President Obama had four major objectives during his summit meetings in London, Strasbourg, Prague, and Ankara. He achieved success on one, partial success on two, and near failure on the fourth. His objectives were:
Economic issues. Former president Bush insisted last year on enlarging the G-7 economic club of rich nations that had dominated economic policy talks for thirty years. He believed that new economic powers, including China, India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, should be involved.
At the meeting in London, Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicolas Sarkozy, and Germany's Angela Merkel urged Barack Obama to accept new international rules to govern banks and other financial institutions, and to place caps on executive pay. Obama's challenge was deciding how far to go to placate the European leaders without risking a backlash in the US business community and Congress. He largely succeeded in reassuring both sides.
NATO and Afghanistan. While President Obama is sending 21,000 additional troops to bolster US, Canadian, British forces in southern Afghanistan, most European governments do not consider the war a priority. Public opinion in Europe opposes involvement in that war and leaders are reluctant to override this sentiment. Germany, France, and Italy are the major hold-outs, and American, Canadian, and British troops suffer most of the casualties.
The dilemma for Obama is whether he should work with this reality, or downgrade Europe's and NATO's importance when organizing international security operations in the Middle East and Asia. For example, how much influence should Sarkozy and Merkel have in Washington when their NATO governments fail to carry their proper weight in Afghanistan?
Turkey and the Middle East. It is noteworthy that President Obama visited Turkey on this trip abroad, but not Israel, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia. Turkey was selected because it is a Muslim country, a NATO member, has good relations with Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and also with Iran's Islamist regime. Until recently, Turkey also had good relations with Israel. But these were strained in January when Prime Minister Recep Erdogan publicly berated Israel's president, Shimon Peres, for Israel's bloody and controversial invasion of Gaza.
Important behind-the-scenes negotiations are underway, led by Egypt and Turkey, to arrange a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement that includes the following: Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria, which then opens diplomatic relations; Egypt and Syria persuade the two estranged Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, to form a coalition government and make peace with Israel; Saudi Arabia and other Arab states agree to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but on condition that Israel accepts a sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem.
Israel's new hard-line government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, will not accept this deal because he and his coalition oppose a two-state solution that presidents Clinton and Bush persuaded previous Israeli governments to accept. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's new foreign minister, even suggests expelling Israel's Arab citizens if they refuse to sign a loyalty oath.
A major impediment to peace in Palestine, cited by every president since Ronald Reagan, is Israel's sustained building of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian lands. Hillary Clinton experienced a backlash during her visit to Jerusalem last month. She criticized the Jerusalem city government's decision to evict 1500 Palestinians from their homes in order to make room for a park. Its mayor, Nir Barkat, then accused Clinton of meddling in local affairs: "I totally reject the criticism." ("Israeli Spurns Criticism From Clinton," Washington Post, March 6).
President Obama accomplished his major objective in Europe and Turkey by reversing the strained relations caused by the Bush-Cheney administration's method of dealing with allies. Now Obama needs to turn the improved relations into serious cooperation on policies that are of vital importance to this country, the Middle East and Central Asia, and the world economy.
File last modified on Sunday, 11-JAN-2009 5:24 PM EST