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Foreign Policy by Avoidance

How long will the Obama administration continue to receive a free pass on foreign policy and national security issues?

By 9.11.09

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In general the Obama administration has been given a pass on foreign policy and defense issues. Of course small gaffes have been exploited for partisan political purposes, but serious attacks on policy and tactics have been comparatively muted. This politesse does not help the American political process -- and certainly keeps the public unnecessarily ill informed.

There would appear in Washington these days a willful desire to ignore the realities of the world outside. To begin with, General McChrystal has been informed that he better not ask for too many additional troops for Afghanistan; that the strategy the White House has forced on him as an alternative to a full scale commitment to defeat the Taliban must show some positive results in a year, or else the Administration plans to pull out.

In addition to this "instant gratification" test in military strategy, there is the "rediscovery of the wheel" as personified by the shock Washington is exhibiting to the information that the Taliban is charging a "protection tax" on U.S. economic projects. This extortion -- which sometimes can reach as high as 20 percent of the projected expense -- is historically known as zagat and has been a cultural truth of Afghani tribal life long before the existence of the Taliban. Throughout the less-developed world there are similar payoffs. That this is hot news for the Obama foreign policy establishment shows its naïveté.

An art form has developed within the current administration's foreign affairs brain trust that is best described as "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" -- not necessarily in that order. It is especially true when considering Iranian matters. Nonetheless, it will be impossible to overlook the appointment of Ahmad Vahidi as President Ahmadinejad's defense minister. This is the same individual who is high on Interpol's "wanted" list for his role in the bombing in 1994 of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.

It's obvious that the White House and Congress are more than happy to be locked in domestic conflicts such as health care so that they do not have to acknowledge the impending disaster of an Iran that intends -- no matter what -- to proceed with its nuclear weapon development. Meanwhile North Korea's admission that it now has the ability to enrich uranium has been carefully under emphasized by Washington. This process would give Pyongyang a new way to make weapons in addition to their known plutonium-based operation.

The political strategy of downplaying the dangers of aggressive forces abroad and the threat of terrorism at home may be a useful device in keeping the American electorate focused on social issues important to the WH, but it is a disservice to national security. The fact is that such an action may have short-term advantages domestically, but it certainly will be perceived as an opportunity by antagonists abroad.

While Secretary of State Clinton may have a strong personality, her status as an influential factor in foreign policy is weakened by the lack of a firm foreign policy by the White House. Unfortunately this is exactly to President Obama's liking. He certainly doesn't want to appear challenged in any respect by the only other Democratic national figure. To ensure this diminution of Clinton strength he has cleverly divided key foreign responsibilities among several "super-ambassadors."

What is obvious is that General Jim Jones, USMC, Ret., the national security advisor, shows no inclination toward a vigorous military. The situation in Afghanistan screams out for decisive leadership and the materiel and manpower to support it. Jones has assumed the role of an apologist to his old buddies in the armed forces for the weak, left-leaning government in which he has enlisted.

Jones knows full well that the strategy of close-in, continued contact between U.S./NATO troops with the populace until an effective Afghan Army can be built and trained requires force levels in excess of two hundred thousand troops to cover all Afghan sectors. In today's political environment in Washington this is simply out of the question. Why not admit it and plan for an alternative political/military commitment to the region?

In the final analysis, the Obama Administration has either a deep-seated ignorance of the real world or a deluded perception of a world riven with conflict and self-interest -- or perhaps both. In any case, such an outlook invites exploitation by America's many enemies. In a world in which strength of will and physical power are the ultimate arbiters of international standing, the Obama Administration had better start facing reality or we'll all suffer.

And, by the way, it's worthless to look backward searching for malefactors of the past to explain away the shortfalls of the present and future.

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.