In short, these putative examples of a muscular US foreign policy are instead anomalies caused as much by domestic political reasons as anything else. They may fascinate in the short term, but are peripheral to Obama's core approach. That Obama's initial steps in several areas have much in common with Bush policies tells you more about the collapse of Bush's philosophy in his second term than about Obama's vision. Bush was, ironically, becoming more like Obama in advance, rather than the other way around.
But let us turn to specifics, where North Korea provides the best illustration to date of Obama's philosophy in action and why it will not work. North Korea was intended as a primary beneficiary when the new President said on 20 January: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent...we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Unfortunately for Obama, however, Pyongyang apparently wasn't watching the Inaugural address. Instead, it was preparing for its second nuclear test and for multiple ballistic missile launches, and engaging in new terrorist activities, preparing to sentence two female American journalists snatched near the Chinese border to 12 years of hard labour.
Pyongyang's behaviour left the young Administration in a quandary. This was not the script Kim Jong-il was supposed to follow and the resulting policy options were perplexing to Obama's mindset. Should he reverse Bush's twin decisions to remove North Korea from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism and to allow it access to international financial markets? Doing so would, stunningly, leave him pursuing a harder line than Bush when he left office. Should Obama, in addition, press for meaningful new sanctions in the UN Security Council, and, if so, could he persuade Russia and China to support him? And what would other proliferators conclude if North Korea successfully called the American bluff? Where was North Korea's open hand, and why wouldn't it return to the Six Party Talks?
To date, Obama has appeared confused and indecisive in his response, although much remains to unfold. Intense diplomatic efforts for stricter Security Council sanctions resulted in only modest additions to the existing UN sanctions imposed after the North's October 2006 nuclear test. The American reporters remained in prison. Obama's most significant mistake, however, even while labouring mightily to achieve only incremental increases in international pressure against Pyongyang, was that his goal was still only to coax North Korea back into negotiations. Most tellingly, the North refused to return to the Six Party Talks, almost certainly because it had not yet finished wringing concessions out of the US. But even if Kim Jong-il were to oblige Obama and relaunch negotiations, nothing more would be accomplished than occurred in the prior six years of failure, or the many earlier failures, all of which prove that North Korea is not going to be talked out of its nuclear programme. Thus, even if Obama achieved his immediate objective of restarting the Talks, he would not be resolving the underlying threat.
Nowhere was Obama's reaction to North Korea's belligerence followed more carefully than in Iran. The close, lengthy co-operation between Iran and North Korea on ballistic missile technology and also almost certainly on their nuclear programmes (exemplified by the North Korean reactor in Syria, destroyed by Israel in September 2007), has been vital to both countries. During the 2008 campaign, Obama made Iran the very epitome of his foreign policy differences with President Bush. Iran was precisely the issue on which face-to-face bilateral negotiations, including even President Obama himself, would both fundamentally change the US-Iran political dynamic for the better and eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat. Once in office, however, the Administration found itself in an exhausting internal policy debate, gridlocking possible substantial policy shifts until Iran's impending election made it impossible for real movement until the results were known. Meanwhile, Iran's unceasing efforts to enrich uranium and expand its nuclear programme continued without effective hindrance. Even the European Union's endless, feckless negotiating efforts ground to a halt.
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace