Obama’s First Round of Foreign Policy Tests

Charles Krauthammer is not optimistic that initial indications of foreign-policy acumen in the Obama White House are not plentiful:

The Biden prophecy has come to pass. Our wacky veep, momentarily inspired, predicted in October that “it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama.” Biden probably had in mind an eve-of-the-apocalypse drama like the Cuban missile crisis. Instead, Obama’s challenges have come in smaller bites. Some are deliberate threats to U.S. interests, others mere probes to ascertain whether the new president has any spine.
Preliminary X-rays are not very encouraging. …
With a grinning Goliath staggering about sporting a “kick me” sign on his back, even reputed allies joined the fun. Pakistan freed from house arrest A.Q. Khan, the notorious proliferator who sold nuclear technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Ten days later, Islamabad capitulated to the Taliban, turning over to its tender mercies the Swat Valley, 100 miles from the capital. Not only will sharia law now reign there, but members of the democratically elected secular party will be hunted as the Pakistani army stands down.

I must say that I share Krauthammer’s sense that the mistakes are indicative of beliefs, rather than inexperience.

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12 years ago

A.Q. Khan?! Sure Pakistan released him under Obama’s watch, but what about accountability from the mostly Republican administrations that ignored this “long-running farce”?

U.S. intelligence agencies first got wind of Khan’s nuclear black-market activity during the Carter administration. Yet he continued to operate, uninterrupted, through the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, the Clinton years and George W. Bush’s first term, until his network was formally shut down in 2003.
Despite being incommunicado, Khan is such a compelling figure that three teams of investigative reporters have come out with books on him this fall. While differing in emphasis, they arrive at some important, common conclusions. Together, they dispel any notion that Khan was an independent actor or that he operated on the fringes of legality, beyond Pakistani government control. They also show that U.S., British and other intelligence services knew a great deal about him. Most damning, they provide evidence that Khan’s operation could have been shut down in the ’70s or ’80s — long before this bitter, egomaniacal physicist was able to provide nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, North Korea and possibly other state and non-state actors.
Instead, successive U.S. administrations turned a blind eye to Khan’s network in return for short-term favors from Pakistan, first in funneling arms to the mujaheddin combating the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, after 9/11, in helping with the global war on terror. At times, Khan also profited from sheer bumbling by Western intelligence agencies and their failure to understand, until it was too late, how global networks of front companies could buy small pieces of nuclear weapons technology in hundreds of separate transactions, some legitimate and some not.

Criticize Obama if you like, but on Pakistan let’s start with Reagan.

12 years ago

Gee Russ, isn’t there a distinction to be made by prior admin’s who obviously, and in error, didn’t take the terrorist threat seriously enough and the current one, which should know better? And the larger point is that we were all led to believe that Obama’s “new” diplomacy would make things go better.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

Obama will be tested by Russia,being run de facto by Putin,a John Gotti with nukes.The challenge won’t be military,but more likely will involve Russia doing something blatantly inimical to US interests and more or less daring us to do something about it.
China might make a move on Taiwan if they preceive us to be mired down in an unrelated crisis.This isn’t that likely,but somewhat possible.
Iran-there will be the main crisis now that Netanyahu has gained power in Israel.He is looking for a war with Iran,Hamas,and maybe Hezbollah.He also doesn’t seem like a copacetic person for Obama to negotiate with.Some of Obama’s supporters in Congress will also be sympathetic to Netanyahu’s position.
An Israeli attack on Iran will ignite a major conflict.We should avoid being drawn in,but good luck on that.
I get an altogether uneasy feeling about Obama’s ability to make the right decision in any of these possible cricumstances.
Jimmy Carter,a much more experienced man,pissed on his shoes disastrously in ALL THREE of the above situations-Russia’s invasion of Afghnaistan,the Shah’s visit to the US precipitating the embassy takeover,and the dumping of longtime ally Taiwan.
I haven’t even mentioned the execrable response to the Castro boatlift.
Most of you(not you OTL)are too young to have experienced the period.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

Obama may well bring us “peace in our time.”

12 years ago

“Ten days later, Islamabad capitulated to the Taliban, turning over to its tender mercies the Swat Valley”
This was a giant and horrifying step backwards for Pakistan.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
12 years ago

Monique-Pakistan hasn’t got much room to go more backward.The veneer of westernized government sits on top of a deep pool of medieval thinking and fundamentalist Islam.Pakistan is no friend to the US.
Amateur hour in the White House couldn’t have come at a worse time.The last eight years was no bargain either.

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