by Barry Rubin
Thinking about the Obama administration's foreign policy makes me keep coming back to the following joke:
Three men are on a small plane, the pilot, a very important person (various names are used when people tell this joke), and a young hiker. The plane's motor goes out and it is going to crash. The pilot tells the two passengers: Sorry but we only have one extra parachute.
The celebrity sneers, "I should get it because I'm the smartest person in the world." He grabs a pack and jumps out of the plane.
"Sorry, son," says the pilot. "We don't have any more parachutes."
"Oh, yes we do," answers the teenager, "the smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack."
If I were a cartoonist illustrating the joke in this case, I'd show a smug Obama jumping out of the plane with the backpack labeled, "
This reflection is prompted today by a very predictable story—predicted by me repeatedly—that the administration is now further, and futilely, watering down projected sanctions on
Note that this is probably the last material effort the West will make to stop
Incidentally, the administration was supposed to be ready for this step, according to its own statements in September and then December 2009. That it still hasn't worked out a broadly based plan is a sign of its incompetence. And remember this was a presidency which supposedly enjoyed strong international support.
Some are saying that sanctions wouldn't deter
That the administration seems to understand none of these points is part of the problem. Here's a statistic that might shock you: the Obama administration is almost precisely one-third of the way through its term. If it hasn't learned how to understand the world by now, prospects aren't good for the remainder of its term. The best hope of improvement--that the administration itself wakes up to the problem--is just about gone.
Let's put it bluntly: The foreign policy of the Obama Administration, especially in the
About the only point the administration and its supporters can claim--even the
And even then, there is the point that popularity doesn't get you anything material, as the lack of a consensus on
In the Middle East, U.S. policy is bad for Iranians who want to be free of their oppressive regime; for Turks who don't want to live under an increasingly Islamist government; for Arabs who don't want to face Islamist rule, growing internal instability because of a revolutionary challenge, or to bow down to Iranian power.
It is also bad for
By systematically showing weakness, by favoring enemies over friends, the administration is destroying
If one were to continue this survey elsewhere in the world, the situation would be parallel if less dire. Central Europeans fear
Yet the pretense continues in all too many places that things are going fine.
A hope that should not be ignored is that the action of radical forces themselves will force the administration to take notice and revise its behavior. No matter what the White House thinks, it doesn't want to look like a failure having made a big mess, suffered losses, and been defeated.
The next best hope is that a wave of public criticism and congressional complaints—which many think will be intensified by the results of next November's election—will force the administration to be more restrained. Obama has other items on his agenda, especially domestically, that he does not want to compromise by getting Congress angry with him. The most likely beneficiary of this process would be U.S.-Israel relations but it is unlikely to help a great deal on other issues.
The problem is that such factors can stop the White House from doing mistaken things but cannot force it to take productive steps. Perhaps the best one can hope for is the lack of any big and open crisis in the world, allowing the administration to muddle through and claim that it has kept the
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
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