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Foreign Policy Failures and Fumbles

Posted By Alan W. Dowd On March 18, 2011 @ 12:45 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 25 Comments

Two recent speeches by administration officials—one by State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and the other by President Obama himself—speak volumes about what’s wrong with the Obama team’s approach to issues related to foreign policy and national security.

First, let’s consider Crowley, who called the Pentagon’s handling of Private Bradley Manning, who illegally shared diplomatic and military secrets with WikiLeaks, “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

Crowley has since resigned, and rightly so.

While serving in Iraq, Manning downloaded classified videos, thousands of battlefield reports and 251,287 diplomatic cables. “I listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga,” he bragged in a text exchange, “while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.”

This wasn’t a “spillage.” It was an intentional, premeditated breach. What did Manning hand over? We don’t know exactly, but the WikiLeaks website proudly proclaims that it has published operations manuals for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; classified reports on the prison in Fallujah, Iraq, and on the Battle of Fallujah; detailed information on U.S. military equipment, by unit, in Iraq; gun-camera footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad; a U.S. Special Forces manual for bolstering unpopular allied governments; CIA strategies to shore up public support among allied populations for the war in Afghanistan; and, most notably, private and often-embarrassing diplomatic profiles about foreign heads of state. In addition, as USAToday reports, WikiLeaks has exposed U.S. efforts to remove nuclear materials from Pakistan, State Department plans to use diplomatic personnel as spies, quid-pro-quos offered by the Obama administration to persuade foreign governments to take on Gitmo detainees, cover-ups of missile attacks in Yemen, and support among Arab leaders to strike Iran.

Manning calls it “worldwide anarchy in CSV format,” a reference to the kind of files he surrendered to WikiLeaks.

As a result, Manning is now in custody at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia, faces 52 years in prison and is under 24-hour monitoring for fear that he could harm himself.

It’s difficult to understand what is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” about the military’s treatment of this criminal. What would Crowley recommend? Group therapy? An honorable discharge? A ticker-tape parade?

What’s really “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” is failing to recognize the threat posed by Manning and other latter-day anarchists to the American people.

Speaking of the ridiculous and counterproductive, the president’s statements on Libya make him sound more like the executive director of a D.C. think tank than the man in charge of U.S. foreign policy, let alone the commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces.

“We’ve organized,” the president informed us late last week, “a series of conversations about a wide range of options that we can take.” It really does sound a lot like some symposium at RAND, Brookings or AEI.

Reasonable, thoughtful people can disagree about the merit of intervening in Libya’s civil war. Civil wars are grey areas when it comes to the use of U.S. force. The country has intervened in some that it shouldn’t have and not intervened in others that it probably should have.

What’s less debatable is the importance of what a president says and how he says it. When the right person is behind it, when the right words are spoken, the bully pulpit can be a powerful tool of American foreign policy. Regrettably, President Obama has yet to grasp this in relation to the anti-authoritarian revolutions roiling the Arab world.

If his administration is against intervention—even if the French and Brits are for it—then he should clearly and forcefully tell the American people why. There are plenty of reasons to stay out: Libya is not in America’s strategic interest; this is a regional problem best handled by Mediterranean or African nations; U.S. troops are engaged in major combat and peacekeeping operations elsewhere; Libya is not worth American blood and treasure; Libya could become like Somalia in the 1990s; etc.

If, on the other hand, his administration is for intervention—even if the Chinese and Russians are against it—then he should clearly and forcefully tell the American people why. Again, there are legitimate reasons to get in: America plays a special role in the world; Khadafy is a murderous thug who’s forfeited his right to govern; the Libyan people are asking for help; a post-Khadafy government is in America’s interest; this is an opportunity to strike a blow for pro-freedom movements; Libya could become like Bosnia in the 1990s; etc.

If the president thinks a no-fly-zone is a good idea, then tell the world that it will clear the skies and tilt the battlefield balance for regime opponents on the ground, that it will give the freedom-fighters a sense of hope.

If he thinks it’s a bad idea, then remind the world that no-fly zones didn’t save lives in Bosnia, that they cost billions in Iraq and put at risk thousands of American pilots, that they lay the groundwork for deeper intervention, that they invite the risk of hostage situations and PR nightmares.

If he thinks it’s time for Khadafy to go, then say it boldly and clearly. That’s what the younger Bush did vis-à-vis the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. That’s what Clinton did vis-à-vis Slobodan Milosevic. That’s what the elder Bush did vis-à-vis Manuel Noriega.

If, on the other hand, he thinks Khadafy has a kind of Westphalian right to put down an internal rebellion, then declare an Obama Doctrine saying America supports the notion that a country’s government must be determined internally, and as such, America won’t intervene in civil wars.

But the president hasn’t said any of this.

Instead of unequivocally calling for Khadafy’s ouster, he says he is in “consultation with the international community to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Khadafy being removed from power…We’re going to take a wide range of actions to try to bring about that outcome…and work with the international community to try to achieve that.”

Not exactly “Tear down this wall.”

Instead of laying out the rationale for intervention or non-intervention, he tells us he’s asked NATO to consider “24-hour surveillance so that we can monitor the situation on the ground and react rapidly if conditions deteriorated…further efforts with respect to an arms embargo… humanitarian aid…potential military options including a no-fly zone.” He also assures us he’s “in discussion with both Arab countries as well as African countries to gauge their support for such an action.” Plus, he has decided to “assign a representative whose specific job is to interact with the opposition and determine ways that we can further help them,” “sent a clear warning to the Khadafy government that they will be held accountable” and delivered “a clear message to those around Khadafy that the world is watching and we’re paying attention, and that there have been referrals to the International Criminal Court.”

Nothing inspires freedom-fighters like discussions with the Arab League, and nothing makes dictators think twice like referrals to the ICC.

Indeed, one is left to wonder if the president’s advisors have considered the message his words convey to the world: monitor, try, discussion, gauge, assign, watching, referral, organize, conversation. These are synonymous with passive.

The president needs to take his own advice, and remember that the world is watching—and listening.

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.

 


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