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.