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?