Stephen M. Walt

A quick glance in the rear view mirror…

A quick look back at some recent posts, in light of subsequent events: 1. Regarding Hillary’s trip to Moscow to clinch the arms control deal. It’s not over till it’s over, but it looks like her team did read the tea leaves properly. If so, then props to the negotiators. If Obama gets to sign ...

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

A quick look back at some recent posts, in light of subsequent events:

1. Regarding Hillary’s trip to Moscow to clinch the arms control deal. It’s not over till it’s over, but it looks like her team did read the tea leaves properly. If so, then props to the negotiators. If Obama gets to sign it on the one-year anniversary of his Prague speech, that will heighten its symbolic value.

2. Does the health care win enhance Obama’s foreign policy clout? Andrew Sullivan has raised some good points on this issue, see here and here. I’ll concede that getting health care done will free up more of Obama’s time and energy to devote to foreign policy. It may also make the White House a bit more Bolshie about taking on domestic opposition to its foreign policy agenda. But even if that’s the case, I still think prospects for major foreign policy achievements are slim. Why? Because even if Obama has more free time, he’s gotta worry most about the economy over the next year or two. And as I said in my original post, none of the big foreign policy issues are easy to resolve, and the foreign opposition he must win over isn’t likely to be swayed by the fact that the adminstration managed to get 220 members of the president’s own party to support a bill that was heavily laden with political compromises. I’m not dissing the domestic achievement, mind you, just skeptical that it gives you that much more leverage abroad.

3. Did General Petraeus say that there was a link between U.S. support for Israel, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and our standing elsewhere in the region? Phil Klein at The American Spectator claims that Petraeus is denying he said any of the things previously attributed to him in recent weeks, and is walking back from his own testimony (i.e., prepared statement) to the Senate Armed Services Committee. But if you look carefully at what Petraeus told the Senators, it’s clear that he recognizes that there is a link (which is what his prepared statement said, in rather uncontroversial language. Consider his response to a question by Sen. John McCain:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. … Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area."

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said something similar today too (HT Spencer Ackerman). Of course, what they are saying is pretty mild, unsurprising stuff; it’s just the sort of thing that didn’t used to get uttered by senior officials. 

Matt Duss at the Center for American Progress pokes holes in Klein’s revisionism, see here.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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