President Obama’s International Relations — Are They Yielding Fruit?

By Britt

Sep 21, 2009 9:21am

President Obama heads to New York City today for this week's convening of the United Nations General Assembly — a week packed with meetings of consequence, including a mini-summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas; a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao; a speech to the general assembly; and the first ever time a President of the United States chairs a meeting of the UN Security Council.

As he prepares for the week, the President greets a world in which the report by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is splashed upon the front pages of the Washington Post.

It's a report that pulls no punches.

"Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible," he writes. "(I)nadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced."

What's the president's take? He described himself as "skeptical."

Yesterday he told George Stephanopoulos, "I am now going to take all this information and we're going to test whatever resources we have against our strategy, which is if by sending young men and women into harm's way, we are defeating al Qaeda and — and that can be shown to a skeptical audience, namely me — somebody who is always asking hard questions about deploying troops, then we will do what's required to keep the American people safe.”

If President Obama ultimately opts to take McChrystal's recommendations, it appears as though he will largely do so with U.S. troops. (Though, perhaps looking to change that, he's hosting an event this week in New York with the leaders of the countries of nations who contribute the most troops and police forces to the effort in Afghanistan.)

Ally Canada is pulling all troops — even though Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last month  that "there is no such thing as a threat to the security of the United States which is not a threat to the security of Canada."

I asked Harper, "If our national security interests are the same…should Canada not continue its obligation to fight in Afghanistan?"

Said Harper: "We have now been there – let see that makes eight years. We have resolution for our parliament. We require that military deployments in Canada be supported by the parliament of Canada. Our government in – just in the last parliament – had that mission extended to 2011. That will mean we will have been there a decade….we have to – we have to have the support of parliament and the Canadian people and that support has been given until 2011. After that, we will be supportive in ways that we can be supportive. I am committed to operating within our parliamentary resolution."

As Peter Baker noted in the New York Times yesterday,"European allies still refuse to send significantly more troops to Afghanistan. The Saudis basically ignored Mr. Obama’s request for concessions to Israel, while Israel rebuffed his demand to stop settlement expansion. North Korea defied him by testing a nuclear weapon. Japan elected a party less friendly to the United States. Cuba has done little to liberalize in response to modest relaxation of sanctions. India and China are resisting a climate change deal. And Russia rejected new sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program even as Mr. Obama heads into talks with Tehran."

In July President Obama suggested that his efforts at international relations were beginning to bring about some modest achievements in terms of North Korea and Iran.

We asked: "Can you point to any reason why you're encouraged why your approach to Iran and North Korea is the right approach? And ultimately will be successful in reducing the threat in those nations?"

Said the president: "Well in North Korea, what we saw was a very strong unanimity around a very strong sanctions resumed that I think it's fair to say that even two or three years ago might not have been imposed by either Russia or China. They might have blocked it in the Security Council. …On Iran, I think that the governing elites there are going through a struggle that has been mirrored painfully and powerfully on the streets and in my mind the fact that we have both said we are willing to work with Iran at the same time as we have been very clear about our grave deep concerns with respect to not just the violence, not just the detentions that have taken place, has created a space where the international community can potentially join and pressure Iran more effectively than they have in the past."

- jpt

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