President Barack Obama, in office less than half a year, finds himself facing mounting challenges overseas. There are, of course the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former winding down at last but the latter heating up, compounded now by the instability in Pakistan. Aside from these actual conflicts, are the threats posed by a nuclear-armed and bellicose North Korea and a soon-to-be nuclear armed and equally hostile Iran. Of these, Iran is the greater threat. The North Korean ruling lunatics may be crazy but they are not suicidal. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other hand, religious passions and anti-western hysteria could overcome reason and restraint.
Regrettably, Mr. Obama has yet to demonstrate the required toughness and leadership in dealing with either crisis. His response to North Korean provocation and threats has been the usual hollow warnings about “grave consequences” should Pyongyang continue on its reckless course. Such warnings did not stop North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place. Why should we expect them to succeed now when defiance on their part has always produced concessions in the past? Nor will such warnings stop Iran.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of the ruling clerics in Iran will be a nightmare for the United States, not to mention Israel, because it will greatly change the power relationships in the Middle East. Iran’s President Mamoud Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel and her citizens. Iran’s ruling ayatollahs consider America the great Satan. As Mr. Obama himself has said, we cannot permit a nation whose president has called for the destruction of another nation and her people to acquire nuclear weapons. And yet, that is what is happening and what is he actually doing about it besides offering to hold discussions?
In spite of the obvious implications of a nuclear-armed Iran, President Obama apparently still believes that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the top American Middle East priority. In his meeting with newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he pressured the Israelis to make concessions including an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu, at great political risk, offered to discuss a land for peace agreement which, of course, was promptly rejected by the Arabs as insufficient. We’ve been down that path before. Aside from the fact that past Israeli offers of concessions have never brought peace, the Palestinians will always insist upon more concessions, such as the right of return, which the Israelis can never concede if they wish to remain a Jewish state.
The creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank should be off the table until the Palestinians and their Arab supporters are ready to recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace. Mr. Netanyahu has rightly maintained that a nuclear-armed Iran is the far more urgent priority.
A commentary by J. F. Kelly, Jr.
Mr. Obama missed a huge opportunity to weigh in on Iran’s sham presidential election, saying that the Iranians must pick their own leaders. But there is mounting evidence that the Iranian were, in fact, denied that opportunity, judging at least from the magnitude of the demonstrations and protests over the declaration by Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameni proclaiming Ahmadinejad the winner by a landslide over popular opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi who had led in the polls.
“It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” said Mr. Obama. “We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran,” he added. But the U.S. is already an issue inside Iran since apparently many Iranians are fed up with Ahmedinejad’s inept government and belligerent attitude toward the U.S., Israel and the West. It is clearly in the interests of the United States that the hard-line Ahmedinejad, whose supporters chanted “Death to Americans,” be replaced by at least a somewhat more moderate leader. That person could be Mousavi, many of whose supporters apparently hoped for some encouragement from Washington. A strong expression of support hardly constitutes internal meddling and could have greatly benefited U.S. interests. It remained for France’s less-timid President Nicolas Sarkozy to provide such support by branding the election an atrocity.
Mr. Obama apparently wanted to preserve his options for discussions with any leaders who emerge or remain in power. It reflects his naïve faith in the value of such discussions, even with despots. But discussions won’t keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and sooner or later talk must be replaced by action. One hopes there is a plan somewhere when talk runs out. Talks themselves do not constitute a plan. Israel. It should be remembered, undoubtedly has a rather specific plan for when the talks fail, if indeed there ever are talks.
President Obama has much on his plate and seems preoccupied by the economic crisis and his ambitious domestic agenda. Much of the work on the latter can be delegated, but as commander-in-chief, the critical foreign policy decisions are his alone to make. He’s got to get them right and not just wait for things to happen and hope for the best. Unfortunately, he does not have much experience in this critical role, as his Secretary of State once famously noted.
Copyright 2009 by J. F. Kelly, Jr.
Dr. Kelly is a retired Navy Captain and bank senior vice-president. A veteran of over thirty years of naval service, he commanded three ships and the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center in San Diego. He joined Great American Bank in 1983, serving first as Training and Development Director and later as Director of Human Resources. He retired from the bank in 1994 and has since devoted his efforts to community services. He served as foreman of the San Diego County Grand Jury in 1997-1998, president of the Lions Club of San Diego, the San Diego Council of the Navy League of the United States, the Lions Foundation, the Boys and Girls Foundation, Vice-president of the City of San Diego Salary setting commission and as chairman of the Business Council of the San Diego County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Task Force. He currently serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Foundation and the Coronado Roundtable. He currently teaches ship handling, seamanship and navigation at the Naval Base, San Diego. A freelance writer, his weekly column on current events appears in the California Republic, the Coronado EagleJournal, eCoronado.com and other publications. Dr. Kelly has degrees in education, management and leadership including a doctor of education degree from the University of San Diego. He and his wife, the former Charlane Hughes, reside in Coronado.