Sunday, June 7, 2009

Obama Speaks to Islam - Part III

The third major flaw in Obama’s Cairo remarks (See the White House website was in regards to his nuclear policy. He said,

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons….

There are a number of issues with this stated policy. First of all, there is absolutely no truth in the statement: “No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. As unfortunate as it may be for some of the less powerful countries, the global arena is not a democracy. Larger, more powerful countries, such as the U.S. not only have the right, but the duty to set rules and regulations of the world community. The United States, as leader of the world, has the responsibility to determine who can and cannot possess nuclear weapons. On its face, this is necessary for the United States to maintain the status quo of the international system. It behooves us to disallow enemies and others that may threaten the stability of the system from possessing weapons. This would be true for any hegemonic leader. However, in addition, the United States as a beneficent leader has a responsibility to protect the global community and maintain safety and security. This includes keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of dangerous leaders and nations.

The second issue regards Obama’s commitment to have a nuclear free world. This policy is both dangerous and foolish. Nuclear weaponry provides deterrence and disincentives for conventional war. One of the main reasons we have had relative peace since World War II is because of the nuclear threat. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) prevented the Cold War from getting hot. While there are certainly risks and fears with nuclear armed countries, the benefits drastically outweigh the costs. [This of course necessarily goes hand-in-hand with preventing rogue states like Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. Rogue states are inherently more unpredictable and also liable to sell weaponry, thereby increasing the threat of non-state (or non-sane) actors who are unable to be deterred]. The presence of nuclear weapons has forced the world leaders to build institutions and channels that encourage dialogue between adversaries. In economic terms, it increases the costs of war to such a level that any benefits (spoils of war such as territory or political gains) are no longer significant enough to merit a battle.

Obama’s nuclear policy reeks of the simplicity that is present in so many of his policies. Since the detonation of a nuclear weapon is, of course, bad, it is very easy to simply state that nuclear weapons are bad and therefore unnecessary. This, however, is a partial analysis of the situation. It may seem appealing to those who do not like to fully explore the positives and negatives of a situation, but it leads to poor policy.


  1. Josh--

    Without question, Obama’s speech marks a watershed moment in U.S. – Middle East relations. In a sense, his very presence at Cairo University last week was a milestone in and of itself; could any other U.S. President in history have given such an address? Or given it with any shred of true empathy? A far cry from the obtuse, white, imperialist face that too much of the so-called “Muslim world” has viewed with (understandable) suspicion and anger, a man representing the United States with the name Barack Hussein Obama already signals a small victory in the all-important propaganda war against Islamic extremism.

    Ultimately, that must be the goal of U.S. foreign policy in the region: not negotiation with those bent on destroying us, but dialog with the huge swaths of Arabs who will still allow themselves to embrace Western liberalism. Nearly 70 percent of Iran’s population, for instance, is under the age of 30. Photos of young Iranians at Mousavi rallies over the past couple of weeks, with green fingertips and a zeal for open society, speak volumes about the desires of many in the region for a thawing of relations between the Islamic world and Western society. Our goal should — no, must — be to empower these people in an effort to bring real change to the region from the inside.

    Perhaps the tide is already beginning to turn. In the lead-up to the Lebanese elections on June 7, overwhelming world opinion pointed to a decisive victory for Hezbollah. Biden’s visit to the country last month was widely interpreted as an Obama administration blunder, as alliance with the West is traditionally a death-knell for Arab politicians looking to win their constituencies. Now, it’s being speculated that thanks to Obama, it’s become more viable politically to admire the United States.

    Yes, Hezbollah still enjoys a huge power base in the country, but it’s fair to say that their rise to controlling Lebanon was stunted this week. No doubt, the Obama administration had been watching the developments of that race closely, and we can now agree that the timing of Obama’s speech was not simply a coincidence. A cruise missile attack on Hezbollah operations in Lebanon would have sealed the election for the terrorist group; instead, Obama’s propaganda offensive may have halted their advances.

    So now we will wait and see what happens Friday in Tehran. In a sense, the election may not change all that much; the Ayatollah still retains ultimate authority in the country. But the power of any authoritarian rule rests in its ability to scare its people, a goal that is executed through scape-goating others. Attempts to blunt such hysterical charges against the United States — Israel will always remain the most obvious target of such attacks in the region — is what will lead to change in the region.

    As for Obama’s “policies” that he outlined in the speech — nothing concrete, yet met with unfettered hysteria by so many on the right — well, we should all be used to by now the concept of an American politician saying one thing and doing another. This is the same man who repudiated Bush’s interrogation policies, only to cover them up and continue them once in office; the man who ran as an anti-war candidate, only to double the American presence in Afghanistan and continue Iraq for the foreseeable future; and the man who is now suggesting a blockade of North Korean supply lines in an effort to quell their nuclear proliferation.

    The proof will be in the pudding; Obama, as has become clear, is not the ideologue or radical as he was painted during the election, but rather an intellectual pragmatist. If words will help calm the Arabic world, let’s hear more of them.

    --Karl de Vries

  2. I do agree that outreach and dialog are necessary- particularly with the distrusting Muslim world. Admittedly, Bush failed on this front; however, Obama's velvet glove is merely covering a wet noodle. As leader of the free world, and of the most powerful nation, Obama has to present more than just platitudes. Dialog and outreach are one thing, kowtowing is another. Obama's anti-American apologies may go far to appease and please the Arab street, but will do little, if anything to sway the autocratic rulers and terrorist organizations in these states. You allude to this with the dismal fact that despite the upcoming election in Iran the Ayatollah still holds the reins.

    As for Lebanon, I think there are many factors, other than Biden's visit that swayed the Lebanese from giving Hezbollah the win. Even if you are correct that Biden swayed the populous to vote pro-American, it only furthers my argument. Biden's 'gaffe' was to speak aggressively and threaten to cut off aid. This is the sort of diplomacy that is needed in the region- particularly with Iran. Maybe this is part of Obama's strategy- a typical good cop/bad cop duo with the VP. If this is the case it is better than nothing and I might therefore want to see more of Biden. However, it would be preferable for such 'bad cop' language to come from the President himself. It would add an air of credibility that Biden just doesn't have.

    As for your last point- I wholeheartedly agree that Obama does little of what he says. However, policy outlines can be dangerous even if not acted on. What he says often develops a false understanding and morality of a situation. He spits in the face of intellectualism to pander to simplistic morality and then (sometimes) attempts to do what is right (ie. continuing to detain terrorists). I'd much prefer that he could be intellectually honest with America and explain the reasons and morality behind such steps. By saying one thing and doing another he teaches America the wrong lessons.


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