The Obama Effect: 'nuclear diplomacy' edition
Bush and his advisers never did figure out why Putin always seemed to get the best of them
Barack Obama has only been president a week, and already he's had a major success in an area of foreign policy and national security in which Bush found only failure. In response to Obama's assertion that he will review Bush's proposed European missile shield, Vladimir Putin declared that Russia will suspend deployment of nuclear missiles near Kaliningrad. Those missiles had caused our allies in Poland great concern, as Kaliningrad is just just a few miles away from the Polish border.
During the run-up to the 2004 election, challenger John Kerry identified nuclear proliferation as the #1 security threat facing the US, and President Bush agreed. But during his administration, Bush backed out of a non-proliferation deal with North Korea, which responded by tested a nuclear warhead and several nuclear-capable missiles (thankfully, the tests failed and Bush was able to get the Koreans to agree to a deal almost identical to the one Bush had scrapped a couple of years previous).
But the North Korean fiasco was only the most spectacular of Bush's failures with regard to nuclear non-proliferation. Iran responded to Bush's belligerence by stepping up its program to enrich uranium for its civilian nuclear program, a program that could allow Iran to produce weapons-grade nuclear material in the future. Bush's plan to build a useless missile shield in Poland (ostensibly to protect West Europe from Iran's non-existent nuclear missiles) prompted Vladimir Putin to announce a plan to deploy nuclear missiles on the Polish border. And Bush's agreement to share nuclear technology with India, an agreement that violates the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, enraged the leaders of Pakistan and brought the two nuclear powers to the brink of war.
All of this happened while Bush chased after non-existent nuclear weapons in Syria and Iraq. Bush's only success against what he himself called the most serious security threat facing the country came when Moammar Gaddafi of Libya agreed to abandon a weapons development program. That success looks fairly modest in light of the fact that Libya's weapons program doesn't appear to have been anywhere near to bearing fruit.
After all that failure, you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either the task of containing nuclear proliferation is literally impossible, or Bush and his team didn't know what they were doing. And now Obama has answered that question for us by having immediate success that resulted from a reversal of Bush's policy.
Most leaders, even aggressive, militaristic leaders like Putin, are willing to engage diplomatically with their rivals and make compromises that are mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran isn't among the leaders who are willing to be reasonable. In response to Obama's firm but conciliatory rhetoric, Ahmadinejad demanded that Obama apologize to the Iranian people for past American policies. Presumably, that would mean apologizing for American support of the brutal Shah Mohammad Pahlavi and for the ongoing economic sanctions that continue to hurt Iran's economy.
Demanding an apology for the actions of Obama's predecessors as a condition for opening serious negotiations is obviously an attempt to ensure that such negotiations negotiations ever take place. It's easy to see why Ahmadinejad wants to avoid such negotiations. An American-led sanctions regime has greatly damaged the Iranian economy, but it's also enhanced Ahmadinejad's political stature at home. So on the one hand, it appears that not much has changed with regard to the US/Iran relationship.
But because of his conciliatory approach, Obama is in a much stronger position than Bush was. Under Bush, China and India voraciously consumed Iranian oil, while Russia provided Iran with advanced weaponry, nuclear power technology, and even enriched uranium. But under Obama, Iran is likely to find itself increasingly marginalized by the world community and increasingly unable to avoid engaging in good-faith diplomacy with the US.
(cross posted at appletree)