In two contexts the Obama administration has revealed its complete confusion about high-stakes negotiations and the interrelation of soft and hard power.
In Syria, after dragging his feet for two years, trying to fudge over his own “red line” and coming up with a half-hearted move to give small arms to the rebels, President Obama discovers that he can’t budge Russia, which has backed Bashar al-Assad to the hilt. The Post reports that at the Group of 8 summit:
Obama has demanded that Assad relinquish power as part of any negotiated peace settlement, a condition Putin rejects. Russia is Assad’s principal weapons supplier, and the Obama administration is about to begin arming rebels on the other side of the civil war that has killed an estimated 93,000 people over the past two years, according to U.N. estimates.
In other words, there is no reason for Assad/Putin to give up in negotiations what they have won on the battlefield. Did the president actually expect they would?
The same scenario plays out in Afghanistan, where we are beginning negotiations with the Taliban:
The Obama administration has long sought to put a negotiating process in place before the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Senior administration officials called the agreement to open a Taliban political office in Doha a “milestone” on the road to ending the bloody and long-running conflict.
But the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of a public announcement, cautioned that they did not expect immediate results from the negotiations.
They should expect any non-immediate results either. We are leaving the battlefield. What leverage do we actually have? Again, the expectation that what we have lost with hard power can be made up through soft power is shown to be nonsensical.
To a certain extent, the same is true with regard to China. Obama is content to cut our Navy, remain inert when it comes to the South China Sea and invite the Chinese for joint naval exercises. Why does it then come as a shock that China won’t budge on cybersecurity?
Unfortunately, the president who fancies himself as the guy who ends wars and doesn’t start them has no idea that, without military success and the threat of military force, your influence wanes and our adversaries come to regard us, well, as a joke.
We didn’t win the Cold War at the negotiating table. We won by continually challenging Communist aggression and maintaining a strong military that eventually helped bankrupt the Soviet Union.
The mistake the left makes is in assuming other countries have similar interests and views and sitting down for a chat is like working on a farm bill in Congress — managing to make compromises here and there. But when dealing with adversaries on the international stage, there rarely is a case in which we can persuade their leaders to “see it our way” or change their own view of what is “good for them.”
Unless and until the U.S. president decides to stop talking down and eschewing all hard power (and the military strength it would require), our adversaries are going to run circles around us — just as they are doing now.