I suppose progressives and others hopeful for
a more rational foreign policy are going to have to be content, for the moment,
with crumbs from the presidential table, such as Barack Obama's recent statement
to the New York Times that we might consider negotiating with elements
of the Taliban. This is, however, not entirely good news, because the counterinsurgency
doctrine that animates this proposal aims at replicating
our alleged "success" in Iraq, where the U.S. military allied with
Sunni fundamentalists against largely foreign forces said to be affiliated with
al-Qaeda. The blowback from this tactic has yet to hit the fan, but you can
be sure that when the U.S. military begins to downsize its presence in Iraq,
these soldiers of the "Awakening"
– armed and subsidized by us – will move to fill the power vacuum and run straight
into the Shi'ite militias. The resulting conflict will no
doubt cause the Obama administration to think twice about leaving, as the
Iraqi government asks us to intervene. Having planted
the seeds of the coming civil war, we'll have ample pretext to renegotiate
the status of forces agreement.
The two faces of the Obama administration illustrate the principle that foreign
policy, far from being formulated with the solving of actual problems in mind,
is almost entirely driven by domestic political concerns. On the one hand, we
have the Good
Obama – the one who says he's going to stop the practice of torture by U.S.
military and intelligence personnel – except that Leon Panetta, his pick for
CIA chief, says we're going to continue "renditioning"
prisoners when we don't want to dirty our own hands by subjecting them to methods
that, say, the Egyptians or the Saudis wouldn't blink at.
The Obama administration has made overtures
to the Russians that we might be willing to forgo the anti-missile system Bush
installed in Eastern Europe, which Moscow is up in arms about. On the other
hand, the clueless
Hillary Clinton's State Department can't get a decent translator. When she
handed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a toy button, she thought it
was labeled "reset." The idea was to follow up on Vice President
Joe Biden's remarks
in Munich, where he suggested that relations between the two countries needed
to be reset on a new course – while demurring when asked if Obama intended
to drop the missile-shield deployment. For a long moment, as Clinton presented
the button to Lavrov, the mask of "competence" slid down to reveal
the utter ridiculousness of the Americans: "We worked hard to get the
right Russian word," burbled Hillary, smiling her most plastic smile.
Her grin vanished as he answered, "You got it wrong." Instead of
"reset," the word meant "overcharge." As Politico reports,
she came back with
"'In a way, the word that was on the button turns out also to be true,'
she argued. Though Lavrov had said that word on the button meant overcharge,
Clinton suggested that that peregruzka could also be translated as overload."
I'll tell you what's on overload: my BS detector.
The style of this administration is to speak out of both sides of its mouth
while looking over its shoulder at the various constituencies it must appease.
The "realist" wing of the Obama administration, centered in the intelligence
community and the diplomatic corps, looks to someone like Charles
"Chas" Freeman, whose appointment as head of the National Intelligence
Council would place him in a key position. Freeman was picked by Director of
National Intelligence Dennis Blair, whose spokeswoman made sure to let the Washington
that the president had no prior knowledge of the appointment. Freeman's sin,
in the eyes of the Lobby, was to promote The
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the seminal book by John Mearsheimer
and Stephen Walt that diagnoses the deforming effects of Israel's American amen
corner on our policymaking process.
The president's left-wing supporters want
action on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and expectations are high: a new
understanding of the "special relationship" is a prerequisite for
success. Yet the administration is extraordinarily sensitive to criticism from
the Israel lobby, which has gone on a jihad
against Freeman, throwing everything in the book at him, and then some.
The chosen theme of their hate campaign, in this case, is to portray
Freeman as an agent of foreign powers – Saudi Arabia and China, so far. This
charge, coming from
the Israel lobby, is a hoot
half – especially when one considers that the first
voice to be raised against Freeman belonged to none other than Steve
Rosen, the former AIPAC top lobbyist awaiting trial on charges of espionage
on behalf of Israel (see this
Very early on, a struggle for the heart and soul of the Obama administration
is taking place within the national security bureaucracy, with the "realists"
arrayed against the Lobby and the "national security Democrats" grouped
around the Center for a New American Security,
the Democratic version of the infamous
Project for a New American Century.
CNAS appointees are pouring into top Pentagon policy and State Department positions,
while the core resistance to the War Party, as in the Bush years, remains in
the intelligence sector, in this case Blair's National Intelligence Council.
Change? It's still possible: the War Party, although in charge at State and
the Pentagon, is hampered by widespread
among the president's base at the escalating conflict in Afghanistan and the
prospect of a wider conflict in Central Asia. On the other hand, Obama is unlikely
to want to take on the Israel lobby so early in his administration.
The Freeman appointment is one test of where we are going: if the Lobby succeeds
in derailing it, that will tell us who's still in the driver's seat when it
comes to steering our future course. The Lobby is fighting to assert its power
of veto, which it exercised effortlessly during the Bush dark ages. Is this
the bright dawn of a new day, or will the same old clouds darken our horizon
for the next four years? Some indication of where we are headed is due shortly,
but in the meantime, it's important to know that your voice is important. We're
at a plastic juncture in the history of our foreign policy, one that could go
either way. Do I have the audacity to hope? Well, yes, I do. On the other hand
– and you knew I was coming to that – the War Party has the advantage, as usual,
both in resources and in terms of its influence at the highest levels of the
policymaking hierarchy. The playing field isn't level, but, then again, it never
is. Nevertheless, the odds are no longer quite so stacked against us, and that's
a sign of progress, I'm glad to admit.