Obama’s foreign policy woes
When you are the most powerful leader in the world, you want to be seen to be manipulating events, not the other way round.
Unfortunately for President Barack Obama, he’s in trouble on the foreign policy front, seven months from a presidential election. At best the situation is unpredictable, at worst, it’s a disaster.
The brazen Taliban spectacular today in Afghan cities – including embassies, parliament and NATO headquarters in Kabul – comes just five weeks before the NATO summit in Obama’s home city, Chicago. It was already going to be difficult for the NATO folks to put on a positive spin about ending the conflict without cutting and running. But after this it will be difficult to challenge the narrative according to which after all the blood and treasure spilled in Afghanistan since 9/11, we will be back in a pre-2001 scenario with either the Taliban back in control or another civil war.
Then there’s Iran. Of course it is to be welcomed that the first talks in a year between the big powers with Iran over its nuclear programme were “constructive and useful”, with another round scheduled for Baghdad next month. But that is one month closer to the November elections, and what will come out of the negotiations is anyone’s guess. Will Obama be able to stay Bibi Netanyahu’s hand if the Israeli prime minister judges that the time is ripe to attack Iran?
North Korea is another unpredictable foreign policy challenge. Just when the Obama administration thought it had obtained a period of calm by striking a deal with Pyongyang offering food aid in return for a freeze on uranium enrichment and missile launches, the North Koreans blasted a rocket spacewards. Never mind that it went “phut”, now there are worries that North Korea’s humiliated military might feel the need to carry out a third nuclear test. If so, it’s not clear how the Obama administration can stop them.
And here’s another foreign leader who is embarrassing Obama – this time an ally, Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France. He is so desperate to win re-election in next week’s polls that he released the first few minutes of a transatlantic video link with Obama. The U.S. administration was apparently aware that the exchange would be made public. But once Obama saw that Sarkozy would shamelessly exploit their conversation in which the French leader says “We will win, Mr Obama. You and me, together”, the administration surely should have nipped it in the bud.
Obama’s last major foreign policy success was the stunning assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Since then, he has faced accusations from his Republican challengers that he is weak, after taking a back seat on Libya, and even an appeaser for engaging with Iran and North Korea. What will happen if Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad is still snubbing his nose at the international community in November after being told to “step aside” by Obama in August last year?
Foreign policy has a way of erupting into American election year politics when you least expect it. This year it could happen on multiple fronts. Events, dear boy, events. Seldom have those words been more appropriate in an election season.Tagged in: Afghanistan, iran, Kabul, north korea, obama, syria
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