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February 3, 2014 8:09 am

Obama’s Foreign Policy is One of Hypocrisy and Harm

avatar by Yale Zussman

President Obama delivers his 2014 State of the Union address. Photo: Screenshot.

In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening, President Obama hailed the success of his diplomacy in addressing various global problems. Curiously, while the diplomacy has continued, the problems it has supposedly been addressing have all become more difficult. Taken issue by issue, there is little that warrants such self-praise. In the discussions with Iran over its nuclear program, there seems to be considerable disagreement on what the agreement says. This is never a good thing on a matter like this. Obama claims that his diplomacy has placed the first limits on Iran’s program, while Iran claims that it has obtained the West’s capitulation to its interests. We will certainly find out in the next few months, probably when Iran denies it has agreed to anything at all. Obama has said he will lead the call for stiffer sanctions if this turns out to be the case, but his track record to date suggests that he will do no such thing, and simply hit his favorite “Restart” button, asserting the need for new negotiations.

On Syria, Obama claims that his diplomacy has produced substantial progress, but there is no evidence for this either. The killing goes on as before, only about 4 percent of the chemical weapons have actually been moved from their storage places, and the Geneva negotiations on Syria’s fate are going nowhere. When those talks collapse, apart from seeking to fix blame on someone else, what does Obama do? Send John Kerry back to the negotiating table? Who’s going to take that seriously?

Secretary Kerry is expected to offer his “framework” for resolving the century-old Arab-Israeli conflict in the next few weeks. It is hard to understand how he can believe that will advance the cause of peace since the Palestinians have been quite insistent that while they will pocket any concessions he makes on behalf of the¬†Israelis, they will not agree to making an actual peace.

Kerry’s “framework” is destined to fail because it must do one of three things relative to the last such offering, the “Clinton parameters”: It must either 1) reiterate them, 2) move toward Israel’s position, or 3) move toward the Palestinians’ position. The Palestinians rejected the first option when Clinton presented it, and fortiori, they will reject the second. The real problem is that if Kerry chooses option 3, by rewarding them for their intransigence thirteen years ago, Kerry should also expect the Palestinians to pocket the additional concessions he will give them and then reject his “framework.”

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The result, as predicted by people who actually understand the region, is that his diplomacy will have made this problem, like the Iranian nuclear program and the Syrian conflict, more difficult to address. Rumors about what the Kerry “framework” contains suggest that it isn’t as foolish as one might expect given his other initiatives, but if it includes even a limited “right of return” he will render the Arab-Israeli problem permanently unsolvable.

Presenting his “framework” also backs Kerry into a corner. He cannot change his offering once it is announced without acknowledging that it was yet another major mistake. But if it is rejected, what does he do then?

Since the current negotiations in all three areas, have been destined to fail since before they began, why does Kerry persist?

The Department of State and its employees, some of whom see themselves as diplomats, believe in diplomacy. It is what they do and if diplomacy doesn’t have value, neither do they. That has led many of them to transform diplomacy from a means to an end – achieving national goals – to an end in itself. When facing negotiators for a party whose diplomats understand that achieving their goals is the point, that puts American negotiators at a profound disadvantage. All the other side’s team needs to do to get their way is to threaten to walk away.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy on the “Kerry Doctrine,” Douglas Brinkley applauds Kerry’s adoption of this approach and expresses great confidence in the ability of Kerry’s personal boldness to achieve wonders in international affairs. In his great confidence in the wondrousness of his person, Kerry strongly resembles his boss Barack Obama, but world affairs don’t depend as much on the interaction of personalities, especially narcissistic ones, as they do on actual policies, and it is here that the credibility of the “Kerry Doctrine” conflicts with reality.

To the extent that any such doctrine is evident, it appears to include the following nine points:

1. There is no reality so evident that he won’t ignore it in pursuit of the glory of his self-image.

2. There is no delusion so blatant that he can’t embrace it if it enhances his self-image.

3. There is no enemy he won’t appease if that will provide the evidence of the efficacy of his diplomacy.

4. There is no friend or ally he won’t betray if consideration of their interests stands in the way of his attaining the acclaim he seeks.

And then, fully in accordance with Barack Obama’s identification with George Orwell’s “Big Brother”, we have:

5. War is peace, so getting peace treaties signed, even if they lead to unnecessary wars, is a good idea.

6. Slavery is freedom, so enabling Islamists who seek to enslave women and minorities is in the best interest of the victims.

7. Both he and Barack Obama are great conceptual thinkers, even if they don’t seem to grasp the basic facts of the problems they address.

8. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for the havoc he is causing around the world.

9. The greatest man in history stares at him when he looks in the mirror.

For his sake, and for the sake of peace in the world, Kerry should refrain from further muddying the situation by persisting to negotiate when nothing of value can be achieved. The last thing the Iranian nuclear discussions, the Syrian morass, or the Israel-Palestine conflict need is advice on keeping negotiations going when that can’t achieve anything.

Newly-certified doctors take an oath, the Hippocratic Oath, in which they pledge to “First, do no harm…” Neither Kerry nor Obama is a doctor, but maybe the time has come for a similar oath for would-be practitioners of international relations and diplomacy: “First, do no harm,” and if they cannot manage even that, “Avoid blatant hypocrisy.”

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