A rough draft of this post was accidentally published before it was final. Sorry for the confusion.
Since Obama took office, he has taken a very different policy standpoint on four major countries that have poor relations with the US — North Korea, Iran, Burma, and Venezuela. Obama has offered to wipe the slate clean — end sanctions, begin friendly talks, shake hands in public, whatever the thug in power wants. While it’s naturally too early to draw final conclusions, the initial result of Obama’s “sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy” (whatever that means) has been just as much a failure as a student of International Relations 101 would expect. Peace through strength is still important, and human nature still applies in the 21st century.
The liberal blog Firedoglake has mocked conservative criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy by ironically writing that “only Republicans can shake hands with dictators.” This cheap joke is great for a blog, or for the short attention span of the mass media, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. Nixon made his career on being a fierce anti-communist but was the president who opened relations with Communist China; Reagan only made a raprochment with the USSR after it selected a leader who wanted to defrost relations with the US. Yet another big difference between Nixon shaking hands with Mao and Obama shaking hands with Chavez is that in the case of the former, a new era in bilateral relations had already been created behind the scenes. In the case of the later, it was a peculiar gamble that only became a PR opportunity for an anti-democratic thug. Obama should remember the old Vulcan saying quoted by Spock in Star Trek VI: “Only Nixon could go to China.”
Obama is no Nixon.
Let’s have a quick review of how relations with the four rogue nations have changed after four months of Obama’s “sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy.”
* North Korea: Pyongyang has become more prickly and unpredictable as ever, launching rockets and testing its second nuclear device, and has refused to return to six party talks.
* Burma: Obama is moving towards engagement of the Myanmar junta and even proposed stopping sanctions, which has been met in response by the show trial of the country’s democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
* Venezuela: Nationalization of industries continues, Obama’s handshake with the thug of Caracas continues to be a great publicity move for Chavez, but this still doesn’t stop Venezuela’s president from criticizing Obama at every chance he gets.
* Iran: Iran is the only glimmer of positive news, although perhaps mostly because a presidential election looms on the horizon, and even those inside the cabinet are making friendly noises in Obama’s direction. That being said, the country has still firmly denied that it will give up its nuclear program, and even writers at Time wonder if Obama is dragging us along a path that will result in war with Iran.
This is all componded by the irony that as Obama gets chummy with America’s foes, he’s speaking being tough on Israel to oppose any expansion of Israeli settlements. Someone’s forgotten the many failures of Jimmy Carter.
The evidence speaks for itself. And I think the dictator-hugging, it will continue in this general direction. Which is why I’ve written on several occasions that Obama’s foreign policy scares me.
UPDATE: Thanks to Eddie for this one — turns out that it isn’t just the Israelis, but the British as well, who are getting snubbed by Obama.