The Obama-Chavez handshake got a lot of press. The Left seemed pleased, the Right enraged. Conservatives probably saw all of the “hard work” former President George W. Bush did taking a tough stand against dictators as having been given away so early into a new administration. If you believe that Bush’s position was a wise one, it is easy to see why Conservatives would feel this way. After all, people like Chavez are repugnant and, like the leaders of Iran and North Korea, they are not too friendly towards the freedoms that Americans hold dear. Chavez did, after all, shut down a television station because they didn’t support his policies as well as many other things.
But is Obama’s embracing of these people really so terrible? The short answer is: we won’t know for many years.
Barack Obama campaigned on bringing a change to American foreign policy and, indeed, he has done so. George W. Bush’s policy of not talking to people like the Iranian president may have been morally justified but was it wise? In shutting out people like Iran’s president Bush prevented any sort of progress from happening unless it started on their end first. These leaders have staked their reputation on opposing America at every turn. Indeed, it has become the red meat that they base their support on even as their economies crumble, all the while blaming America so as to deflect blame from their own shortcomings. In embracing these leaders and showing that the United States does not necessarily view them as being evil President Obama does remove some of this power. This is the good part. The bad part is that we will not know for several years whether this policy of openness will result in our “enemies” taking advantage of us because they view communication as a sign of weakness.
It seems that critics like to point to President Jimmy Carter’s naive view of engagement as the “Obama model” while holding up President Ronald Reagan’s hardline stance as being the gold standard. After all, Jimmy Carter didn’t do too well with foreign leaders while he was in office. The Shah of Iran was deposed and a more brutal regime replaced him and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan which led to the Taliban and, not long after, al Qaeda while Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” stance led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union in 1989. But times have changed somewhat.
The Soviet Union was, like the United States, a superpower with many of the same abilities and goals as the United States in terms of needing to project power whereas countries such as North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela do not have the size nor the projection of power that the Soviet Union had. So the comparisons are not “apples to apples” although certainly all four countries did not have leadership which was inclined towards friendly relations with the United States.
One thing we have seen under the “Bush Doctrine” of shunning unpleasant regimes is that these leaders have struck up alliances with one another so as to attempt to either counter-balance or make the U.S. believe there is a counter-balance to our friendly relationships. Bush called this the “Axis of Evil” and, while I believe he was correct, his strategy did not produce any regime change in those countries. If anything, he allowed those leaders to show that their hardened views of the United States were justified.
Right now President Obama is still in his honeymoon stage with American voters and world leaders. This period cannot last once he begins to make defining decisions regarding Pakistan, Israel, Iran, and Russia. President Obama was not, despite his vast amounts of charm, able to secure any real concessions from European leaders during the recent G20 summit which was a telling example of how, even with our “friends” it is not really about “cowboy” diplomacy under Bush versus Obama’s “Apology Tour” as, if it were, then countries like Germany and France would have agreed to put their troops in harm’s way in Afghanistan or accept Gitmo detainees.
So if our “friends” didn’t feel like helping President Obama out how will our “enemies” do better? This is the central issue in Obama’s approach towards foreign policy. Relationships take time to blosom and so do results but leaders such as Chavez and Ahmadinejad rule with a different set of responsibilities towards their “voters” than to leaders such as Sarkozy and Merkel. Indeed, Chavez and Ahmadinejad have less responsibility towards following the wills of their people so it appears unlikely that they will change their behavior.
While it is too early to tell what the results will be of President Obama’s efforts the evidence suggests that not much will really change even if the volume of hate may decrease.
President Obama is rolling the dice on not being seen as a weakling when it comes towards standing up for the interests of the United States but, then again, much could be said of George W. Bush when he cut off many countries from his speed dial.
– Harrison @ Just Politics..?