The problem with foreign policy is that it is complex and that words are not enough - military or economic muscle is frequently necessary. While the US represents about 40% of global defense spending at 3.3 % of our Gross Domestic Product (per the Congressional Research Services), most of our European and Asian allies spend in the 1 to 2 % range, and our adversaries spend relatively more - North Korea (25%); Iran (4.6%); China (4.1%); and Russia (4.8%). Over time it may be desireable to reduce our burden for protecting Japan and Europe, but for now it is necessary for a US president to be adept at managing the dangerous world stage. A few recent examples give one pause about Obama's experience and instincts:
1. The Georgia - Russia conflict was triggered when the Georgian president disturbed the status quo by trying to exert control over two break-away provinces that had a significant Russian presence. In Russia's perspective, this provided an opportunity to regain some of the Soviet Union's territory and to avenge the West's separation of Kosovo from Russia's long time ally, Serbia. The democratically-elected presidents of Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia flew to Tbilisi to show solidarity with Georgia. The US flew 2000 Georgian soldiers back from Iraq and placed a military relief contingent in Tbilisi as a tripwire. McCain called for strong economic and diplomatic consequences for Russia; Obama claimed that McCain's saber rattling encouraged the Russians.
2. Pakistan - a nuclear-armed country with a growing Islamist insurgency, a teetering democracy, and a Taliban threat on the western border - provides perhaps a greater threat. The delicate compromises to shut down AQ Khan's nuclear export ring, gain a truce with India in Kashmir, disown the Taliban in Afghanistan, and turn over al-Queda leaders from the frontier area cost President Musharaf his job and resulted in a search for an accomodation with the major factions in the Pakistani parliment. In this sensitive quagmire, and in an effort to show his strength in the face of his calls to abandon Iraq, Obama called for attacking Pakistan if they did not do more.
3. In a June speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama found it necessary to counteract the effect of his earlier commitment to meet without preconditions with President Ahmedinejad of Iran. There he promised to do everything in his power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, to give aid to Israel without the longstanding balance with Egypt, and to support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel - a key negotiating point which is unacceptable to the Muslim world.
Nobody knows what the next four years will bring with North Korea, Cuba, Russia, Syria, or a number of other countries, and a bias toward negotiation is certainly desireable, but this is no place for a naive rookie. In this arena, I'll take a Kissinger over a Carter any day.
This week's You Tube. Some of these campaign ads are getting a little too rough.