Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who Abroad is Challenging Obama First?

Lots of people, including Joe Biden, have said that some foreigners would be challenging Obama early on. I see two candidates at the front of the pack, one a nominal ally. The first is Russia, which has arguably already done so with its announcement of moving missiles next to the Polish border in response to Poland accepting an anti-missile shield. It could be that they did not mean this as a challenge to Obama, but rather had been waiting until after the election to do this so as not to influence the election. However, this looks all too much like the half-baked thinking of Putin who somehow thinks that threatening others will make things go Russia's way. Obama had long expressed reservations about the shield, and the Poles had been resisting Bush's pressure to install it. Obama also initially had a nuanced view of the Georgian-Russian conflict. But then, Putin invaded Georgia proper. This pushed Obama to support Shaakashvili unreservedly, and also triggered Poland to accept the anti-missile shield. Putin (or more likely, Medvedev) might have been able to negotiate with Obama to withdraw the shield or put it on hold, but with this missile move there will be no way that Obama can do that. He will have to show that he can stand up to the Russian bear and support the shield. Just plain dumb on Putin's part.

The other likely challenge may come from Israel, which has been very weak in its congratulating Obama. This may be the flip side of all the enthusiasm for Obama in the Arab and Muslim world, with even President Ahmadinejad of Iran sending congratulations. The Israelis are nervous about Obama's middle name and his family background, and although he has spoken unreservedly about supporting Israel, they may feel a need to test him on this, to do something unpleasant and provocative to get him to show more openly his support and to weaken the enthusiasm for him in the Arab and Muslim worlds. The obvious move would be a strike against Iran, although there are other possibilities out there. Maybe they will not pull something like this, but at the moment, the signs look worrisome to me.

3 comments: said...

Regarding any possible action by Israel, I must note that at the moment Isreal does not have a solidly in-place government. Ehud Olmert is still the Prime Minister, but is to step down as soon as a successor is determined. The Foreign Minister, Livni, was selected by his party to succeed him, but she has been unable to put together a coalition, with the Shas Party turning her down. She has said little about Obama's election, and an election in Israel is a very likely outcome, with many predicting a victory by the harder line and more right wing Likud Party, led by former PM, Binyamin Netanyahu, if an election is held. What he would do is very unclear, but he might well be tempted to run against Obama and test him hard early on.

OTOH, I was looking at some of those maps showing in which countries the populations supposedly were supporting Obama or McCain. On none of them did I see Israel showing for McCain, despite all the media reports of this supposed unhappiness about Obama in Israel, although this is clearly centered in the more conservative parts of Isreali society. Among the nations I saw where more were supporting McCain than Obama were Namibia, Cuba (!), and Sudan, on one map, and Georgia and the Philippines on another, with the Congo a tossup on one of them. Otherwise, even in Russia, supposedly most people in all the other countries were for Obama over McCain.

J.Goodwin said...

I almost hope that Israel does do ANOTHER something so stupid that it will give us a chance to disentangle ourselves from them once and for all.

Anonymous said...

The 'missiles in Kaliningrad' thing apparently is not very meaningful. Bloomberg reports:

"Medvedev's words don't add up to much strategically and aren't likely to affect how Obama views the U.S. missile system, she [Kimberly Marten] said by telephone.

``It's posturing,'' she said. ``Kaliningrad is already so heavily militarized -- there are tactical nuclear weapons from the Russian side there -- so these missiles wouldn't actually have any particular major impact on the defense balance in the region.''"