Global leadership requires four elements: vision; capacity; skill; and resolve. One can reasonably argue that George W. Bush had the vision (spreading democracy as an antidote to Muslim fanaticism), capacity (the strongest economy and military), and resolve (the Iraq War; the East European missile shield), but suffered from a lack of skill (overbearing approach). Conversely, Obama's apparent idealistic Wilsonian vision of a lesser American role in the world is blurry, our economic capacity is reduced, the leader's inexperience (or perhaps naivete) is apparent, and dithering is a predominant feature. A quick survey:
1. Afghanistan: His appointed general provided recommendations to implement March's "carefully crafted" counterinsurgency strategy on August 30. Nearly four months later we have nothing, our enemies are emboldened, and our NATO allies are becoming restive as they have bought into General McChrystal's recommendations.
2. Iraq: The Bush / Maliki strategy for US withdrawal continues on the pace that Obama inherited, the Iraqis have settled their election law issues, and ongoing incidents of violence do not appear likely to derail the process. We have the first significant functioning Arab democracy. No change is a good thing.
3. Pakistan: The most dangerous country in South Asia has undertaken an aggressive stance against al Queda and the Taliban in the face of rising carnage in their cities. Clumsy and offensive American conditions attached to a $7.5 billion aid package -and Secretary of State Clinton's criticism for nor being more focused on al Queda - seem designed to paint President Zardari as an ineffective American stooge.
4. Iran: Cancellation of the Eastern European missile shield was intended to buy Russia's good will and support for a plan to ensure that Iran's nuclear program was limited to peaceful purposes. Forget that! Likewise, the dance about Iran sending their nuclear materials to France or Russia for peaceful purpose upgrade - a temporary illusion. The policy - talk for talk's sake.
5. North Korea: Nuclear and missile tests continue with nary a sideways glance as Obama's special envoy prepares to open bilateral discussions. At risk - the Bush policy of Six Party Talks with China in a major role.
6. Israel/Palestine: The graveyard where all good diplomats go to die. One can fault Obama/Hillary for tilting toward Israel in the latest round (which resulted in the announced retirement of Palestinian Authority President Abbas), but a peaceful "two state" solution has eluded the best diplomats for decades.
7. Honduras: We find ourselves on the side of Castro and Hugo Chavez in this battle between the Honduran Supreme Court and Legislature in their confrontation with a leftist president who tried to overthrow the constitutional provision for term limits. A recent agreement for November 29 elections would seem to overcome the Obama administration's demand that President Zelaya be reinstated.
8. Norway. Ah yes, the Nobel Peace Prize for which nominations were submitted within three weeks of Obama's inauguration.
As Woodrow Wilson found in the 20s, it is a dangerous world and good intentions are not enough. It was initially hoped that Joe Biden (Senate Foreign Relations chair), Hillary (Bill's global legacy), and the plethora of special envoys (Richard Holbrooke in Afghanistan/Pakistan, George Mitchell in the Middle East, Stephen Bosworth in Korea) would bring experience to an effective foreign policy. Instead, the plan to delegate foreign hot spots to a team of experts from the past has captured some good will, but is accompanied by a decline in influence.
-----This week's You Tube is for all of the Gladys Knight fans - a parody, and the original.
bill bowen - 11/13/09