When I originally saw Barack Obama’s itinerary for his grand Mr. Foreign Policy Tour 2008, I couldn’t help but chuckle: France, England, Germany? Talk about the path of least resistance. Then there were dates, though, for Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, and Israel, where the Foreign Policy Tour turns into the Why Jews Should Love Me Tour.
Then there was Obama’s plan to pose in front of the Brandenburg Gate while giving one of his Hope and Change (trademark!) speeches. After Chancellor Angela Merkel rightly pooh-poohed the idea of Obama using that country’s Cold War landmark as a campaign prop, Obama’s crew said they’d changed their minds because Obama deemed the backdrop to be “too presumptuous.”
Never mind the role that the chancellor’s opinion had in the decision. “If the candidate — or any other candidate — is elected, then (he) is welcome to speak as president before the Brandenburg Gate,” Merkel said Sunday.
But now, Obama will speak Thursday from Tiergarten Park’s Victory Column, the gilded goddess giving wings to his ethereal campaign — within view of the Brandenburg Gate, of course.
After all, he needs to hurry up and inject some of that feel-good Obamahype into the foreign policy tour before that pack of fawning reporters characteristically kept at arm’s length starts to ask hard-and-fast questions about the previous stops on his tour — and the stops that should have been on his tour.
Obama met with President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, then with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday. His plans in a nutshell: Pull U.S. troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, and adding two to three more combat brigades in Afghanistan. Let’s all scratch our heads in unison.
OK, then Al-Qaeda then moves more forces into Iraq. Iran exploits the void to foster radical Islamist alliances with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, etc. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Obama learns that additional brigades still can’t navigate the treacherous Hindu Kush in a manner that would give them advantage over the Taliban who rely on underground cave networks and slipping over a border that’s difficult to enforce. A major U.S. offensive in the region would likely result in heavy casualties, and the NATO alliance there might find itself on shaky ground. As Obama’s already pissed off Pakistan, efforts to forge a military alliance to rout the terrorists would be rejected as internal sentiment overrides the unpopular U.S. president.
Oh, and meanwhile Iraq has become a hot mess again.
Obama has made his foreign policy strategy clear: Deflect attention elsewhere so you don’t have to deal with the real meat and potatoes. Wire services stressed that this tour is “designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials,” but can you polish something that’s missing in the first place?
Senator, you’re no Henry Kissinger.
The most glaring omission on Obama’s foreign policy tour is Pakistan. Granted, he’d likely be run out on a rail, but voters should be questioning whether Obama can handle the can of worms once he’s popped it open. With his early campaign suggestions of unilateral force into Pakistan to go after Osama and Co., he should have been eager to confront his loose tongue in the place of most resistance. If he thinks he’d be able to just bank off current U.S. relations with Pakistan once he entered the Oval Office, he can think again: He’d have to start from scratch and try to rebuild the relationship that he fractured.
“Just as we can’t be myopic and focus only on Iraq, we also can’t think that we can solve the security problems here in Afghanistan without engaging the Pakistani government,” Obama said in reiterating that he’d act on intelligence within Pakistan. To suggest that he’d be the man to engage Pakistan is amusing, though, as he didn’t exactly make a detour to Islamabad.
Obama thinks he can prove himself a foreign-policy pro by shaking hands, eating chow with U.S. soldiers, and delivering a few wrist-slaps to our allies — telling Afghanistan vaguely that it needs to do more, telling Pakistan it should also do more.
But he’s missing the most important foreign policy lesson of all: For every statement you make, you’ve got to have a concrete plan to back it up. For every action, you have to realize there will be a reaction, and you have to be prepared to take it. Oh, and talk really is cheap.
And for every seemingly centrist move — like trying to shuffle attention over to Afghanistan while pressing his Iraq withdrawal deadline — hinging on national security, there’s little doubt that Obama’s military actions once elected would actually fall within the parameters approved by the Huff Post or MoveOn.org.
Who needs statecraft when you have Hope, Change, and a valiant European speech backdrop?