Présidence Obama: La politique extérieure n’est pas un concours de popularité (Foreign policy is no popularity contest)

Obama cover boy
George W. Bush n’était peut-être pas le plus diplomate des chefs d’Etat, mais il a tenu bon là où c’était vraiment important. Fouad Ajami
M. Obama a certes rendu les États-Unis populaires dans des endroits comme Montréal et Berlin, là où notre impopularité n’avait dès le départ jamais beaucoup importé. Mais la politique extérieure n’a jamais été un concours de popularité. Et malheur au président qui imagine qu’il n’a pas besoin d’inspirer la crainte à ceux qui lui veulent du mal pendant qu’il embrasse l’adulation de ceux qui lui veulent du bien. Bret Stephens
Soixantaine d’ex-détenus de Guantanamo ayant repris le combat dont deux tout récemment au Yemen …

Envoyé iranien à la Conférence de Munich la semaine dernière qui, après un petit couplet négationniste et l’envoi d’un satellite crieur d’Allah Akbar dans le vide sidéral (et accessoirement, entre les faux graffitis, les foules photoshopées et les agressions bidonnées, la démonstration de la portée de ses nouveaux missiles), refuse d’écouter l’intervention du vice-président américain …

Alliés européens qui, malgré les largement symboliques réintégration complète de la France dans l’OTAN et mise au rencart de la Doctrine Chirac (aucun Français en uniforme sur le sol irakien) avec la visite surprise de Sarkozy à Bagdad, continuent à trainer les pieds pour ce qui est de la fourniture de troupes en Afghanistan .. .

Corée du nord qui vient d’annoncer son retrait du pacte de non-agression avec son pays frère du sud et de pointer sur l’Amérique un missile capable d’en atteindre la côte ouest …

Pakistan qui profite du changement de la garde américaine pour libérer le tristement célèbre Dr. Khan responsable du plus grand réseau internatonal de prolifération nucléaire …

Russie qui, sans parler de la reprise du chargement en combustible du réacteur-alibi iranien de Bushehr, salue la nouvelle main tendue américaine, la construction de nouvelles bases dans les républiques sécessionnistes de Géorgie et l’OPA hostile d’une base américaine, vitale pour l’intervention alliée en Afghanistan, au Kyrgistan …

Méfiance et dérision de la rue arabe lui reprocahnt de ne pas soutenir les abominations du Hamas à Gaza …

Le bilan des premières semaines du nouveau locataire de la Maison Blanche est, comme le rappelle deux récentes tribunes du WSJ, particulièrement impressionnant.

Vu du moins… de Montréal ou Berlin!

Guantanamo Is No Blot on U.S. Honor
The president still hasn’t said where to hold the worst of the worst.
Bret Stephens
January 27, 2009

President Obama’s decision to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay within a year is being hailed as a necessary step in restoring the good name and moral hygiene of America. Fundamentally, it tests the proposition that self-esteem can be a form of self-defense.

Nobody ever actually liked Guantanamo. It was a strange growth on the body of American law, made necessary by extraordinary circumstances that existing institutions were ill-prepared to handle. Even Donald Rumsfeld had reservations: In his excellent memoir, « War and Decision, » former Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith writes that his boss recoiled at turning his department into « the world’s jailer. »

But the best case against Guantanamo was always inherently odd. It came down to the view that its benefits as a holding pen for the world’s most dangerous men could not outweigh the inevitable PR disaster of removing such men to an exotic locale, a step removed from ordinary conventions of law, prone to lurid speculation about Papillon-like goings on, corroborated by the testimony of inmates trained to cry « torture » whenever incarcerated.

In other words, the smart case against Gitmo is that the stupid case against it was bound to prevail, with first-order consequences for America’s image and self-image, and second-order ones for our ability to inspire, lead and be followed.

Is this true? Paradoxically, the case for Guantanamo is only becoming obvious as the clock ticks toward closure. Consider, for instance, the recent career of Said Ali al-Shihri.


According to an unclassified June 2007 document from Guantanamo’s Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants, Mr. Shihri « was identified as an al Qaeda facilitator in Mashad, Iran, for youth traveling to Afghanistan »; « wanted two individuals to assassinate a writer based on a fatwa by Sheikh Hamud bin Uqla » (a favorite of Osama bin Laden); and « trained in urban warfare at the Libyan Camp north of Kabul, Afghanistan. »

Charming résumé. But what’s remarkable here is that the dark lords of Gitmo justice nonetheless found sufficient exculpatory evidence to release Mr. Shihri from detention. « The detainee stated that he was just a Muslim not a terrorist »; that he « denied any involvement or knowledge of assistance provided to jihadists traveling to Pakistan or Afghanistan »; and that, upon his release, « he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store, if it is still in business » in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Maybe the store had gone out of business. Last week, Mr. Shihri, who had undergone a « rehabilitation course » courtesy of the Saudi government, resurfaced as al Qaeda’s deputy chief in Yemen, alongside an accomplice named Mohamed Atiq Awayd al-Harbi, a colleague of Mr. Shihri’s from Guantanamo who was released the same day.

Mr. Shihri’s role with al Qaeda hasn’t been merely ceremonial. According to reports, he was involved in a September attempt to bomb the U.S. Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. No Americans were killed, but 16 others died in the attack. It’s a pity we don’t know their names.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that the embassy had again « received a threat of a possible attack. » Some such attack is probably bound to succeed in killing Americans one day, perhaps in a big way, and possibly with the fingerprints of one of the 60-odd Gitmo graduates the U.S. believes have « returned to the fight. » What lessons shall we draw in that event?

No doubt some will conclude that the Gitmo ordeal is what turned a random collection of Peshawar holiday-makers and itinerant Saudi carpet salesmen, who made their way to the Afghan frontier on the eve of 9/11, into raging jihadists. Similar arguments were heard a generation ago in favor of deinstitutionalization, on the theory that psychiatric institutions manufacture insanity.

There will also be those who argue that the death of innocents is the price free societies pay for freedom. They will argue, too, that the price is actually a bargain, since the moral stature gained by shutting down places like Guantanamo earns us the kind of moral and political credit we need to broaden America’s appeal in the Muslim world.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama noted that « our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. » All this is obviously true.

Then again, our security also depends on doing what we can to keep the likes of Mr. Shihri — far from the most dangerous of Gitmo’s prisoners — away from his would-be victims. To do so is neither a violation of conscience nor a blot on our national honor; it should not be a violation of the law. And a president sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution should know this.

Voir aussi:

Obama’s Charm Isn’t Working Wonders Abroad
Policy does matter after all.
Bret Stephens
February 10, 2009

Barack Obama has now been president for 21 days, following an inauguration that was supposed to have pressed the reset button on America’s relations with the wider world and ushered in a new period of global cooperation against common threats. Here’s what pressing reset has accomplished so far:

– Iran. Since President Obama’s inauguration, Iran has launched a satellite into space and declared (with an assist from Russia, which is providing the nuclear fuel) that it would complete its long-delayed reactor at Bushehr later this year. At the Munich Security Conference last week, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani promised a « golden opportunity for the United States » in its relations with the Islamic Republic. He proceeded to make good on that opportunity by skipping Joe Biden’s speech the next day.

Also, as if to underscore that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denial is merely emblematic of his regime’s outlook, Mr. Larijani offered that there could be « different perspectives on the Holocaust. » Mr. Larijani is widely described as a « moderate. »

– Afghanistan. This is the war Mr. Obama has said « we have to win » — as opposed to Iraq. Our NATO allies are supposed to feel the same way.

So what was NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer doing at the Munich conclave? Why, reproaching our allies. « When the United States asks for a serious partner, it does not just want advice, it wants and deserves someone to share the heavy lifting, » he said.

But the plea fell on deaf ears. Germany will not, and probably cannot, commit more than 4,500 soldiers to Afghanistan, and then only to areas where they are unlikely to see combat. The French have no plans to increase their troop commitment beyond the 3,300 now there. Mr. Obama, by contrast, may double the U.S. commitment to 60,000 troops.

– North Korea. A constant liberal lament about the Bush administration was that its supposed hard line on Pyongyang had yielded nothing except five or six North Korean bombs.

So what is Kim Jong Il to do now that the Obama administration is promising a friendlier approach? In late January, Pyongyang announced it was unilaterally withdrawing from its 1991 nonaggression pact with the South.

Satellite imagery later showed the North moving a Taepodong 2 missile — potentially capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast — to a launch pad. « The missile is pointing at Obama, » Baek Seung-joo, a director at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, told the L.A. Times. « North Korea thinks that with such gestures they can control U.S. foreign policy. »

– Pakistan. Perhaps the most unambiguous of the Bush administration’s successes was rolling up the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who was kept under house arrest for five years.

But if some latent fear of the 43rd American president prevented the Pakistani government from releasing their dubious national hero, that fear clearly vanished with the arrival of the 44th. Mr. Khan was released last week, ostensibly by order of a Pakistani court, plainly with the consent of the government. So far, the Obama administration has done little more than issue a muted statement of concern.

– Russia. At the Munich conference, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov praised the « very positive » tone set by Mr. Biden. And Mr. Ivanov’s tone? Less positive. Russia will continue to build military bases in Georgia’s breakaway republics. It will press ahead with the fueling of the Bushehr reactor.

Russia also won’t hesitate to complicate the U.S. position in Afghanistan — and then lie about what it has done in a manner worthy of the late Andrei Gromyko. « There is no correlation between the decision of the Kyrgyz republic and the loans that the Russian federation granted, » Mr. Ivanov said, referring to Kyrgyzstan’s oddly timed decision to close an airbase used by the U.S. to supply Afghanistan after securing a $2 billion Russian « loan. »

– The Arab street. « I have Muslim members of my family, » Mr. Obama recently told Al-Arabiya. Yet so far his efforts at outreach have been met with derision from Arab hard-liners and « liberals » alike.

« We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza, » wrote Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany in a New York Times op-ed. « We also wanted Mr. Obama . . . to recognize . . . the right of people in occupied territory to resist military occupation. » In other words, the price of Arab support for Mr. Obama is that he embrace Hamas and its terrorist tactics.

And so it goes. True, Mr. Obama has made the U.S. popular in places like Montreal and Berlin, where our unpopularity never mattered much to begin with. But foreign policy is not about winning popularity contests. And woe to the president who imagines he needn’t inspire fear among the wicked even as he embraces the adulation of the good.

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