Only Nixon could go to China: Reconsidering “Why Obama Foreign Policy Scares Me”

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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15 Responses to Only Nixon could go to China: Reconsidering “Why Obama Foreign Policy Scares Me”

  1. Chirol says:

    what’s up with the raw links at hte bottom of this post?

  2. Aceface says:

    And Nixon/Kissinger had sold off U.S-Japan alliance to the Chinese.That’s where all this happened,in my opinion.

    Handing Beijing the control stick was the very mistakes from the beginning.
    Ofcourse they won’t be serious about forcing Pyongyang to drop the nuke.There’s no motivation!

    America totally lacks power,purpose and principle in dealing North Korean nuclear crisis.It gets worse as the time gets.

  3. jim says:

    Here’s a question. If Pyongyang nukes Seoul, does anybody believe Obama would nuke Pyongyang in relatiation? The nuclear deterrent only works if your enemy believes you. Obama exudes an aura of weakness — a smug, self-assured weakness, but still weakness.

  4. Eddie says:

    I strongly disagree on almost all counts.

    The Israelis are in a far right coalition that is locked into self-isolating behavior (even the promising talks with Syria now seem to be dead in the water) because of the sheer extremism of some of its coalition partners (though it has to be noted that FM Lieberman, for all his ethnic chauvinism, appears to be a realist in many senses of the word). Whether or not they attack Iran later this year or early next seems increasingly an academic exercise of how many Iranian civilian casualties and what damage to America’s interests, not to mention the Saudi oil platforms in Iran’s target sights after that attack. Bush’s foreign policy towards the Palestinians was a miserable failure, as amply documented by the absurd call for freedom and democracy and then a condemnation of the Palestinians for voting for the only non-crooks on the ballot, Hamas.

    America’s Burma policy has failed as well, held hostage by do-gooders who think if we just isolate ourselves enough from everyone else in the world making money there, sucking up valuable resources and gaining influence in Burma, we can pressure the regime into coming in from the cold. Its not going to work, and HRC was wise to read the writing on the wall.

    Venezuela is held hostage by an idiot running it into the ground who now has near dictatorial powers granted to him by a voting majority (most of whom are taking straight cash payments from his regime in the form of subsidies and community investments). Obama shaking his hand does nothing for the US or Venezuela but does give Latin Americans a clear signal that the US is no longer playing “he said, she said” with Chavez that demeaned the US and did little to promote its interests in the region (all of our allies save Columbia do extensive business with him anyway).

    North Korea is another failed bipartisan policy. What we’ve done the last 60 odd years hasn’t worked. Do we have anything else in the cupboard? Probably not. We may yet get to curse Jimmy Carter for his interference in 94 that doomed us to fight a second Korean War later this year. That will not be Obama’s fault, given the US has almost nothing to work with there aside from allegedly unthinkable options (like pushing for a nuclear Japan) that may be untenable nevertheless.

    I just don’t get this criticism of him as projecting weakness. If anything, all of these give backing to the observation that Bush’s foreign policy of the last eight years (coddling Pakistan no matter what, playing footsie with the Nokos at the 6 party talks while they gave away the store to Syria, Iran, Pakistan and God knows who else, isolating Cuba & Venezuela while they isolated us in Latin America, choosing idealism over reality in Burma and Iran) has left him with a mountain of problems he probably does not have the talent or good fortune to address satisfactorily.

  5. Eddie says:

    Now, before this seems like pointless Bush-bashing, I want to add its like a presidential tradition to hand off one’s screwups and glaring oversights to the next president. Bush spent years working off Clinton’s crap list and Clinton disastrously failed to clean up the elder Bush’s hand-offs (Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia). Thus, some of these policies and decisions are all too often in response to the predecessor and not an actual policy worth carrying water for over the next 4 years.

  6. Admiral says:

    God bless you for the Star Trek VI reference. I’m quite fond of quoting it, especially, apparently like you, in modern times.

    As predicted, every single political entity that senses the weakness of President Obama, and believes it is in their interests to do so, has tested US resolve. However, far from being an oppressive presence in the world, it has generally been a humanitarian, peace-fostering force. Although Obama augurs a significant weakening in US power, and therefore the interests it has fought for mostly in the past few decades, I should also note that Bush didn’t do much that would make it difficult for him to do so. For example, although Bush’s initial NK policy got more results than any before or since, he abandoned it. Additionally, our decline in naval power seems unfortunate and irreversible — whereas in the 1980s I think we had upwards of 17 aircraft carriers, we will soon have 11? When the CVN-65 USS Enterprise is decommissioned, she will not be, as was originally proposed, replaced by another vessel of that hallowed name. Instead, we’re naming aircraft carriers after no-term Presidents (Ford) and one-term Presidents (Bush). Whence the Invincible, Dauntless, Avenger, Indefatigable, Victory, and, yes, Enterprise?

    Now, of course, I am not saying that sea power is the future. But we’re running out of options at the same time that many in the UK, such as originally David Cameron before a solid discussion with Hague and Fox, are content to rely exclusively on the US for defense by not spending money on Trident. This is not, as Thatcher might caution, the time to go wobbly. But then, there never really is a time.

    And that ought to be the message to Obama, but, alas, it’s too late. Far too late. No matter what signals he sends out now, he’s already shown his hand as very likely to appease whoever comes before him. After all, what would you do if you were Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung-il, or anyone else who thinks they stand to gain from moving in where the US fears to tread?

  7. IJ says:

    The handmaiden of national foreign policy – defence – is being questioned by many.

    At Nato. In his speech this week to the Nato Parliamentary Assembly the S-G said But I do worry that some national governments are not maximising their contribution to NATO – they are still wasting resources on procurement of capabilities for hypothetical scenarios.

    At the US Department of Defense. Gates Is Optimistic that Weapons Cuts Will Weather Opposition. Mr. Gates, who believes that future wars will involve conflicts more like those in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than taking on superpowers such as China or Russia, is using one of his most potent weapons—the annual budget—to quickly bring about changes in how the Pentagon arms for conflict. He is taking aim at some of the most entrenched forces in Washington..

  8. Bob Harrison says:

    For all the talk about America’s softening naval power there’s no emerging naval power to challenge us. Russia and China are the only potential rivals and neither of them will match US naval supremacy any time soon. China will remain a desperately poor country for at least two more generations, if she could ever challenge US naval might it would only be in her territorial waters, serious power projection capabilities on the part of the Chinese is generations away.
    ” in the 1980s I think we had upwards of 17 aircraft carriers, we will soon have 11?” And how many carriers do other countries have? If you combined all the navies of the world you’d still have fewer carriers than the USA (not to mention most of those navies belong to our allies).
    I may be overly-optimistic but I believe it will take more than one naive president to ruin American power.

  9. Jesus Reyes says:

    Bush and company made the miscalculation of the century when they thought that the Taliban had been completely defeated and then invaded Iraq which was to be a nine month, 60 billion cake walk that would be paid for out of Iraq’s oil revenue, essentially bankrupting the country, putting China’s leash around our neck-G2 indeed, and now Obama’s weak. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise”

  10. UNRR says:

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 5/30/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  11. Alfred Russel Wallace says:

    The perfidious French again…. I loved the NYT ‘correction’ …An article … referred incorrectly to the role of French troops in the landings. While their numbers were relatively few, they did participate; it was not an event in which they “played no part.” (177 French marines and 35 French paratroopers took part, with hundreds more airdropped in following days.) I would add, for comparison, that 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved, with 160,000 troops landing on June 6, 1944.
    NO wonder the Queen is miffed!!

  12. Bob Harrison says:

    Slightly off topic… but I got the impression that Sarkozy was making a break with Gaullism, and as part of that break France would reorient itself towards NATO and the Atlantic and give up the (futile) attempt at making a continental European command structure. Why then, would it makes sense for them to snub the Brits like that? In addition to being an insult to all the Brits that bled and died to liberate France, it seems like poor diplomacy.
    Here I was thinking there would be a new triple-entente of the US, France, and the UK against Russia and Germany.

  13. Jason says:

    “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.”

    You’re being overly dramatic. Having a president who believes that engagement with another country is something other than the active use of military weapon systems is not a bad thing. This is his FIRST YEAR in office, he barely has five months on the job, and you’re bemoaning his policies. Give diplomacy some chance to work, at the least he can say “well I offered my hand, now we play rough.” As for Israel, that country is way beyond the pale of normal civilized behavoir and needs an urgent wake-up call. We give Israel $3 billion a year in assistance and all we get back is more unrest, more distablization in that region. Something has to change, and certainly the issue of settlements is a logical starting point.

  14. Pingback: Obama And Israel: Be Careful What You Wish For « Hidden Unities

  15. M. Nut says:

    You pretend to be a student of history but for get a few facts:
    N. Korea started launching missiles during the Bush administratio, so why is it that them continuing to do so is because of bad policy by Obama? Was it not Bush who removed N. Korea from the list of countries who support terrorists?

    Venezuela. Could it be that Obama is going to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. You see that Obama had the audacity to shake hands with Chavez means that he’s being “soft.” Others, like the “radically leftist” Bill O’Reilly, say that Obama “scolded” Chavez in that meeting and may be getting frustrated so he’s lashing out.

    Iran. According to another “radical leftist” Pat Buchanan (in Obama’s policy is spot on. In not overly engaging Iranian protesters we are avoiding aiding the current government in painting the whole thing as a U.S. conspiracy.

    Burma, really Burma? That’s the best you could come up with for a fourth mistake? That are dozens of regimes that are worse than those in Burma. Are we supposed to change every nation all at once?