What’s the point?

Today, President Obama releases a new policy governing the of nuclear weapons.  He breaks with over 60 years of American foreign policy and promises not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty even should they attack the United States with biological, chemical, or other weapons of mass destruction.

This is the second time Obama has demonstrated his hallmark foreign policy dictum: unilateral preemptive concession. But unlike some others, I’m not as amazingly incensed by this latest absurdity.

Sure, it’s bad negotiating; you don’t announce in advance what you’re willing and not willing to do.  You leave those options available and you remove them from the table in return for concessions. (Hillary Clinton made exactly this point during the campaign, in response to candidate Obama’s howler about taking the use of nuclear force off the table.)

And sure, it certainly seems to privilege the health of foreign states over the security of the American people, which is rhetorically troubling and makes me wonder where what Obama’s priorities actually are.

But really, it’s just silly.  Strategic and tactical decisions will still be made in response to actual developments.  The decision about whether or not to deploy nuclear weapons–in any case that even remotely argues for their use–will not be decided by a statement sheet issued on a slow-news Tuesday. These kind of policy statements do not bind the current administration, much less future ones. This is the foreign policy equivalent of a campaign promise.

“I will not use nuclear weapons–even in self defense–to protect the American people from countries that have signed this treaty.”

is as meaningful as,

I can make a firm pledge, under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.”

But, you know, he did get a Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear nonproliferation.  Maybe this is his effort to earn it.

With a meaningless, pointless, empty promise.

What the #^$@!*?

The Boston Globe reports that the State Department has cut funding for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.

For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that – for the first time since it was formed – its federal funding request had been denied.

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’ …

“If the rationale is that we are going to stop funding human rights-related work in Iran because we don’t want to provoke the government, it is absolutely the wrong message to send,’’ she said. “That means that we don’t really believe in human rights, that the American government just looks into it when it is convenient.’

Who’s actually making foreign policy decisions in the White House?

Seriously, who?

The Pull Out Method

The Obama administration has decided not to install proposed missile defense systems in either Poland or the Czech Republic. Designed to intercept ballistic missiles targeting Western Europe, the systems were intended to counter the threat of any developing nuclear threat from Iran, but Russia recognized them as defense systems that could also intercept its own ballistic missiles. Russia opposed the plan vigorously as any missile defense system in Central Europe would diminish the strategic threat of its own nuclear arsenal.

Russia made no concessions to the U.S. in this negotiation. However, the speculation is that the Obama administration hopes that Russia will later respond to the decision by softening its opposition to imposing economic sanctions on Iran.

The Obama administration’s move was confirmed by the Czech Republic interim prime minister. “Just after midnight I was informed in a telephone call by President Barack Obama that [his] administration has decided to pull out from the plan missile defense shield installations” in the Czech Republic and Poland, said Jan Fischer said at a news conference Thursday. — WSJ

Poland was notified in the same manner. Ironically, on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Apparently, military analysts are genuinely conflicted over the range of Iran’s ballistic threat; some argue that the long range threat–which the batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic would have countered–is minimal while short and medium range missiles remain the greater threat. Other analysts see a greater threat from Iranian long-range ballistic missiles, either now or in the near future. Even if the administration is correct in its near-term assessment of Iranian long-range ballistic missile capability, this sudden shift in policy only decreases the likelihood that we would be able to renegotiate similar batteries in the future–when strategic assessments change.

Regardless, the complete capitulation of the U.S. administration in this matter (the batteries were planned and the agreements signed) sorely weakens U.S. relations with our two strongest allies in Central Europe and does nothing to improve Eurpoean or American security.

But at least we got no concessions from the Russians.

As to the promise of economic sanctions, that’s a farce. Russia has never shown any interest in honoring international sanctions, even those to which they nominally agreed. Further, economic sanctions are unlikely to deter Iran’s fanatical and xenophobic regime from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Iranian leadership has made it abundantly clear that they intend to pursue nuclear technology and by some estimates, may be capable of producing weapons grade material early next year.

Israel, naturally, is monitoring the situation closely. Recall that in the face of American dithering, Israel took it upon itself to strike at nascent nuclear facilities in the Sudan and Iraq to forestall the possibility that autocratic regimes bent on the utter destruction of an entire race of people would acquire nuclear weapons.

It has been suggested that Israel may be planning a smilar strike on Iran–and indeed they have been conducting very public military maneuvers in preparation for just such a strike. But any international strike that Israel makes requires American diplomatic and strategic cover. So far, the Obama administration has shown a remarkable unwillingness to confront the Iranian autocracy on any substantive issue, and actions like this–pulling defensive systems before they’ve been installed–cannot bolster the Israeli’s confidence.

The tactical analysis of Iranian missile capabilities is an issue that I cannot intelligently address, however, defensive batteries designed to intercept ballistic nuclear missiles–whether those missiles are housed in Iran, Pakistan, or Russia would bolster both American and European security by diminishing the threat of nuclear first strikes. The proposed batteries posed no threat to Russia, they only diminished the effectiveness of Russia’s first strike capability.

The withdrawl of the proposed batteries will have sever impact on foreign relations in central and eastern Europe.After all, if we’re willing to back out of these plans in the middle of the night, why not other plans?

The decision to scrap the plan will have future consequences for U.S. relations with eastern Europe.

“If the administration approaches us in the future with any request, I would be strongly against it,” said Jan Vidim, a lawmaker with Czech Republic’s conservative Civic Democratic Party, which supported the missile defense plan. — AP

Neil Gardiner, writing for the London Telegraph, had this to say,

This is bad news for all who care about the US commitment to the transatlantic alliance and the defence of Europe as well as the United States. It represents the appalling appeasement of Russian aggression and a willingness to sacrifice American allies on the altar of political expediency. A deal with the Russians to cancel missile defence installations sends a clear message that even Washington can be intimidated by the Russian bear.

What signal does this send to Ukraine, Georgia and a host of other former Soviet satellites who look to America and NATO for protection from their powerful neighbour? The impending cancellation of Third Site is a shameful abandonment of America’s friends in eastern and central Europe, and a slap in the face for those who actually believed a key agreement with Washington was worth the paper it was written on.

Update:

Ht to Hot Air, this is the best line yet:

“Unilateral preemptive concession in the hope that your negotiating partners will follow suit? Anyone who believes that will work with Russia hasn’t looked at 70 years of Soviet history and 200 years of Russian history,”

Unilateral preemptive concession.

There’s also this, a report that indicates Iran launched a satellite into space in February, a fact which seems to point to long-range ballistic missile capability.

Iran

Foreign Policy is hard stuff; it generally resists ideological formulation. Grand visions rarely work and the best laid intentions are often undone as quickly as they can be formulated. The world is a messy place and it defies simple solutions.

Set yourself up as a free-thinking, cosmopolitan isolationist and a fascist across the ocean decides to gas entire populations of dissidents, exterminate the Jews, invade your allies, and repeatedly violate long-standing cease-fire agreements. Set yourself up as a fierce defender of human rights across the world and suddenly you find yourself massively in debt to impassive communist bureaucracies. Oppose all forms of “pre-emptive” war and find yourself watching from the sidelines as a pro-democracy uprising swells in one of the world’s most tyrannical and oppressive regimes.

What to do?

Obama can’t send troops to Iran, he can’t risk–or afford–another military commitment in the Middle East. Besides, if he committed troops to Iran he’d wind up vindicating the foreign policy theories of the staff at the Ayn Rand Institute… a psychic cost of almost incalculable horror.

Maybe he should meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions?

Yeah, maybe not.

What about helping the insurgency? Clandestine operations conducted under cloak of night? That would be cool. Very Jack Ryan…. But to what end? It’s not like Ahmadinejad’s opposition is Eleanor Roosevelt. And it’s not very likely that Obama will be willing to provide the kind of public assistance to Mousavi that would elicit long-term cooperation with Washington.

As  Jim Hoagland put in the Wasington Post,

the president and his advisers still have not adjusted policies and tactics being overtaken by events. This is clear both from the initial “caught in the headlights” reaction by Obama as he temporized — albeit with steely skill — and from accounts of diplomatic and other official sources here.

Temporizing with steely skill.

Well, I guess it’s a foreign policy of sorts. I’m not really sure there’s anything else he can do at this point. Still it would have been nice had the most stirring defense of a people’s right to free elections and democratic justice come from the United States rather than France.

I don’t have a problem with using different approaches for different international crises, in fact I applaud a foreign policy that takes special circumstances into account. What troubles me is that this administration seems committed to a set of priorities that place democracy, liberty, and human dignity last.

It’s hard to see the temporizing as careful calculation rather than simple confusion and ambiguity over political resistance. This is the administration that nominated Charles “shoot the protesters” Freeman to chair the National Intelligence Council. This is the administration that would rather pressure China on T-bills and greenhouse gases than basic human rights. This is the administration that wants to open negotiations with Hamas and pressure Israel to come to terms with a group of thugs who maintain their steadfast desire to “drive the Jews into the sea.”

So it’s not that I disagree with the administration’s reticence to leap into the middle of this particular conflict at this time, I simply don’t trust that they’re biding their time for the right reasons. I hope I’m wrong.

Update: There’s a press conference scheduled for today, so hopefully this will become a moot criticism.

Update: Well, there was a press conference.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs.”

What about individual sovereignty? Human rights?

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections.

A debate? They’re trying to have a debate? Wow. Rough debate. I thought maybe they were trying to exercise basic human rights and being shot at.

This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

“No help from us, bub. You’re on your own. Good luck with that liberty stuff.”

My favorite line about the conference is from the New York Times,

Mr. Obama leaves the room. “No questions about Iraq or Afghanistan?” a reporter cries out. The question hangs in the air. It does seem amazing, not a single question for the American president about the nation’s two wars.

Now, why on earth would anyone have any doubts about this adminsitration’s foreign policy?