Friday, September 18, 2009

The Obama doctrine?


After the August recess of the American Congress and eight months into the presidency, Obama has now finally started to make his hard choices. Thursday morning, the Wall Street Journal carried the day with its headline, informing the public that the Obama administration has changed its course on the Eastern Nuclear-Missile Shield. We learned that the previous administration's plans will be changed and will move away from the installation of a missile-defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

After reading this significant strategic “change” in Europe on Thursday morning, I immediately recalled a conversation I had with retired high American military personnel in the first days of the new Obama administration. This retired general then told me and I wrote in these columns on March 17, 2009: "In a couple of private conversations lately, I was told that there is a growing concern among some military leadership that the new administration might consider being soft on Eastern Europe to Russian sway after many years of political and strategic investments to this region, and this leeway is another matter that seems to infuriate many in the field." About six months later, the projections of my column seem to have been proved right.

Obama said in his brief press announcement Thursday morning, "After an extensive process, I have approved the unanimous recommendations of my secretary of defense and my joint chiefs of staff to strengthen America's defenses against ballistic-missile attack." Therefore, one more Bush-era plan has been junked. There are various analyses over this decision. One argument that appears to be heavily favored is the nearing Iranian conundrum, America's need of Russians during this “supposedly” nuclear talks process with Iran.

I say “supposedly,” because the Iranians do not even consider that these talks will be about their nuclear program. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki handed his country's proposals for new talks to the ambassadors of the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany – and to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests. However, in this new five-page document, one cannot see a single reference to the nuclear issue (see a full report in ProPublica magazine). Therefore, the Western negotiators would find themselves lucky to even convince the Iranian side merely to speak on the issue under these circumstances.

Thereupon, to stop Israel from attacking Iran, Obama has no other choice but to secure Russia's support to pressure Iran in the coming days. So far, it remains to be seen whether the Russians really had given any promise to help the Americans. Many experts and former U.S. officials' statements show that there are not many expectations from the Russians so far. As George Friedman of Stratfor Intelligence magazine recently argued, there is almost no reason for Russians to help America to resolve this issue. On the contrary, the more bogged down America is in the Middle East, the wider will be the Eastern Europe sphere for Russia to influence.

On the other hand, foreign leaders appear to care less about Obama's power apparatus. Even the once weak leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who barely had enough majority to assemble his administration a few months back with the partnering of a right-wing politician, Avigdor Lieberman, saw many benefits for himself after getting in a public row with the American president. His approval ratings have soared and he has become more unrepentant day by day. So far, despite the fact that Obama made it clear that he expects Netanyahu to stop the settlements before starting any kind of discussions, Netanyahu has not given up one inch from the former stance. Instead, the Israelis were able to connect the whole Israel-Palestine peace process to the Iranian conundrum and send the ball back to Obama's court. And Obama, much to the surprise of even one of the former Israeli ambassadors to the U.S., first put the deadline to the end of the September, way too quick for any expectations, and then he also promised to the Israelis that he will deliver the sanctions on Iran. Therefore, now the only thing for Israeli politicians to do is to spend some more time and watch how the Iranian nuclear talking episode unfolds rather than making any progress on the peace process.

The Iranians are about to play another episode of never ending nuclear talks, once more, starting on October the first, this time in Turkey. Perhaps Iran, since it has already received “unequivocal” support from the Russians against any kind of sanctions, speaks in a more relaxed tone.

About eight years ago, America, as the most powerful nation in the world, was faulted with the 9/11 attacks, while living in its glorious days of history. And after 9/11, all agreed that the world would not be the same as before. There was a consensus of political commentators around the globe that the super power of the world will not stop until it gets its payback. In addition, there was a perfect team in the White House to execute just that with a Republican group of politicians, blended with hawks, with a touch of American southern culture, who had been sidelined for years and who are proud to be men of their words. Certainly, what happened on that September morning was very grave and anyone who “might” have something to do with this incident, at any cost, "was going to be sent back to the Flintstone age" by this group.

During the last eight years, America went through a vendetta mode. It is to the Americans' credit that they were not only after a payback, the American policy makers, I believe, also genuinely wanted to spread democracy as well, expressed as one of the most important aspects of the Bush doctrine: “the freedom agenda.” It was decided then that not only was there a lesson to be given to those who behaved faulty, but the people in these regions also were going to be introduced to a modern model of society, in other words, democracy, human rights and, if possible, secularism down the road. One only wishes that things could have been that easy.

Now, America is searching for its soul once more with its young president. With the first real policy shift in Eastern Europe, Obama paints the first brush stroke of his emerging doctrine. Though, the real-world Obama presidency just started and it is still too early to know how the results of this move and other actors will test his presidency in coming weeks. The nearing nuclear talks with Iran and afterwards will complete the picture of today's American concessions much better and the pieces of the Obama doctrine will be revealed slowly but surely.

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