Thursday, April 22, 2010

Foreign Policies Review

President Obama and his administration has an increasingly difficult and challenging situation with what's going on throughout the world and how this is affecting our many very important foreign policies and relationships with other countries, including key allies, those which are de-facto enemies or at minimum not friendly towards us, and the large number of others who are relatively non-aligned.

Why do I say this and what can and should be done about it?

First, while there has been some evidence of progress towards peace and relative stability, we continue to have an expensive, uncertain and increasingly isolated battle in achieving our objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The high costs are represented by military and civilian casualties, money we don't really have and largely need to borrow, and substantial military and government management time in dealing with these countries. With most of our European allies pulling back the bulk of their forces from this region for political and economic reasons, we are more and more facing bearing the burden relatively alone at the same time that we are also committed to reduce our own forces over the next year or two.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban and related Muslim extremist groups, though many of their leaders have been killed in recent years, will most likely find and train replacements, they are well aware of U. S. strategies and political constraints, and they are patient. We must assume that they await our eventual withdrawal of forces with plans to then renew their attacks on whatever government is in power. We certainly cannot expect the two other superpowers, China and Russia, to step up militarily when we leave. India, another major power, might step up in some fashion, especially if neighboring Pakistan, whom they have fought for years, becomes seriously threatened by the Taliban or other Muslim extremists.

Second, the deteriorating situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories and our longstanding pursuit of a fair and sustainable peace agreement under a United Nations supported two-state solution. Although the U. S. is by far Israel's most important ally, and we are strongly committed to preserving Israel's security, recent well-known events have strained President Obama's relationship with Israel's government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Making this issue more difficult and sensitive are Iran's continuing progressing pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities threatening Israel and neighboring Syria supplying dangerous Scud-D missiles to the Hezbollah, Israel's Muslim extremist enemy in Lebanon.

Further negative factors in this region at present are that Syria has in recent months been deepening its alliance with Iran and that one of the regional powers, close by 98% Muslim Turkey, previously an ally of Israel, has now become more of an adversary under its Islamist government.

Third, China is increasingly flexing its economic and military muscles as one of the two largest national investors in U. S. treasury bonds, and sizeable widespread oil related investments in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, the latest being news a few days ago of a $20 billion loan to Venezuela to be repaid in oil deliveries to China. China is also a key partner with the U. S. in trying to control the rogue regime of Communist North Korea, which is threatening two of our top allies in that region, Japan and South Korea.

Fourth, as commented on in recent posts, our policies are constrained by limited financial resources. The U. S. is heavily burdened by substantial budget deficits, a huge amount of national debt, uncertainty about the willingness of foreign creditors, especially China, to continue to lend us more money, and the fact that at least 50% of Americans are probably not going to support an increase in most taxes to help balance our federal, state and county budgets.

The above pose some, but certainly not all, of the most important foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration over the next 2 1/2 years, if not longer, if he gets reelected in 2012. Others include making the United Nations more effective, achieving nuclear non-proliferation, a new comprehensive energy plan involving foreign suppliers, getting cooperation on dealing with global warming, and coordinating actions to promote international trade and commerce.

What can and should be done about all these tough challenges?? President Obama, his administration, the Congress, and probably most Americans are reasonably familiar with the challenges. Coming to good and necessary decisions, for sure, will be very difficult in most cases, many causing concern and even anger among allies and non-aligned countries. One of the biggest problems will be overcoming the blatant partisanship we've experienced in Washington since President Obama took office last year. Here are some thoughts I have, and I recognize some of the action steps I recommend are, or may be, already in various stages of implementation:

1. Accept the fact that we don't have the resources or compelling reasons to dominate the world's stage any more and nearly alone solve all its big problems. China, India, Russia, Brazil and the European Union, in addition to the United Nations, need to much more equally share the burdens and responsibilities.

2. Put a more serious and concerted effort into limiting the unwarranted, unproductive and blatant partisanship we've seen in Washington and many state capitals, especially when it comes to national security and foreign policy issues referred to above. The president must lead the effort and demonstrate by his actions that this applies to him, his staff, federal government agencies and members of Congress. The media should be encouraged to be more balanced in its coverage. Congress members should be encouraged to vote for their leaders that fully support this effort.

2. In coordination with Congress and key allies, review and update plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as is feasible, retaining in those countries a relatively limited contingent of non-combat advisers as the president and Pentagon considers a absolutely necessary, and as agreed to by the governments of the two countries. The plans must also address what can be done to satisfactorily limit expenditures in the wind-down phase and any future years, without materially and adversely impacting our strategic objectives.

3. Even though it's tempting at the moment to advise Israel that, while we continue to stand by them in terms of their security, they should decide how they want to deal with the Palestinian territories, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. We won't get involved. But I can't see that working. I still think we need to try harder and more creatively to serve as a fair mediator and facilitator for an agreed period, such as 18 months, providing that's completely agreeable to Israel, the Palestinian government, and preferably also Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, all of whom have a strategic interest in a viable peace agreement. If either party doesn't agree, we should leave prospective negotiations to them and go home. Another option, if they don't agree to our role, is to get the U. N. involved.

4. The pillars of our foreign policy focus should be the European Union, Canada and Australia, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, Mexico, Brazil and India by virtue of their size, economic and military power, global influence, and proximity, in the case of Canada and Mexico. Most important of these, in terms of complexity and challenge, are China and Russia for fairly obvious reasons, including containing rogue North Korea for China and containing rogue Iran for Russia.

5. As I think President Obama is pursuing, we need a bipartisan energy plan approved by the end of the year, latest by the middle of 2011, that moves us close to virtual energy independence within 5 years, including Canada for this purpose as a domestic source. We should have no more than a maximum of 10% dependence on Middle East oil within 2 years. Major components of the plan should include increased natural gas production in the U. S. and Canada, environmentally safe offshore oil drilling, many more nuclear plants, cleaner coal technology, greater green source energy (especially solar) for electricity, and much more conservation with more energy efficient appliances and higher fuel mileage requirements for autos and trucks.

6. We significantly improve our prospects for successfully meeting the above challenges on a timely basis by getting our national economics in much better shape through a balanced federal budget, limiting if not stopping entirely the growth of our national debt, and gradually over time reducing its level. To start with we must get bipartisan agreement in Congress for a balanced budget to be achieved within 2-3 years through normal economic growth, reducing noncritical federal expenditures, and temporarily establishing a national sales tax, and/or an increase in taxes on gasoline, tobacco and alcohol sales.

Some of the logical targets for reducing federal expenditures are to reduce in size or close down entirely many of our noncritical military bases abroad, such as in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Germany and the U. K. Japan and Korea can take care of themselves. So can the other countries. I'm certain there are many other reasonable expenditure cuts that can be identified to help achieve and keep our budget balanced.

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