. Either the United States has to apply enough pressure to the enablers of Iran and North Korea, primarily Russia and China, to actually stop and dismantle these nuclear programs or we have the inevitable confrontation but won't be likely to control the scenario to any degree. Given the prevailing insanity of both regimes, I'm not at all certain that better cooperation from Russia or China will matter if it comes later rather than sooner. Those ABMs are going to be looking better and better with the passage of time.

So Cal Jim said...

There are eerie parallels between the world today and the world circa 1937-39.

-- A progressive Democrat president who is very sympathetic to socialist ideals presides over a Democrat controlled congress. (FDR / Obama)

-- America in the midst of economic turmoil. (Great Depression / Our current deep recession that, despite rosy statements to the contrary, just seems to be getting worse for the average family)

-- America militarily weak and unprepared for a major war. (Our current military is stretched very thin and woefully underfunded.)

-- Worse, the American people are seen by their enemies as morally weak and depraved, and unwilling or unable to stomach the necessary horror of defending themselves from massive naked aggression. (Aryan superiority & Japanese self discipline and devotion / "You love life, we love death.")

-- An foreign country lead by power mad men is building its military at breakneck speed. (Hitler & the Nazi Party / Ahmadinejad & the Mullahs)

-- The leader of that country has made clear for years that it intends to use its military against its regional neighbors and exterminate the Jews (Lebensraum & Auschwitz / Annihilation of Isreal)

-- Russia on good terms with that country (Hitler-Stalin Pact / Putin giving material & military aid to Iran)

-- American leaders and intelligentsia are both preoccupied with domestic matters and willfully blind to the growing threat from broad.

The problem is that today's weapons are far more devastating than what could be imagined 80 years ago. The Democrats have learned nothing from history and, like their 1930's counterparts, they know nothing about what really motivates nations to willingly wage war. I'm afraid many millions of people around the world may die because of it.

tfhr said...

So Cal Jim will probably be attacked by trolls, maybe even a few sock puppets, for his historical reference to Hitler, Stalin, etc., but there is no need for that.

The reference is to the fundamental and frightening flaw in human nature that repeatedly allows mankind to perpetrate the unthinkable only to do it again and again. We recoil at the thought that someone might dress up a contemporary figure in a suit or uniform symbolic of past misdeeds or horrors as a warning against the potential for future excess.

We do that, or so I believe, because for various reasons most of us will unfailingly attempt to rationalize one excess after another until we can no longer recognize the familiar pattern until it becomes undeniable at its conclusion.