23 September 2009

Ich bin kein Berliner?

The more assuredly President Barak Obama's administration settles into its routine and stable mode of operation after a few pretty chaotic months, the more questions about the White House foreign policy are being raised, both by the friends and by the enemies.

I want to be careful, but there is an increasing feeling that the main thread of the foreign policy is favoring extreme caution and even direct "disengagement" steps all over the world where there is a chance of political collision with other major players.

Recently I read an interesting article by a Russian journalist Vladimir Abarinov*, touching on several aspects of Obama's foreign travails. With the author's kind permission and with some assistance from Google, I've translated the article and am posting it here in its entirety:

It's unfashionable to recall Barack Obama's Berlin and Prague speeches today in Washington. Then he needed the sympathy of Europeans and to show Americans aTV picture of the crowd cheering the coming of the messiah. Today it doesn't matter anymore. In response to the mention of Berlin and Prague's speeches displeased Obama's administration officials cringe and blush, as if caught in an unseemly act.

In Berlin Obama, then still a presidential candidate, expressively recited the text about the Berlin blockade, recalling how 60 years ago the U.S. established an air bridge to supply the city:

On that day, much of this continent still lay in ruin. The rubble of this city had yet to be built into a wall. The Soviet shadow had swept across Eastern Europe, while in the West, America, Britain, and France took stock of their losses, and pondered how the world might be remade. ... The streets where we stand were filled with hungry families who had no comfort from the cold. But in the darkest hours, the people of Berlin kept the flame of hope burning.
How archaic these words they sound today! Voices from the past: Ich bin ein Berliner, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall ...

In Prague, the U.S. president reiterated the intergovernmental agreement on the deployment of the missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, concluded by his predecessor, shall remain in force. Here is a quote... :
Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed.
The Iranian threat has not disappeared but it does not matter.

I do not even want to delve into the arguments of the White House and the Pentagon. Experts say that Moscow has actually won nothing, that the new mobile missile defense network is a technological breakthrough, impossible to achieve for Russia. But it does not matter. I'm not interested in the compensation that the Czechs and Poles will receive. This is not a technical question. For Moscow it was a matter of principle. Moscow scored a political victory, and Washington knows it. Even the media loyal to Obama says that this is a capitulation.

President made not only a politically irresponsible but an immoral decision. Its forerunner was the lack of participation in the events in Gdansk to mark the 70 anniversary of the Second World War. Three months Warsaw couldn't get a reply to their invitation. Finally Warsaw was told that there was no one available to go, everyone is on a Labor Day vacation. Hearing this, a Polish diplomat apologized for the fact that Hitler started the war on September 1, without waiting for an American holiday to be over. In the end the U.S. delegation in Gdansk was led by an Obama's national security adviser, General James Jones. It is as if Russia sent its Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

Does America reduce its military-political presence in Europe? Difficult to believe, but you have to believe it. A bigger strategic error is difficult to imagine. Historical destinies of Europe and America are inextricably linked.

In XVII-XVIII centuries, the North American colonies participated in several European wars, spread to the New World - for the Palatinate, the Spanish and Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War. France and Spain were allies of the young American republic in the War of Independence. Bidding farewell to the nation, George Washington commanded her to refrain from strong alliances with European powers. "Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?", He asked rhetorically, "Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice? " But in 1801 the United States sent its Mediterranean squadron to war with the Muslim pirates and freed Europeans from this scourge.

The Monroe Doctrine is the manifesto of U.S. isolationism. But its proclamation in 1823 was a preemptive response to the plans for the intervention of the Holy Union in order to restore the status quo of the former Spanish colonies. In his statement, President James Monroe declared the colonization of America completed.

Europeans haven't heeded the message. Until the end of the century, Washington had to protect the Western Hemisphere from European interference. And then came the World War II.

For U.S. isolationism remained an attractive but unrealized idea. To go back to it now means to try to turn history back, to forget the lessons of the XX century, it means to forgo - for free or for the sake of petty self-interest - the gains of the Cold War and the peaceful democratic revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe.

For Israel, the moment of truth has arrived. When a presidential candidate Obama during last year's Middle East tour, said: "Let me state it clearly: Israel is the strong friend of Israel", it was a slip of the tongue, but a Freudian slip. His then rival, Hillary Clinton, has promised to wipe Iran off the face of the earth if it dares to attack Israel with nuclear weapons. Obama answered humbly: "The last few years we have heard many promises to wipe out. Good results were something to be seen. So I am not inclined to cavalry assaults."

The unity of Europe may prove to be illusory, lacking the deterrent factor of American involvement. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, prior to her trip to Gdansk, talked about the unfairness of the mass deportation of Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II, implying that the German Union of Displaced Persons remains a real factor in the German domestic politics.

This is only the first swallow. Coals of mutual grudges and pretensions in Europe continue to smolder and, in favorable circumstances, they will flare up.

This will be the beginning of the end of Obama's era. But it will be insignificant then.

I hope you have enjoyed the article. Well, I don't want to be the first who said it, but I am afraid that the American promoters of isolationism like the wondrous Ron Paul or the paleo-conservative dinosaur Pat Buchanan are cheering Obama and applaud, even if one-handed, from the gallery.

(*) Vladimir Abarinov - bio factoid:

By education - historian and screenwriter. Abarinov's serious professional career began in "Literaturnaya Gazeta" as a journalist in the department of foreign culture. He was one of the "founding fathers" of "Nezavisimaya Gazeta", then, with the same team worked in the newspaper "Today" and, finally, in "Russian Telegraph". In all three he has been an editor of foreign relations desk. In this capacity he covered major international events, was included in the Kremlin pool of journalists. In 1998 he came to the U.S. as correspondent of "Izvestia, but the newspaper soon abandoned his services. Since then Mr Abarinov works with the Russian service of Radio Liberty, the newspaper "Top Secret" and the internet portal Grani.ru. After the Young Communist League, which he quit at his own will, he is not involved in any political parties, professional guilds and public organizations. Author of the book "Katyn maze" ("The Murderers of Katyn"), published also in the United States and Poland. Father of two adult sons and 11-year-old daughter. Lives in the United States. Personal blog - http://vlad-ab.livejournal.com/.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com