Obama Welcomes Kissinger Realism

My Comments: Regular readers of these posts know I’m not a fan of the GOP and many of the people who call it home these days. I find them un-Christian, narrow minded, selfish, and living in the past instead of developing the future. They are not providing the leadership needed to secure the future for my grandchildren.

A generation or so ago, in the days of Nixon-Ford, a champion of the Republican Party was Henry Kissinger. While he’s now an old fart like me, he’s not drifted into dementia as have many of his cohorts, people like Dick Cheney.

I well remember the days when we became “friends” with China and the storm of derision it unleashed across the media. Today, people simply shrug as it has become a fact of life and normal. I believe this will happen with Cuba and possibly with Iran. As it should. Unless you plan to kill every last one of them, you might as well work for normal relations and let them become pseudo friends or enemies, take your pick.

By Edward Luce, April 19, 2015

The essence of diplomacy: when adversaries come to terms, neither gets everything they want.

The biggest rap against Barack Obama’s foreign policy is that he is naive. Yet, as his presidency matures, Mr Obama is showing qualities one would normally associate with Henry Kissinger — the arch-realist of US diplomacy. Neoconservatives and liberals alike care about the internal character of regimes with which the US does business. Mr Kissinger stands apart from that tradition. The less Mr Obama preaches morality to foreigners, the more he distances himself from the exceptionalists — the more opportunities he creates. It is a welcome sign of a president with a learning curve.

The chief example is Mr Obama’s evolution on the Middle East. In 2009, he went to Cairo to offer a new chapter in relations between the west and the Muslim world. His felicitous words went down well in the region but were quickly forgotten. Today Mr Obama gives fewer speeches but has a bigger appetite for deeds. The best measure is his recent framework nuclear deal with Iran. Much to the chagrin of his critics, the agreement is silent on Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism abroad and repression at home. Its focus is on curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

There is no mention of Iran cutting off its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, or recognising Israel’s right to exist. That is just as well. Had Mr Obama insisted on either, there would have been no deal (there is still a way to go before reaching a final agreement). In pushing ahead anyway, Mr Obama is grasping the essence of diplomacy — when adversaries come to terms, neither achieves everything they want. Much the same would apply to Mr Obama’s recent deal with Cuba’s dictatorship. Although Mr Kissinger has criticised Mr Obama’s Iran deal as too weak, it is very much in line with his school of diplomacy. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

But it goes heavily against the grain of the debate in Washington. In 1972, Mr Kissinger shocked the world — and the “red scare” hawks back home — by pulling off a rapprochement with Mao Zedong’s China. The Shanghai Communiqué was scandalously amoral. It made no mention of Chairman Mao’s gulags. Nor did it call for China to end its third-world adventurism. But by splitting Beijing from the Soviet orbit, it dramatically served US interests and laid the foundations for the west’s victory in the cold war. Had Richard Nixon — Mr Kissinger’s boss — been hamstrung by ethical concerns, it would never have ¬happened.

Without acknowledging it, Mr Obama is taking a leaf from Mr Kissinger’s book in the Middle East. At the same time as pursuing a deal with Iran’s unsavoury regime, Mr Obama is stepping up support for its equally dubious counterparts in the Sunni world. In the same week Mr Obama’s Iran deal was signed, he restored $1.3bn in annual military aid to Egypt’s army, increased US support for Saudi Arabia’s strikes on Yemen’s Houthi rebels and gave his backing to the creation of an Arab (read Sunni) force. Next month he will host Arab leaders at his presidential retreat in Camp David.

It is a classic balance-of-power approach to the Middle East. Mr Obama is simultaneously giving succour to both sides of the region’s gaping Sunni-Shia divide. Rather than trying to convert the Middle East to our values, it seeks to limit the region’s ability to export its pathologies. In 2008, Mr Obama campaigned to restore the US’s moral auth¬ority in the world. Yet George W Bush’s blunders in the Middle East were driven by moral zeal. Many of Mr Bush’s advisers believed they could implant Jeffersonian democracy on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. Should Mr Obama develop his deftness of touch, he could stake a claim to restoring America’s intellectual authority in the world.

It is an approach that will ultimately be tested in the battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In Mr Obama’s first year in office, there were 1,600 terrorist attacks in the Middle East and north Africa, according to the US state department. That had almost tripled to nearly 4,650 by 2013. Far from cutting off al-Qaeda’s head with the death of Osama bin Laden, the Salafist threat has grown a hundred new ones — and poses a far more complex challenge. Sending troops to fight Isis would be to risk another quagmire. Yet betting on the competency of US-trained Iraqi army units and moderate Syrian rebels would be a triumph of hope over experience. As has been said when US-trained Afghan forces are defeated: “Who trained the Taliban?” The answer is no one. No one trained Isis, either.

If Mr Obama wants to defeat Isis without allowing the US army to be sucked into another destructive war, local strongmen must do the job for him. In some places, such as Iraq, that means relying on Iran-sponsored local Shia militias, and the Kurdish peshmerga. In others, such as Syria, it means Bashar al-Assad. Such an approach will attract a great deal of opprobrium. Mr Kissinger received a lot of that — sometimes deservedly (there was no possible justification for the US carpet bombing of Cambodia). But what matters in the negotiating chamber is the end result. US values are both admirable and universally desirable. Sometimes the best way of realising them in practice is to put them on the backburner.

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