Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Obama Doesn’t Understand: The Alternative to Victory is Defeat

By Barry Rubin

The problem with President Barack Obama is not that he makes gaffes or factual errors when he speaks but because he expresses an ideological framework so shocking and dangerous.

Take the latest such remark, made in the G-20 press conference, referring to Iran’s nuclear program:

"I'm not interested in victory. I'm interested in resolving the problem."

Totally detached from actual international conflicts, this is a rational and noble statement. Hey, says Pragmatic Man, I’m not seeking something to brag about, a total victory and my opponent's humiliation. I just want to solve problems and leave everyone happy.

Yet he's not playing a game of bridge here but dueling with a dictatorship that thinks it has divine support and wants to build a massive totalitarian empire. The fact that Obama thinks this way makes him a person not fit to deal with real enemies.

Briefly, here are several reasons why:

--In a misunderstanding with those who are otherwise friends, this "no victory" approach makes sense. If the United States has some minor problem with, say, Canada or the United Kingdom, it would be good to seek a resolution in which it wasn’t a victor. Sure, get the blip in an otherwise good relationship out of the way so the two allies can get back to cooperating on a hundred other matters.

But Obama doesn’t seem to understand the profound difference between friends and enemies.
As Obama has repeatedly shown, he is more eager to resolve conflicts with enemies than to back up friends. For him, enemies don’t exist but have only been created by mistaken U.S. policy. Apologies or concessions will suffice to end any friction.

--Obama assumes the other side is rational and well-intentioned. Whether its Libya or North Korea, Cuba or Syria, Iran or Venezuela, Obama simply doesn’t get the idea that dictatorship and ideology, greed and passionate hatred can create forces which don’t want to be friends.

In effect, such regimes have the precise opposite approach to that of Obama: They aren’t interested in resolving the problem. They are interested in victory.

--By making such a statement, Obama speaks as if Iran is a blank slate rather than a country which has repeatedly broken promises on the nuclear issue; called for genocide against Israel; been the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism; killed Americans through terrorist operations in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other countries; is ruled by a regime that just stole an election; has violently repressed the opposition and put peaceful activists on trial for their lives; has a defense minister who is a wanted terrorist; has just been shown to have been concealing a second enrichment facility for arming nuclear weapons; and then brags that it now had long-range missiles capable of hitting Europe.

Could all this be telling something important about Iran's readiness to be moderate and compromise? Obama should be using each stage in this escalation to build support against Iran but instead he has basically ignored all of these factors in setting his policy and strategy.

Iran is not ruled by a regime with which you can just solve problems. And any solution without victory of a sort will not be a solution.

--If Iran intends to build nuclear weapons and the United States opposes this goal how can there be any resolution of the problem without victory? If the Iranian regime builds deliverable nuclear weapons then it wins; if Tehran is stopped from doing so, the United States wins. What kind of conceivable compromise can there be without a victory for one side or the other?

--Obama’s formulation could be sensible with another side whose feelings one didn’t want to hurt unnecessarily. Assuring the other side you don’t insist on total victory can be a soothing factor. Unfortunately in this case it is the radical side which needs to say so. (The Palestinian side and most Arab states need to say this to Israel but never do so. Israel has already said so to the other side but it hasn’t done much good.)

--But most important of all is Obama’s seeming inability to understand the concepts of deterrence and credibility. I’m not exaggerating here. He has never made a single statement incorporating these ideas.

Yes, you need to be tough. Yes, you sometimes have to make threats. Yes, you need to show yourself willing to use force. Yes, you sometimes have to win victories. The leader of a great power needs to do these things to discourage enemies from being more aggressive and disregarding his country’s interests. In addition, the leader of a great power must do these things to encourage friends to rely on him and his country for help and protection.

Obama thinks he is reassuring America’s enemies by apologizing, avoiding conflict, and insisting he doesn’t seek victory. He is reassuring them—reassuring them that they can walk all over the United States without cost.

In totally misconceiving the nature of his own responsibilities and of international affairs, Obama is creating an extremely dangerous situation. One of the many things he doesn’t understand is that his approach makes crisis, bloodshed, and war far more likely.

It is sobering to see the man who holds the world's most powerful job for dealing with international affairs on the planet has no previous experience dealing with this topic. It is horrifying that his ideas ensure disaster for the democratic forces and successes for the dictatorial ones.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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