Understanding “smart power”

So far our enemies are treating the Obama administration’s craven attempts to sweet talk them with the contempt these efforts deserve. As John has recounted, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to Obama’s misguided criticisms of America’s policies toward Muslim countries, broadcast throughout the Arab world in his interview with the al Arabiya television network, by stating that he would be willing to consider an improvement in relations with the U.S. if Obama will apologize for America’s many offenses against Iran.

Our adversaries often test the mettle of new American presidents early on. Here, given the signals Obama sent out during the presidential campaign and in the first weeks of his administration, it’s natural for Ahmadinejad to wonder just how far President Obama will go to humiliate the U.S.

Nor is Ahmadinehad an outlier. Abe Greenwald observes that Russia has reacted to Vice President Biden’s overtures with similar disdain. “Today,” reports Greenwald, “Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov praised Vice President Joe Biden’s recent kind words for Russia before making Biden seem foolish for ever uttering them.” Greenwald is referring to this AP account of the Deputy Prime Minister’s reaction to Talkin’ Joe’s overtures:

“The U.S. administration sent a very strong signal, and the signal was heard-a signal that says they’re ready to resume the Russian and U.S. dialogue frankly and openly,” Ivanov told a news conference on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

But he said Russia did not feel it necessary to immediately reciprocate.

“It is not an Oriental bazaar,” he said. “And we do not trade the way people do in the bazaars.”

Greenwald’s dry conclusion is: “I guess Ivanov didn’t get the memo about ‘smart power.'” My conclusion is that Ivanov got the memo and understood the real meaning of this pseudo-concept.

JOHN adds: Foreign policy setbacks continue to multiply. Kyrgystan has ordered the U.S. to close its air base at Manas, “a vital link in the supply chain to NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan,” reportedly under Russian pressure. Yemen has released 170 suspected members of al Qaeda from custody. In Pakistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of nuclear proliferation, has been released from house arrest and freed to re-enter the world of international nuclear intrigue.

It’s too early to conclude that the world views Barack Obama as a weakling, so that the time is right to shift allegiances to stronger and more reliable (or more threatening) allies. But the trend is disquieting.

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