Wednesday, May 26, 2010

AWOL as a Foreign Policy

Yesterday I criticized some of Tom Friedman's musings about the virtues of Chinese-style autocracy. Today, to show that it was not personal, I will offer some positive remarks about Friedman's new column. Link here.

In an interesting exercise in circumlocution Friedman takes the measure of Obama's policy toward Iran. He does not mention Obama by name, but the president's name is like the dog that didn't bark. Reading Friedman you have to conclude that he believes that the current debacle that is Iran policy derives directly from Obama's conspicuous absence.

Friedman begins by discussing the May 17 picture of the presidents of Turkey and Brazil joining hands with the president of Iran to announce a new, and worthless, deal on nuclear fuels. That these two leaders allowed themselves to be used as props to sustain a brutal dictatorship strikes Friedman as extreme ugly. As well it is.

In his words: "Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing, Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?"

The question is obviously rhetorical, but maybe it is not entirely rhetorical. If we ask who is ultimately responsible for laying the groundwork for this new alliance, the answer must be: Barack Obama. Is it not his absence that creates a place for others at the big power table? Uglier than this alliance is the foreign policy fiasco that has paved the way for it.

Obama's amateurish foreign policy stumbles have created a leadership vacuum, an every-man-for-himself situation where different leaders feel emboldened to involve themselves in alliances that they would never have formed if they believed that there was a sheriff in town or that they would have to answer for it?

After all, Obama has gone out of his way to befriend Iran. How can he criticize nations that develop the kind of friendly relations that he seems so ardently to be seeking?

Obama came into office to repudiate George Bush's axis of evil. The two states that had found themselves on that list, Iran and North Korea, understood that they were being given an opportunity to produce mischief.

The North Koreans have just committed an act of war against South Korea and Iran is moving forward on its nuclear weapons program with perfect impunity. We can easily can see that they have taken the measure of Obama and have found him wanting, to say nothing of absent.

Friedman does not exactly say this, but I do not think that I am over-interpreting his article. I think that he is making a similar point, but using a subtle rhetorical ploy.

I do not fault him for his circumlocutions because, after all, he is Tom Friedman and his article will be read by the foreign policy neophytes who are driving administration policy. Friedman is trying to influence policy by using circumlocutions and by shaming the administration. If yours is a voice heard in the corridors of power you do best not to call them out for the fools they are. That would make them defensive and would make them dig in their heels in righteous indignation.

So, if you ask yourself why Friedman offers a very harsh view of the results of our Iran policy without ever mentioning Obama, the answer should be fairly clear. He is dramatizing, rather than stating, that Obama has been AWOL on Iran.

Obama has abrogated his responsibility to provide leadership, and therefore the most conspicuous fact in the international chess game, as in Friedman's article, is the absence of Obama.

During the protests that followed the rigged Iranian election, in the time of the Green Revolution, Obama's voice, so clear and forceful in attacking the Israeli government for its settlement policy, was nowhere to be found. He made AWOL his signature policy toward Iran.

If you doubt my reading, take a look at this passage: "In my view the 'Green Revolution' is the most important self-generated democracy movement to appear in the Middle East in decades.... We have spent far too little time and energy nurturing that democratic trend, and far too much chasing a nuclear deal."

And here is Friedman closing his column: "Anyone working to delay that [i.e. Iran's going nuclear] and to foster real democracy in Iran is on the side of the angels. Anyone who enables this tyrannical regime and gives cover for its nuclear mischief will one day have to answer to the Iranian people."

If that is not an indictment of the administration policy, I don't know what is.

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