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Opinion

Opinion

Column: Election puts foreign policy on hold

September 30, 2012

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— It’s embarrassing when President Obama’s risk-averse refusal to engage foreign-policy issues becomes so obvious that it’s a laugh line for the president of Iran.

“I do believe that some conversations and key issues must be talked about again once we come out of the other end of the political election atmosphere in the United States,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said cheekily in an interview last Sunday. I hate to say it, but on this matter the often-annoying Iranian leader is right.

Less than six weeks before the election, the Obama campaign’s theme song might as well be the old country music favorite “Make the World Go Away.” This may be smart politics, but it’s not good governing: The way this campaign is going, the president will have a foreign affairs mandate for ... nothing.

The “come back after Nov. 6” sign is most obvious with Iran. The other members of the P5+1 negotiating group understand that the U.S. doesn’t want serious bargaining until after the election, lest Obama have to consider compromises that might make him look weak. So the talks with Iran that began last May dither along in technical discussions.

Ahmadinejad and some of his aides let slip during their visit to New York that they may be willing to offer a deal that would halt enrichment of uranium above 5 percent. Is this a good deal or not, in terms of U.S. and Israeli security? Sorry, come back later.

Will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep his gun in the holster until after the polls close? The White House certainly hopes so. But someone should check the odds with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is one of Mitt Romney’s biggest financial backers.

The Obama arm’s-length approach is evident with Egypt and the other nations that are convulsed by the Arab uprising. The U.S. is launching an innovative economic-assistance program to help President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. But you don’t hear much about it this election season. Nor is there much public discussion of the covert U.S. effort to aid the Syrian rebels, or the war in Yemen, or the god-awful mess in Iraq.

And though Obama was eloquent in his speech to the United Nations Tuesday in eulogizing Christopher Stevens, America’s brave ambassador to Libya, the administration has been reluctant to talk about resurgent al-Qaida operations in that country. One senses a desire to keep the lid on this explosive subject in the State Department’s effort to suppress CNN’s reporting of Stevens’ private diary, along with a commendable effort to protect the family’s privacy.

I’m told that the talk in the Libyan underground is about a “global intifada” like what the new al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been preaching for the last five years. But ask U.S. officials about that subject and you get a “no comment.”

To be blunt: The administration has a lot invested in the public impression that al-Qaida was vanquished when Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011. Obama would lose some of that luster if the public examined whether al-Qaida is adopting a new, Zawahiri-led strategy of interweaving its operations with the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But this discussion is needed, and a responsible president should lead it, even during a presidential campaign.

Perhaps the most disheartening example of a topic that has been deep-sixed during campaign season is the war in Afghanistan. This month marked the end of the surge that President Obama ordered in December 2009, and troops are now back to the pre-surge level of about 68,000. How fast will that number decline over the next year? Here again, we probably won’t know until after Election Day. Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Kabul, is preparing his recommendations now, but officials say this process of review will take ... well, at least six weeks.

The president hasn’t really made any bones about his wait-till-later approach. He put it frankly to Dimitry Medvedev, then president of Russia, back in March when he thought the microphone was off: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

This strategy of avoiding major foreign policy risks or decisions may help get Obama re-elected. But he is robbing the country of a debate it needs to have — and denying himself the public understanding and support he will need to be an effective foreign-policy president in a second term, if the “rope-a-dope” campaign should prove successful.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.     

Comments

observant 1 year, 6 months ago

There seems to be a sense of panic from the GOP/Teabaggers that people aren't buying into their BS. What will they be doing once Obama is starting his second term and nutcases no longer control house and and Senate margin is larger than it is currently?

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 6 months ago

Having the State Department on automatic pilot is probably safer for America than having the Mope getting involved.

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tange 1 year, 6 months ago

Apparently, not enough foreign policy whiz-pop-bang in this final month before the election. Ok, it's too late for fireworks, but maybe David can get started on his Halloween costume...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/35393854@N00/1806060460/

_

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Milton Bland 1 year, 6 months ago

Presidenbt Dumbo, aka Liar in Chief, does have a foreign policy. It is to reduce the USA to the the European/Middle East standard. He lied about the attack on our embassy, and he could not even get his people to get their stories straight. He brought all of our troops out of Iraq and now Iraq has become the best friend of Iran. He has sent throusands of troops to Afganistan for a hopeless cause, and his action has cost many American lives. He has sealed all his personal records including his transcripts. Although he claims to be a Black American, he has no ties to Black Americans. Now we find out he is buying a $35 million home in Hawaii. Now way he can afford that on a President's salary. He has made healthcare unaffordable for most of us over 65. And why have we not heard from Dirty Harry recently? He promised to release his tax returns if Romney released his. Democrats make me sick! They are either really stupid or hate America.

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Armstrong 1 year, 6 months ago

Why is it Liberals hate success on any level ? It's like biting the hand that feeds you, the takers take from the producers and then complain they aren't getting enough.WTF ?

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atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

America is a greedy nation. Greed is what decides all Americas elections. Since your corporations are people, greed among the candidates is higher than ever.

Your dog and pony show, I'll let you decide which is which, will impress only those greedy Americans that have a dog or pony in the show.

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Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

This adm. And their mishandling of this attack and all that followed (intentional?) is another topic Romney needs to take head on Wednesday night. As usual, Obama is getting the standard cover for this.

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WristTwister 1 year, 6 months ago

The Middle East is on fire. Clearly, this President's foreign policy of apology and appeasement has only made him appear weak and the wolves are circling. This administration has kicked the can down the road on many critical issues facing this nation since January 2009 including the debt issue. His comment to Dimitry Medvedev “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility” is very telling. If Obama is re-elected look for this President to aggressively and unilaterally destroy this nation and install Socialism similar to the cradle to grave entitlements of Spain and Greece. How well has that worked? He will also move to further disarm the United States and weaken our military. Open borders may become a reality and the granting of citizenship to illegals is a certainty. Look for a carbon tax and gun control measures. Tax rates for everyone (not just the rich) will soar. Obama will ignore the two credit down grades that have occurred on his watch and continue to add to the national debt at an alarming rate while energy prices will go through the roof. Printing more money will result in further devaluation of the dollar prompting other nations to move to make some other currency the world's currency. We will once again see "stagflation" from the Carter administration rear it's ugly head My crystal ball says that another Obama administration will doom this country to a financial calamity from which we may never recover. He has signaled his intentions. Is this what we really want?

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SageonPage 1 year, 6 months ago

It has become glaringly apparent the child president is in way over his head. Thanks for playing Affirmative Action President, now go away and let the adults take over. Romney and Republican Senate and House in 2012.

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Kate Rogge 1 year, 6 months ago

I'd like to see President Obama explain to Governor Romney that the Defense budget is separate from that of the Veterans Administration. Perhaps Romney should start his foreign policy education by learning more about American agencies:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/09/27/romney-ties-veteran-suicides-to-defense-cut-fight/?wprss=rss_campaigns&wp_login_redirect=0

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 6 months ago

A well-reasoned debate on the issues of foreign policy would indeed be the ideal. But does Ignatius seriously believe that Romney and the Republicans are capable of that?

And neither of these candidates would consider eliminating the militarism that has become the main tool of US foreign policy, fatally crippling the "well-reasoned debate" before it ever gets going.

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Armstrong 1 year, 6 months ago

Would someone let Barry know inept is not a foreign policy

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Kate Rogge 1 year, 6 months ago

If posturing cries for war are the only foreign policy speech acceptable to the campaigning Republicans, I prefer President Obama remain silent and keep us out of another war in the Middle East.

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JonasGrumby 1 year, 6 months ago

How can Obama avoid foreign policy during the debates? Is there any way to convince our moderators to not ask any foreign policy questions?

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