Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama on Meet the Press

Incoming President Barack Obama dropped in on Meet the Press on Sunday for a long discussion with Tom Brokaw. As you would expect with the ongoing financial crisis, much of the discussion was on domestic policy, but they did spend a few minutes talking foreign policy.

It does seem like Obama is taking a measured, pragmatic approach to foreign policy. As far as Afghanistan goes, Obama sees the conflict as part of a bigger, regional picture – any solution there has to include dealing with problems in India, Pakistan and Kashmir (the territory that India and Pakistan both claim) as well. He also said that any plan to bring peace to Afghanistan has to include a large portion devoted to development to help raise rural Afghanis (the bulk of the population) out of poverty. One reason the Taliban still has influence over large parts of the country is that rural Afghanis haven’t seen any real improvement in their lives since Hamid Karzai was elected president. That has to change if we hope to establish a lasting peace and a stable government in Afghanistan.

In terms of Iran and Iraq, Obama didn’t cover much new ground. He again said that it was “unacceptable” for Iran to build nuclear weapons or fund terrorist organizations like Hamas, but said that he preferred a system of sanctions (coordinated closely with Iran’s big trading partners – China, India, Russia) to military action. In Iraq he stuck with his campaign pledge to ask his military and security advisors to draw up a timetable for withdrawing our troops (an easier task since Iraq approved the new SOF agreement that includes a timetable for withdrawal), while leaving behind a “residual force” to deal with security problems or fight terrorism as-needed. Brokaw couldn’t nail him down though on how large this residual force would be.

Finally, as for Russia, Obama said, “I think that it's going to be important for us to reset U.S.-Russian relations,” before adding that Russia has “to act in ways that are not bullying their neighbors.” Unfortunately the foreign policy talk ended there. It would have been interesting to hear what “reset” meant to Obama, or more of his views on Russia bullying its neighbors. Obama and Biden both supported Georgia in the conflict between the two countries last August, though that was before the many cracks appeared in Georgia’s claims of self-defense.

All in all, Obama does look like he plans to take a pragmatic view on foreign policy and has so far put together a top-notch team of advisors.
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