Saturday, April 4, 2009

Obama's Got Some Diplomatic Magic

It's a big week in diplomacy for the United States, particularly in Europe.

NATO and the G20 both met for some big conferences. Obama was at both.

As much as perennial protests hit G20, Obama seems to have wooed Europe's civil governments with his visit. Obama seems to have gotten some accord in the G20--not quite as much action as he was hoping for, but Sarkozy and Merkel are now likely to at least spend a bit less time railing on Obama's economic policies, and more time trying to come to a mutually beneficial solution.

Obama also held a town meeting in France, taking questions of a bunch of French and German folks, and to "listen." Apparently, they loved him.

At NATO, Obama hailed a "new chapter" in US-European relations. In a showing of support for the US, NATO handed over 5000 troops to Afghanistan to beef up security before elections. They're temporary, but it's more help than the US got in a long time, and it's the first showing in years that Afghanistan is a NATO war, not a US war with reluctant taggers-along. Additionally, Obama managed to convince Turkey to allow the Danish Prime Minster Rasmussen to head NATO (Turkey was worried because Rasmussen was involved with the Danish cartoonist's Mohammed-terrorist snafu, and NATO works on full consensus).

The US and Russia seem to be thawing a bit, which is bringing a sigh of relief to NATO. Apparently Medvedev and Obama are "comrades" now, after Obama showed up and said that Russia has "legitimate" interest in, and grievances with, NATO. Comrade Obama's clearly trying to soothe Russian frustration and try to integrate them into the European community, in hopes that they can be a part of the norm-centered Western order, rather than resorting to realpolitik. Medvedev responded with remarks that the Russians had no intentions of trying to bust NATO, and that they look forward to continuing to work together in regional security. In a sign of new cooperation, Comrades Obama and Medvedev agreed to push for extensive bilateral nuclear disarmament. If it can be pulled off, it will be a great trust-building measure, that will make the next 8 years (where Medvedev and Obama will both likely be still working together) possibly go a bit smoother. Such disarmament will save taxpayers a good few bucks, though I'm somewhat worried about Obama's hope to "rid the world of nuclear arms." I'm much more comfortable with the Russians and Americans being able to leverage nukes on rogue states than not. More importantly, having a second-strike capability is critical to keeping countries like Iran and North Korea from doing anything too drastic if they get themselves extensive arsenals. Comrade Obama may have even defused the Eastern European missile shield snafu by pledging to work together with Russia to create a missile shield to protect Russia and Europe from missiles coming from elsewhere (probably Iran, North Korea). I see no particular reason why the NATO-side of the system couldn't also shoot down potential Russian missiles.

Finally, thumbs up seem to be coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama's new strategy for Operation Enduring Freedom. In response to an earlier post of mine: it's possible that Obama and/or the media were portraying an overly-simplistic version of the strategy. In particular, if the Afghan government approves of the strategy, then it's not one that's going to leave the Taliban in charge, which means that most of the problems I cited are naught, which is frankly great news. Maybe he'll pull it off. Pakistan's even starting a symbolically and strategically very important joint operation with the US to hunt and kill Taliban leader Baitullah Meshud, who is apparently likely to become serious trouble in the near future. If such joint operations can slowly be increased, then NATO and the Pakistani army may be able to surround and squeeze the Pashtuni region and levy sufficient pressure on the Taliban to get them to the negotiating table.

It seems everyone across the pond is gaga for Obama. Maybe we can just all get along. But over the next few months, I'll at least be scrutinizing the president for real policy results.
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