An article in last Thursday’s New York Times illustrates all that is wrong with the Obama Presidency, aggravated with John Kerry at State. “Obama suffers setbacks in Japan and the Middle East” bemoans the NYT without digging too deeply into the pathology that drives these failures. (Emphases are mine).
TOKYO — President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.
Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed regional trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.
In Jerusalem, Israel’s announcement that it was suspending stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians, after a reconciliation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the militant group Hamas, posed yet another obstacle to restarting a troubled peace process in which Secretary of State John Kerry has been greatly invested.
The setbacks, though worlds apart in geography and history, speak to the common challenge Mr. Obama has had in translating his ideas and ambitions into enduring policies. He has watched outside forces unravel his best-laid plans, from resetting relations with Russia to managing the epochal political change in the Arab world. On Thursday, as Russia staged military exercises on the border with Ukraine, Mr. Kerry denounced broken promises from the Kremlin but took no specific action.
First, though, Mr. Obama has to overcome the stubborn hurdles to any trade agreement. Back home, he has been unable to win support from Congress for the deal. “Prime Minister Abe has got to deal with his politics; I’ve got to deal with mine,” he said on Thursday. “It means that we sometimes have to push our constituencies beyond their current comfort levels.”
Mr. Obama also declared that the United States was obligated by a security treaty to protect Japan in its confrontation with China over a clump of islands in the East China Sea. But he stopped short of siding with Japan in the dispute regarding who has sovereignty over the islands, and carefully calibrated his statement to avoid antagonizing China.
Mr. Kerry told Mr. Abbas on Thursday that he was disappointed by the reconciliation announcement, and he planned to speak later with Mr. Netanyahu. The administration’s Middle East peace envoy, Martin S. Indyk, remained in the region, refusing to give up.
“There are a lot of people in Japan who question whether Japan should make big concessions just because Obama is here,” said Nobuhiro Suzuki, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo. “Abe has to heed them, too, to avoid appearing like an American patsy.”
Other analysts faulted Mr. Obama, saying his decision not to fight for the legislative authority at home to pass major trade deals had robbed him of leverage with the Japanese, who are reluctant to make concessions for a deal that may not survive Congress.
The president’s statement about the United States’ obligations toward Japan was important because it was the first time he had explicitly put the disputed islands under American protection, though Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently made the same statement and the policy has been held by successive administrations.
The Chinese government reacted swiftly, saying it was “firmly opposed” to Mr. Obama’s position. More than anything, Mr. Obama appeared eager to defuse tensions over the islands, referring to them as a “rock” and saying they should not be allowed to derail a relationship that could otherwise be productive.
It becomes obvious from the above that the words and promises of the United States, particularly from Obama and Kerry, are not regarded highly in the international community and very little faith is put into American security guarantees. This is in stark contrast to the bad old days of the Cold War. So what has gone wrong?
To gain a deeper insight into what I referred to above as the “pathologies” driving Obama’s foreign policy failures, it is instructive to read Shoshana Bryen’s article (via DavidinPT) on “Hubris: how the US went wrong and why”: (emphases are mine).
The common thread is hubris, the supreme confidence that what you think is what everyone thinks — they’re just waiting for you to show up. Hubris is the natural state of affairs in the faculty lounges of major universities and, most likely, in the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” in which the president, Hagel, Biden, Clinton, and Kerry all served. A subdivision of hubris is the conceit that words equal action; that what is said is what is done. It is a subdivision because if you think there is no political or economic or social disagreement, then everyone must just be waiting for you to perorate.
Secretary of State Kerry called Vladimir Putin’s restoration of Crimea to the status of Russian territory, “19th Century thinking in the 21st century,” while Putin pocketed Crimea and considers cutting off the gas flow through Ukraine to Europe. He is, apparently, unoffended by a reference to the Tsars he considers Russian patriots.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tried empathy, authorizing release of the details of U.S. cyber warfare doctrine to China in a bid to win similar cooperation from Beijing. So far, China has not reciprocated.
Transparency appears to have been the policy of only one side.
Empathy didn’t work with Iran, either.
At the UN General Assembly last year, President Obama ascribed motives and goals to the Iranian regime that mirror American motives and goals, assuaged what he said were their concerns, and promised what he thought was a better future.
But if Iran doesn’t believe we have “mutual interests” and instead seeks a future in which the Islamic Republic is the hegemonic Gulf power and the United States is banished, the nuclear program is not an “issue” to be “resolved,” but a means toward a considered end — an Iranian end.
He also said sanctions on Iran would be lifted only by a “tiny portion,” which would be “very limited, temporary and reversible… So believe me, when I say this relief is limited and reversible, I mean it.”
Just words. Since then the Iranians have announced their defense capabilities will not be subject to negotiation (including the Parchin Plant that the West believes is nuclear weapons related) and that Iran will never give up its nuclear program.
This raises the whole, “Assad is a reformer,” conversation, promoted by Secretary of State Clinton when Kerry was still a senator. The assumption was that Assad wanted the benefits of association with the West more than he wanted to crush dissent. When she determined that her words had no impact on Assad, Mrs. Clinton turned them on the Syrian people, “When are they going to start pulling the props out from under this illegitimate regime?”
Nearly 200,000 dead, use of chemical weapons, and 2 million refugees later, the U.S. still has no Syria policy beyond words.
And finally, the Palestinians. The administration assumed that Palestinian goal was an independent country. Palestinian objections to the permanence and legitimacy of Israel, to Israel controlling Jerusalem and to giving up the so-called “right of return” could be overcome with money and political favors. Imagine how surprised Secretary Kerry and President Obama were when Mahmoud Abbas came to Washington and told the President “no” three times while seated in the Oval Office.
Try as he might to leave the impression that Israel scuttled the talks, it is clear that Kerry was so taken with the importance of HIS plan for Middle East peace that he never entertained the possibility that one of his interlocutors had different goals. That is the definition of hubris, and explains not only how wrong the administration has been, but also why.
Will this US Administration ever come down from its ivory tower and rejoin the real world? – the world in which there are real consequences to real actions, not just words.