Jackson Diehl outdid himself with an exceptionally poor column today. It was odd enough that he decided to choose the week after the Lisbon NATO summit to declare that Obama’s foreign policy is defined by the concerns of the early ’80s. At that summit, which saw the first meeting of the NATO-Russia council since before the war in Georgia, there was an invitation to Russia to participate in a joint missile defense project. This is not exactly the same agenda that prevailed in 1983. Then again, NATO is itself an outdated, anachronistic alliance, so perhaps the Alliance’s support for New START is simply a function of outdated thinking all around, but Diehl has never said a word about the irrelevance and obsolescence of NATO. The remainder of the agenda was dominated by the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which is for good or ill very much a present-day priority of our government.
There are many criticisms one might make about the administration’s on-again, off-again efforts to halt Israeli settlements and the embarrassing groveling to which the administration has been reduced to get a temporary halt to some of the construction, but it is daft to imply that settlements were foremost on the agenda in the early ’80s. Far from becoming “a sideshow,” settlements have been an increasingly significant political and policy problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last twenty years. No one needs to aspire to a “greater Israel” when the settlers have achieved de facto annexation of much Palestinian land in the meantime. There is no problem in formally accepting the idea of a Palestinian state provided that the Israeli government does what it can to prevent it from ever coming into being. Everyone can publicly agree that a two-state solution is desirable, and then most of the critical actors can refuse to do what must to be done to make it happen. Referring to Iranian “expansionism” in the same breath that he denies the significance of settlements is typical of this evasive style of argument: nothing is said about the state that is actually engaged in subsidizing and protecting an ongoing policy of territorial expansion, but its adversary is accused of expansionism for which there is no evidence.
As Michael Cohen observed, Diehl’s discussion of New START was ridiculous. Diehl’s praise for the treaty was the sort of passive-aggressive support that columnists for the Post seem to specialize in, and his apparent bewilderment at why the administration was spending so much time on the treaty conveniently ignored that it was maddening, unreasonable delaying tactics on the part of the minority that made the concerted effort necessary. The effort is an “uphill” one because the Senate GOP has apparently decided that all of the appeals of arms control experts, generals, and Republican elder statesmen are irrelevant.