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Foreign Affairs

Foreign Emboldening

Speaking to the United Nations in September, Barack Obama stated, "I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world." No doubt, Obama believed that such high expectations would be accompanied by a concominent commitment of cooperation from a sympathetic world community. Indeed, global praise greeted the news of Obama's election, and a new era was promised by the harbinger of "change."

Of course, political rhetoric, even when sincerely spoken, and $5 will buy you a cup of Starbuck's Joe. The news seems to daily multiply the countries which have become disillusioned, if not outright defiant, of America's all-talk president.  

Iran, for example, has shown the most boldness in rebuking and seeking every opportunity to humiliate America. Over the weekend, Iran announced that Sen. John Kerry had sought to meet with members of the Iranian parliament - a request which Kerry had hoped to keep quiet until Iran had agreed to the visit. In broadcasting the news, Iran also stated that the request would likely be denied.

In response to a U.S.-led, UN-sanctioned ultimatum with a 2009 year-end deadline to use Iran's own stockpiles of enriched uranium as the raw material for producing nuclear fuel rods for Iranian research reactors, Iran responded with its own ultimatum to buy the fuel outright or swap in small installments (preserving sufficient uranium in Iran for weapon-grade conversion). Obama may have agreed to support the regime in opposition to demonstrators for democratic reform in exchange for Iran's secret consent to the plan it has now rejected. 

Iran has now declared it will hold massive war games to coincide with the deadline it has set for the West to decide upon its counter-proposal. Not an entirely subtle message. If the West fails to concede to the Iranian ultimatum, the rogue nation has threatened to produce its own nuclear fuel - which would require the sort of uranium enrichment methods used to produce nuclear weapons and which the West is desperate to halt.  

Even among our allies, Great Brittain has announced that information relating to the Christmas day underwear-bomber was passed along to the U.S. prior to the flight. In this breach of protocol, which would usually have matters of intelligence gathering and dissemination remain undisclosed, the British government seems to have intentionally thrown the Obama administration to the wolves.

Further, many countries have simply ignored Obama's call for heightened security measures on all U.S.-bound flights. Such resistance might have been expected from the likes of Lebanon, Syria and Libya, but the uncooperative countries also include Germany, France and Spain.

As noted in Robert Lieber's similarly themed L.A. Times article criticizing Obama's well-intended but inept operational style on foreign policy, nations on every continent "have failed to accept Obama's outstretched hand." In fact, some of these countries are trying to bite the hand that feeds. Russia is again asserting itself over Eastern Europe while stalling progress on Iranian sanctions, China sent Obama home with absolutely nothing to show for his visit, all of Europe is reticent to support Afghanistan or to accept Gitmo inmates, Israel is beginning to simply ignore U.S. peace talks while it is likely preparing to strike Iran in direct defiance of U.S. requests and Obama was personally scolded at the UN on the issue of nuclear proliferation by the French.

Lieber blames Obama's foreign engagement failures upon his penchant for projecting himself as the personification of U.S. policy, his belief that our adversaries simply react to U.S. rhetoric rather than pursuing their own self-interests and Obama's inexperience and aloofness. All of these causes are likely valid, as is Lieber's tally of Obama's many foreign policy blunders. The question is whether Obama will learn from his mistakes and adjust.

I wouldn't expect much in the way of improvement in year two. On the one hand, people simply do not quickly undergo the sort of fundamental ideological change needed by Obama. His naivety toward human nature and its expressions in global diplomacy requires a complete reassessment of first principals and reformulation of political doctrine. Such revolutions of thought are not swiftly resolved.

Furthermore, it has not become at all clear that Obama is aware of his failings. Perhaps he believes the process of his rhetorical diplomacy is slow but sure, and time will justify any perceived shortcomings. Bush adopted this view as a matter of conviction, as was clearly observed in his ordering of "the surge" in Iraq. Events in Iraq have favored Bush, but his faith was justified by a belief in the U.S. military.  Will Obama's faith in Putin, Chavez, Ahmadinejad and Assad be similarly rewarded? 

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