Exclusive: Soft Power Slump


Exclusive: Soft Power Slump

Oct 28th, 2009 3 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

Obama's week finished with a soft power slump. The U.S. had high hopes for two meetings with Iranian officials on their suspect nuclear programs.

Early in the week the administration prematurely and foolishly started crowing that the Iranians were willing to negotiate. Soft power, they proclaim, had triumphed. A Washington Post article described the deal as "providing a major boost for the Obama administration" in engaging with the Islamist government in Tehran.

The high-fives proved premature. By the end of the week, Iran walked away without signing. Heritage Middle East expert James Phillips wrote:

Despite the Obama Administration's optimistic rhetoric about sealing a nuclear deal with Iran, Tehran again has thrown a monkey wrench into the nuclear negotiations by failing to meet today's deadline to accept a United Nations-backed proposal for enriching uranium outside Iran. Instead of giving a yes/no answer, Iranian officials instead offered a counterproposal. The details of the counterproposal have not been released, but they are sure to further muddy the diplomatic waters and obscure the prime focus of the negotiations: to stop Iran's uranium enrichment activities. Iran's diplomatic charade is slap in the face of the Obama Administration which continues to cling to its flawed engagement strategy. Tehran is willing to engage only to the extent that it can defuse international pressure for more sanctions. But it clearly remains determined to continue its uranium enrichment program and gain a nuclear weapon.

All the administration managed to accomplish was to offer unearned legitimacy to the Iranian government - treating the radical regime as a responsible partner. Meanwhile, the U.S. allowed Tehran to buy more time for developing their weapons program.

It was a performance that earned a "D" for "determined to be dumb" in negotiating with a government that has little interest in serious negotiations.

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden was doing damage control in Europe, meeting with the Czechs and Poles who are irked at the cancellation of missile defense sites in their countries. Biden walked away with a public statement from both governments that they were pleased to sign up with Obama's alternate plan for missile defense (which would deliver missile defense only eight years behind the Bush plan...if they are ever built at all and not traded away in the next arms control agreement). Heritage expert on European affairs, Sally McNamara, argues the trip was little more than a case of arm-twisting. "It is clear that President Obama sent Biden to Central and Eastern Europe to paper over the most immediate cracks between the two. Warsaw and Prague's most pressing concern is America's apparent willingness to pay any price to 'reset' U.S.-Russian relations." She argues, "The lack of prior consultation by the Obama Administration with Poland and the Czech Republic before abandoning the Third [missile defense] Site gave Warsaw and Prague every indication that their interests are merely moot in a great Washington-Moscow poker game." Few believe Biden silenced these concerns.

At home, another terrorist plot was broken up last week. That brings the total number of conspiracies thwarted since 9/11 to 27. Heritage's Jena Baker McNeill and Jessica Zuckerman find "[t]his most recent plot once again proves the efficacy of increased terrorism investigatory and information-sharing measures and serves as a reminder to Congress and President Obama that these measures must be preserved and expanded.... This fact should serve as a sobering reminder that, eight years after 9/11, the need for strong counterterrorism measures has not waned. Wednesday's foiled attacks coupled with the other three recently thwarted plots should serve as a renewed call to Congress and the Administration for vigilance against the terrorist threat."

That said, the administration let this latest incident pass without renewing its call for authorization of the part of the Patriot Act that will expire this year. The investigative authorities established under the law are vital counterterrorism tools.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in FamilySecurityMatters.org