Please, Kick Us: More Amateur Hour in the State Department
Denise recently asked whether Obama has put a "kick me" sign on our backs. I have a few thoughts about this.
I recently interviewed Turkey's former ambassador to the United States, Faruk Loğoğlu. He is appalled--like many in Turkey--by the soft-headedness of the Obama' Administration's diplomacy in this region. He finds Obama's speeches about his personal warmth toward Islam ludicrous and inappropriate. “Obama can’t play the religious game," he said. "He should be playing the security game. His policy toward Turkey is a bad imitation of the worst parts of Orientalism.”
It's not merely the ideological color of the Obama Administration's diplomacy that worries me, but its incompetence. I've lately been examining in very close detail the events that led to Turkey's "No" vote on the Iran sanctions package in the UN. I'll be writing about this elsewhere; and the details are too complicated to summarize here. But one thing leaps out: our incompetence. How could there have been any ambiguity--and obviously there was--in our communication with Turkey about our negotiating position on the nuclear fuel swap deal? How is it possible that Turkey was receiving critically different messages from the White House and the State Department on an issue as significant as the Iranian nuclear program, for God's sake? It's inconceivable, but on looking closely at the evidence, it is clear that this is just what happened.
When the State Department Spokesman sends a completely inappropriate birthday message to to Ahmadinejad via Twitter, it is, likewise, a symptom of utter amateurism. Apologists for this incident have suggested to me that this wasn't such a big deal; it was sarcastic, they say, and it wasn't a diplomatic note or official communiqué. I am guessing that had that Tweet said, "Tomorrow we bomb Iran into rubble," the same people would have thought it quite a big deal indeed.
It is hugely significant when the tone coming out of the State Department is childish, inappropriate, and supine; it is fundamentally unserious to put such a message on Twitter; and it is beyond belief that anyone there would think "sarcasm" about this situation--we are talking about kidnapped US citizens who are being held hostage in Iran--conveys American resolve. Signaling counts. Signaling that you are damned serious does not start wars, it prevents them.
More amateurism: I've expressed my reservations about the supposedly surpassing moderation of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim here. Now I see reports that Clinton may be planning to meet with him on her Asian trip this week. As an appalled Chuck Devore correctly observes,
While Ibrahim enjoys the support of Al Gore and Paul Wolfowitz, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith calls him out as an anti-Semitic demagogue unworthy of meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State. Tellingly, when Ibrahim was recently in New York, shadowing a visit there by Prime Minister Najib Razak, he met with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Ibrahim was a co-founder of IIIT which listed the Malaysian politician as a trustee as recently as last year.
The problem is that IIIT is a Muslim Brotherhood front that has repeatedly been tied to terrorist network financing.
As Chuck DeVore also correctly writes, "Malaysia is no Myanmar and Ibrahim is no Aung San Suu Kyi."
A meeting with the US Secretary of State is an important signal of legitimization. If you're in any doubt of this, read the Malaysian press.
Any U.S. acknowledgment of the existence of the Pakatan would be a tremendous blow to the Malaysian ruling coalition. Its message should be taken very seriously by Najib and his Umno-BN. ...
Although, there is no official appointment in Clinton's calendar to formally meet the Pakatan trio, high-level sources tell Malaysia Chronicle that they are likely to be invited to a social function or a meeting that will also be attended by civil society groups.
The Obama administration has said it is keen to show support for democracy and civil society in its foreign policy.
Support for democracy and civil society? It's not clear whether they said this in connection with this prospective meeting, but if so, the Pakatan trio? Meaning among them, Hadi Awang? Surely they jest. I repeat: Right now, Anwar is in an electoral alliance with the PAS, of which Hadi Awang is the president. It takes but three seconds on Google to establish the extent of this party's commitment to democracy and civil society. They're the ones who favor stoning for adulterers and amputations for thieves. Our Secretary of State has no business, none, conveying legitimacy on someone like this, his party, or anyone he's in concert with--ever. No good could possibly come of it.
As for Anwar himself, do we seriously mean to suggest that we have no problem with him? If there should be any unified message coming from the United States, it should be this: Politicians who trade in anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism go straight to the diplomatic deep freeze. They shouldn't even dream that we'll lift a finger to boost them, politically.
I might look at things differently if we needed Anwar, if there was some point to this prospective meeting, if there were any conceivable gain or advantage that might accrue. But it's quite the opposite. All it could do is convey the message, "We don't pay attention to this stuff, so go right ahead, indulge yourself--we'll still pop around for tea and cookies."
Yes, meeting this group of clowns would be like walking around with a "kick me" sign on our foreheads. And it's also just plain incompetent. Doesn't anyone at State know how to use Google?
Apropos of all of this, there was an excellent article in Newsweek (yes, really) last week: Is it Islamic or Islamist? The authors are right; being able to tell the difference between the former and the latter is essential. I'm not sure anyone at the State Department is even trying.
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