Foreign Policy

Too much James Bond, not enough Henry Kissinger

If I had to grade President Obama’s interview with Steve Kroft on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last night, I’d give him a C+.

I know that’s apt to annoy a lot of people. The president certainly came across as sober, human, decisive and effective. But in the end, he didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The interview was a bit too much James Bond and not enough Henry Kissinger.

Like all Americans, I was thrilled to hear Osama bin Laden met his fate last week and see America assert its influence in the Middle East. Still, the administration needs to resist viewing this successful battle as the end of the war. Coupled with the Arab Spring, the killing of bin Laden was certainly a significant blow to al Qaeda, but it remains largely symbolic. Placing too much weight on any one individual in our fight against Islamic fundamentalism is a dangerous path to start down. While bin Laden might have been the mastermind behind 9/11, it was the jihadist ideology he promoted that was at the heart of the attacks and continues to threaten us today.

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Why continue giving billions to Pakistan?

Why are we giving Pakistan billions each year in assistance for fighting terrorism if they're so outrageously bad at it?

Chump change? I don’t think so. Since 9/11, we’ve given over $18 billion in U.S. aid to the country. For 2011, another $1.8 to $2 billion is earmarked for the country. And what do we have to show for it?

Earlier this year, the country held one of our CIA agents, returning him only after we paid millions more in essentially a ransom to get him back. Relations are strained. And now the country’s leaders are saying the United States overstepped its authority and violated the sovereignty of the nation of Pakistan.

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What's next for US and Pakistan

The first anti-American demonstrations have already taken place in Pakistan, in the city of Quetta, which might have sheltered al Qaeda leaders in the past.

What's next for U.S.-Pakistani relations after the daring U.S. raid deep inside Pakistan by Navy SEALs? Anti-American sentiment has long been running high in Pakistan over the drone attacks along the border with Afghanistan and is now gaining traction in urban society. Pakistan’s charismatic opposition leader, Imran Khan, a cricketer-turned-politician, has been stirring things up in recent days, warning that if the Predator attacks continue, Pakistanis would block NATO supplies to Afghanistan.

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Don't forget Iran

The Senate needs answers from Gen. David Petraeus and Leon Panetta on Iran. With all the international focus on the Arab spring, what has escaped attention is the power struggle going on inside Iran between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his erstwhile protector, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Right now it looks like Khamenei is circling the wagons. He has slapped down Ahmadinejad, who showed signs of wanting to groom his chief of staff to succeed him as president. In the most obvious sign of displeasure, Khamenei overruled Ahmadinejad, who had sought the resignation of the intelligence chief, Heydar Moslehi. Ahmadinejad’s response was to disappear from public view and in the past week not to show up to chair two Cabinet meetings.

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Talking to myself and becoming frustrated

My recent harshness about the president comes because this is a bit of an “own goal.” We did not have to get involved. An Arab dictator is oppressing his people — that is hardly news and, unless our interests are directly involved, not our issue. Also, given the perilous state of our finances and our already full military plate, it is simply not prudent to indulge in superfluous actions. But, there I go again … once I get started on any logic train thinking about this I find myself banging the keyboard and crying out loud in frustration.

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What is our responsibility?

What responsibility do America and the rest of the Western powers bear for protecting the rights and lives of people whose oppressive governments we supported and empowered? Do we face a moral responsibility to intervene? What about the real practical financial limits we face as a nation swimming in immense debt and high unemployment?
 
Clearly we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, or the savior of all the world’s people. But are there long-term interests in terms of opening up these societies, in terms of securing a more righteous place in the emerging order, that it makes sense to invest in them at this time? And even if we agree that we bear some responsibility and interest, what should our response and action consist of?

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Acting like Gadhafi, you win

As rebel fighters flee under fire from a key town in eastern Libya, it’s now apparent that the Obama administration will not forcefully remove Gadhafi from power. Whew. Guess who’s resting easy in Tripoli! Sure, the Obama administration wants the tyrant tossed. Why else would U.S. warplanes be pounding his military? But dropping a hint and showing him the door are two different things. While allied forces convening in London today insist Gadhafi must go, they are clueless as to how they can achieve this end goal.

Hello out there?

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President Obama makes strong case for Libya action

You may not agree with him, but you must admit: President Obama made the case for American intervention in Libya strongly and clearly.

He told us why he authorized the use of military force, at the request of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council: to stop the slaughter of the Libyan people by Gadhafi’s forces.

He reported our success so far in stopping Gadhafi in his tracks and turning all operations over the NATO. The U.S. will now continue our involvement only in a supporting role.

And he spelled out our ultimate goal: to continue diplomatic and financial pressure on Gadhafi until he is forced out of power — without using the U.S. military to achieve regime change.

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Obama’s Bush moment

President Obama had a Bush moment last night. But I’m not talking about George W. Bush. I’m referring to his father. Obama’s explanation of why he won’t back the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi under a U.N. resolution was all about the limits of war by committee — the same constraints that prevented the military coalition put together by George H.W. Bush from going all the way to Baghdad in 1991.

It is often said that G.W. Bush decided to topple Saddam Hussein to make up for his father’s “failure" to overthrow the Iraqi dictator in the first Gulf War. In his speech last night, Obama pointed out that regime change in Iraq “took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

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Is there an Obama Doctrine?

The tenuous situation in Libya poses a big dilemma for this administration. What baffles me is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

As the bombs fall and the missiles fly, it’s clear the world wants Gadhafi gone. Even the Arab League acknowledges that point. So for President Obama to state a similar line, there’s not much foreign policy wisdom flowing forth. Yet as congressional voices grow louder for clarity on “the mission,” this White House has turned to some pretty lame reasons for the U.S.’s presence over Libya.

“Humanitarian actions” to protect the citizens of Libya … Is that the best they can do? When the president states he wants Gadhafi deposed, that should be enough. And yet we have an administration that is stepping on its message by releasing statements in the name of protecting the people of Libya. A noble cause, yes, but to carry that logic through, then shouldn’t this country have acted sooner and not waited until the tyrant’s forces were about to deliver the deathblow to the opposition?

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