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Posted at 9:45 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Obama's State of the Union address -- what about foreign policy?

By Jennifer Rubin

Much of the talk in the run-up to the State of the Union address has focused on domestic policy. But we are a country at war, facing major challenges from diverse sources. What should the president say on foreign policy tomorrow night?

He should reassert America's commitment to success in Afghanistan. The 2011 troop drawdown deadline has been moved back, it seems, to 2014. But even Vice President Biden has suggested that our presence there would last longer. While Obama is in the process of freeing himself from the left's foreign policy blunders, he should give his unqualified pledge to providing Gen. David Petraeus with all that he needs to secure our objectives.

On Iran, Obama has a chance to reaffirm the policy of two presidents -- George W. Bush and himself -- that Iran can never obtain nuclear weapons. We may have bought some time, but reports emphasize that Iran continues to make progress on nuclear enrichment. As Iran has becomes more recalcitrant, Obama should become more direct: The United States will use military force if needed to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions, and, more important, we stand with the people of Iran who seek a democratic government that respects human rights and wants a normal relationship with the outside world.

Then there is the rest of the Middle East. As we know from documents released over the weekend, Israel has been generous in its offers of Palestinian statehood and the Palestinians have been more than willing to concede nearly all of East Jerusalem. The problem is not, and has never been, Israel's settlements. This would be a grand opportunity for Obama to step away from the disastrous obsession with settlements, make clear that the U.S. will stand with Israel at the United Nations (in vetoing resolutions on settlements and unilateral declarations of Palestinian statehood) and give a boost to the Fayyed plan that seeks economic and political progress on the West Bank.

Finally, Obama needs to match rhetoric and policy on human rights. Elliott Abrams, writing in the New York Times, advises:

The revolt in Tunisia has thrown both that nation's dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the Obama administration's democracy-promotion policy onto the ash heap of history. The revolt undermined -- indeed, destroyed -- two years of effort in Washington to move toward a policy of "engagement" with hostile and repressive regimes. . . .

The president needn't admit error -- he can stick with the old "engagement" trope -- but he must shift his focus from sclerotic regimes to movements, parties and brave people seeking political freedom.

Whether it be Iran, China, Russia or the despotic regimes of the Middle East, Abrams suggests, "Obama should explain that a stable peace is not the product of deals with dictators but of free peoples working for common goals. He must get over his allergy to what George W. Bush called the freedom agenda, for it has been the agenda of many presidents of his own party as well." JFK, for one.

Likewise, Bob Kagan , writing in The Post on Sunday, contrasted our approach to Colombia with our relations with Egypt. He made a convincing case that our failure to pass the Colombia free trade agreement is unconscionable. ("Failure to ratify it this year would be a slap in the face to Colombia's new president and the Colombian people. Rewarding Colombians for their democratic progress would seem to be a no-brainer.") And he made an equally compelling argument for getting tough with the decrepit regime of Hosni Mubarak (who "cracked down brutally on domestic dissent, arresting, torturing and murdering bloggers").

So, for the State of the Union address, Obama should unequivocally state that we stand with the people of Tunisia, Iran, Russia, China and Egypt, as well as those who now enjoy the freedoms ushered in by democratic governments in Colombia, Eastern Europe, and Central America. You see, hope and change, doesn't stop at the water's edge. Dictators are headed for the ash heap of history, but we are with those oppressed and newly freed people who seek that most universal of human desires -- freedom.

If he says half of that, I'll be the first one to applaud.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 24, 2011; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Comments

" While Obama is in the process of freeing himself from the left's foreign policy blunders, he should give his unqualified pledge to providing Gen. David Petraeus with all that he needs to secure our objectives"

Hey, Jennifer Romney, you move so fast back and forth on people and issues, that I have to ask; are entertaining thoughts of an Iowa run yourself?

Just last week you made fun of Petraeus:

"This was the same hooey that got Gen. David Petraeus tied up in knots a while back when he suggested in written testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Palestinian conflict "foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel" and that the failure to satisfy the Palestinians' desire for a state poses a threat to our national interests. Petraeus quickly backpedaled (even going to the U.S. Holocaust Museum to make amends) with the help of loyal admirers. However, the damage was done. Israel's most vicious critics ran with the argument. For example, a group of the worst of the Israel-bashing congressmen sent a letter last May to Obama parroting back the general's gaffe."

Here's what he actually wrote:

"Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace. The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."

So make up your mind, hero or goat? Apparently the General wants a viable ME peace process. How can Obama give it to him, without you calling both of them on the carpet, over and over again?

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 24, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

However it is done, regime change in Iran should be of the highest priority.

Posted by: vausa22923 | January 24, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Don't hold your breath. Even musicians hold Obama in contempt. From Rubin's old stomping ground, "Contentions":

Chinese Anti-American Propaganda Song Played at State Dinner
ALANA GOODMAN - 01.23.2011 - 4:26 PM
So that lavish state dinner President Obama hosted for Chinese President Hu Jintao last week? Turns out it was an even worse decision than previously thought. Not only did Obama honor a regime of human-rights abusers, but it turns out they weren’t even appreciative. According to the Epoch Times, a pianist at the event played a well-known Chinese propaganda song that’s about defeating the U.S. in a war. And it sounds like the Chinese government may have known the song would be played beforehand.

Lang Lang the pianist says he chose it. Chairman Hu Jintao recognized it as soon as he heard it. Patriotic Chinese Internet users were delighted as soon as they saw the videos online. Early morning TV viewers in China knew it would be played an hour or two beforehand. At the White House State dinner on Jan. 19, about six minutes into his set, Lang Lang began tapping out a famous anti-American propaganda melody from the Korean War: the theme song to the movie “Battle on Shangganling Mountain.”

The Epoch Times provided some of the song’s lyrics, which literally translate into: “When friends are here, there is fine wine /But if the jackal comes /What greets it is the hunting rifle.” The “jackal” line refers to the U.S.

The song apparently thrilled hardliners in China, who saw it as a major humiliation of America:

“In the eyes of all Chinese, this will not be seen as anything other than a big insult to the U.S.,” says Yang Jingduan, a Chinese psychiatrist now living in Philadelphia who had in China been a doctor in the Chinese military. “It’s like insulting you in your face and you don’t know it, it’s humiliating.”

The whole concept of the Chinese playing an anti-American song during a state dinner in their honor is too petty and childish to even be insulting. The embarrassing part is that Obama-administration officials didn’t bother to find out the background of the songs on the agenda before they were played. In comparison, the Chinese delegation reportedly knew about the song in advance, and may have been the ones who tipped off news outlets in China beforehand:

Cheng said that “The White House had to report in advance to the Chinese delegation and so the Chinese delegation would have certainly known Lang Lang’s program.”

Cheng believes, however, that the Chinese delegation would see no reason to suggest a change in the program. “The program is not against the interests of China. In fact, it is the opposite.”

Awful. This is worse than Obama’s bow to the Japanese emperor in 2009. The White House better have a serious explanation for why this song was allowed to be played at its own party. And it should also serve as a lesson to Obama for why we don’t throw state dinners in honor of openly anti-American governments.

Posted by: DocC1 | January 24, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

DocC:

Your comments are nonsensical. Bush had Putin in his truck at his ranch. Did you think that was a symbolic endorsement of the Russian oligarchy?

Save your breath for things that actually matter.

Posted by: johnmarshall5446 | January 24, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Rubin's neocon inclinations are always bubbling beneath the surface, so it's hard to read what she says without wondering when some neocon crackpot idea is going to rear it's ugly head, but I agree with some of her ideas here.

Although - "The problem is not, and has never been, Israel's settlements" is such a ridiculous load of BS that it almost totally undermines her credibility. One can point to mistakes that Israel has made and still stand with them as an ally - in fact, pointing out an ally's errors can be proof of the strength of our friendship. A lesson that it seems Rubin has yet to learn.

Posted by: chop1 | January 24, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Here's what I said on the NYT about Obama's forthcoming STOU deceit tonight --- which is as predictable as the sun setting tonight:

"What to Watch For in Obama’s State of the Union"?

Well, the Times reports that the details of the speech are being held close to the vest --- and that this may auger for some surprises.

The Times also hints that Obama's liberal supporters are looking for some "red meat" substance --- and this is precisely where that biggest surprise will come.

So, look for this:

Folks, Obama for the first time will really level with the American people and he will proceed to first expose, then excoriate, and finally commit to excise what he will announce as "a disguised ruling-elite corporate/financial/militarist Empire, which has almost fully 'captured' our country, and is the proximate cause of foreign and domestic problems, including; deadly imperialist oil wars 'abroad', state terrorism by the MIC, torture, and human rights abuses throughout the world, along with domestic spying, this grinding economic oppression of all average Americans, massive levels of corporate fraud, and a terrible increase in police-state tactics right here 'at home'".

"As Hannah Arendt warned of the Nazi Empire which took over the German Republic before WWII, 'Empire abroad, entails tyranny at home', and I pledge that I will lead our country against such Empire take-over of our own country today --- and need you to stand with me on this most crucial confrontation between democracy and Empire."

Just kidding.

You can certainly watch for this in Obama's State of the Union, and mightily 'hope' for him to say he will fight to protect a union being destroyed by this sneak attack of Empire against democracy, but you will be sorely disappointed to find him instead saying this about Empire ---- nothing, not a whisper, zilch, zero, O.

Yes the O-man will say O about the quiet death of our democracy.

Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine
"Democracy over Empire" party headquarters

PS. My post on the NYT Caucus blog "What to Watch For in Obama’s State of the Union" is #24, and I would appreciate any principled progressives who are “Against Empire” (Parenti), and who are in agreement with my position regarding democracy vs. Empire to hold your nose, visit NYT, and recommend/support "Democracy over Empire".

Posted by: alanmd | January 25, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

So basically obama should bend over for Israeli wishes?

Posted by: wpost16 | January 25, 2011 2:34 PM | Report abuse

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