Reality Intrudes

It’s easy for President Obama and his aides and cabinet secretaries to announce a new era in American foreign policy, but reality is not so easily tamed. Thus, we had these headlines a few minutes apart this afternoon:

“Pelosi pledges ‘new era of cooperation’ between US, allies”:

Flanked by her Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini, the Italian-American Pelosi said: “There is no way that we will establish a policy that then imposes upon others obligations for which they have no consultation.”

President Barack Obama has signalled that his presidency would turn the page on his predecessor George W. Bush’s largely go-it-alone foreign policy.

That characterization is untrue, of course, but it’s part of the script. This headline, however, emerged from the same Pelosi meetings in Italy:

“Official says Italy will not take Gitmo inmates”:

Italy will not accept any Guantanamo Bay detainees when the U.S. prison shuts down, a close ally of Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday after meeting with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

President Bush’s approach garnered considerable cooperation and support from a large number of allies. It will be interesting to see whether President Obama does as well.

Secretary of State Clinton, meanwhile, was ungracious in blaming the Bush administration for North Korea’s determination to obtain nuclear weapons:

In a slap at her predecessors, Clinton made it clear she believes that the Bush administration’s decision to walk away from an agreement negotiated during her husband’s administration — the 1994 Agreed Framework — helped create the current crisis over North Korea’s stash of nuclear weapons. …

“The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program,” Clinton said. “There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.”

Most observers would say that the “agreed framework” was torn up by North Korea, not the U.S., but the real point is that as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has a more important mission than to try to vindicate her husband’s administration. It is bad form, and potentially highly destructive, to engage in this kind of trashing of one’s predecessors, but Clinton no doubt is taking her cue from her boss, who did the same thing in his notorious al Arabiya interview.

What we’re seeing from the Obama administration is amateur hour. Today came another reminder that, whether we like it or not, reality cannot so easily be dismissed: Pakistan announced that it will implement Sharia law in the Swat valley, already largely controlled by the Taliban:

Critics are already saying the deal will encourage Taliban militants fighting elsewhere in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and could threaten the integrity of the country itself. Britain’s Guardian newspaper quotes Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think-tank in Islamabad, as calling the peace deal a surrender to the Taliban. It also quotes Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, as saying, “It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding.” [Ed.: Let’s hope our British readers are taking note.]

News of the peace deal followed an acknowledgement by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari that the Taliban had “a presence in huge amounts of land” in Pakistan and were trying to take over the country. In an interview with CBS, he said Pakistan was fighting to survive.

Puerile criticisms of the Bush administration and platitudes about cooperation will do nothing to meet the very real challenges of the next four years. The sooner Barack Obama recognizes this and gets on with the tough work of managing foreign policy, the better.

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