“I personally came of age during the Reagan presidency,” Barack Obama wrote in his first book The Audacity of Hope, and Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wonders whether Obama hopped a DeLorean DMC-12 equipped with flux capacitor from that time directly to the present, at least in terms of foreign policy. Obama now wants to push hard for a treaty that addresses a Soviet nuclear threat that no longer exists, and at the same time has disrupted what little progress stood to be made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pressing for construction freezes in areas that hadn’t really been in serious dispute until Obama’s intervention. Obama’s world view appears trapped in a Cold War paradigm last relevant 20 years ago:
For help understanding the foreign policy headlines of the past week, let’s return, briefly, to the spring of 1983, when Barack Obama was a student at Columbia University. What were the burning international issues of that time?
Well, first was the “nuclear freeze” movement, which was prompting mass demonstrations around the world by people worried about the standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States. Obama published an article about it in a campus magazine in which he invoked the vision of “a nuclear free world.”
The Middle East, meanwhile, was still reeling from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon – which was the apotheosis of the Zionist right’s dream of creating a “greater Israel” including all of the Palestinian West Bank.
Back to November 2010. The Obama administration is devoting a big share of its diplomatic time and capital to curbing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank – most recently, offering Israel’s right-wing government $3 billion in warplanes in exchange for a 90-day moratorium. Meanwhile, it has committed much of its dwindling domestic political capital to pushing a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia through a reluctant Senate.
So has nothing changed in the past quarter-century? In fact, almost everything has – especially when it comes to nuclear arms control and Israel’s national objectives. What hasn’t changed, it seems, is Barack Obama – who has led his administration into a foreign policy time warp that is sapping its strength abroad and at home.
In March of this year, while Obama negotiated the START treaty, I made the same point. Russian nukes are a considerable problem, but mostly for the Russians, who can’t afford the necessary modernization efforts it will take to maintain its massive deterrent. Verification of a reduction in missiles is desirable, but far less critical than when the Soviet Union aimed them at the US. Russia is much more of an economic and diplomatic adversary than a military enemy, and the reason the Russians want this treaty so badly is to be able to compete better on the economic field.
We have other, more pressing issues than Russian nukes, not the least of which are the Iranian effort to get its own nukes and the new North Korean uranium-enrichment plant that will add to theirs. In the face of those threats, rapidly reducing the deterrents in the US and Russia may not be the smartest strategy to play. In addition, the new treaty puts up more barriers to the missile-defense systems that would allow us to protect the US and its allies against rogue nations with small numbers of nukes and the missile technology to launch them.
Israel is another example of this Forward to the Past mentality. The Israelis have acknowledged the necessity of a two-state solution and have withdrawn from Gaza and Lebanon. In return, Israelis in the south and the north have missiles rained down on their heads from the regions where Israelis withdrew. The problem in finding peace isn’t the construction of apartments around Jerusalem but the lack of a serious partner for peace from the Palestinian side. Obama made this problem worse by insisting on a construction freeze in areas where even the Palestinians didn’t demand one as a prerequisite for talks and all but ignoring the continuing provocations of Hamas and Hezbollah — both funded and directed by Iran.
It seems that Obama the college student wants to prove that he made a better President than Ronald Reagan. Reagan, however, addressed the actual pressing issues of his own time. It’s akin to having Reagan invade Vietnam to prove he could have run the war better than LBJ and Richard Nixon.