Is Obama's 'let's talk' diplomacy failing?
The US has scored no big wins under his policy of talking with the enemy. Doubts that it can are rising.
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Some diplomats say the policy's biggest impact may be how it alters America's global standing.Skip to next paragraph
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"The main dividend so far is in the enhanced credibility the administration has with others in the international community," says James Dobbins, a special envoy on Afghanistan for both Bush and Clinton. Now director of the RAND Corp.'s International Security and Defense Policy Center in Arlington, Va., he says the policy has led to "[America's] greater credibility and influence with the third parties that will be critical down the road."
Others aren't convinced. "Both Germany and Italy remain firmly committed to huge levels of [economic] investment in Iran, so I'd say it's business as usual on the European front – no matter how much they profess to like the Obama approach," says Nile Gardiner, a foreign-policy expert at the Heritage Foundation here.
As for Russia and China, both are permanent Security Council members and, as such, would have to sign on to tougher United Nations sanctions against Iran. "I've seen no commitment by either," he adds, "to follow a rebuffed diplomatic bid with really harsh and effective sanctions."
Mr. Gardiner has other reasons for criticizing Obama's approach. He is persuaded that it emboldens challengers to global security and weakens the world's "sole superpower."
"The 'softly, softly' approach adopted by Obama and Clinton is only encouraging America's adversaries to toughen their positions," he says. "It's a strategy that is undermining American power across the globe."
So which is it? Is the new policy enhancing or undermining US standing and power?
The Council on Foreign Relations' Mr. Kupchan is in the "enhancing" camp, but he acknowledges the growing impatience and vociferousness of the "undermining" camp – especially on Capitol Hill. That is why he sees the need for "results on the ground" soon in at least one difficult area, even if it's not in any of the top-tier cases.
A breakthrough with Russia on strategic arms reductions or missile defense might do the trick, he suggests. "He'll have to have something to point to," Kupchan says. "Otherwise, Obama is going to face increasing pressure over the whole policy."