On Obama's foreign policy

Via Andrew Sullivan, some interesting posts on judging Obama’s foreign policy by Conor Friedersdorf and Daniel Larison. The latter writes:

Among post-WWII Presidents, Obama’s foreign policy record has been competent enough that it shouldn’t be ranked anywhere near the real failures (e.g., LBJ, Bush II, Kennedy, etc.), but it shouldn’t be confused with one of the very best records, either. It’s true that Obama’s record seems much better than it is when compared with George W. Bush’s, but then that is the relevant comparison for political purposes. Even when Obama blunders, he doesn’t suffer as much political damage because we still remember how badly Bush performed and we are regularly reminded of what the terrifying practical alternative to Obama was every time McCain sounds off on an international crisis. Judged by those admittedly low standards, Obama’s record looks a lot better than if we assessed his overall record simply on the merits. Bush’s foreign policy failures helped make Obama President, and they continue to make his own record look better by comparison, and I’m not sure that it’s possible for people who lived through the Bush years to avoid making that comparison when judging Obama’s record.

It all depends on the standards you apply. By GWB standards he’s fantastic. By US post-WW2 standards he’s alright — especially, he is cautious and pragmatic. By mainstream human rights standards he’s pretty awful, mostly because of the continued use of rendition, Guantanamo Bay, assassinations and drones — in which he continues GWB policies. One of the more recurrent criticism of Obama is his lack of overarching doctrine, precisely because of his pragmatic case-by-case approach. The bottom line, compared with most other presidents, he’s OK and performed well in some instances, such as the Libyan intervention (in the sense that he did it in a manner that minimized possibility for US overreach, which was the stated goal), and pretty embarrassingly in other cases (Israel).

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Things fall apart

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats, The Second Coming

I don't have much to add to all the noise around the Mabhuh assassination, except to say that this is the opportunity to pressure European governments to distance themselves from Israel, notably by freezing any further advanced status talks between the EU and Israel. Ideally, a review of visa regulations for Israeli citizens should also be considered. Politicians need to latch on to this seriously, especially in Britain. Considering what've seen so far is mostly indignation without consequences (and that we can't really rule out the possibility of European cooperation — see Fisk's rant on this, although I am pretty agnostic about it).
I am still forming my own take on the impact of the assassination for the region (as opposed to Europe.) One of the most important things I think it reveals is the level of instability of the regional order — it suggests to me that since at least 2006 if not earlier the dynamic is one of chronic instability where open war is generally avoided (except by the Israelis) but all kinds of dirty games and pressures are being played. Think of the Bush administration's role in training Palestinian Authority forces, the Gaza clashes that led to the Hamas takeover, Hamas being pushed into an incredibly difficult position, the Syrians and Saudis playing all sides, Lebanon entering a post-post-Hariri phase, Iraq still to find a role for itself post-Saddam, Egypt's loss of control internally and externally, and so on and so forth. It's hard to describe today's Middle East, except that it is no longer the Middle East of the Oslo / dual containment era, nor is it something altogether new yet. Birth pangs indeed. 
The other thing that comes to mind is that Mossad was taken off-guard at crime-fighting capabilities of Dubai (despite its slightly buffoonish police chief). The fact is Dubai has been under considerable pressure to bring its role as a Mecca of arms dealers, money launderers, sanction busters and other shady characters under control for the past decade. Tremendous efforts were made by the US to control terrorism financing, and more still to monitor if not stop Dubai's connection with Iran. The fascinating thing about the Mabhuh tapes is that they were probably made using a British CCTV system that was built to keep track of these things, not Mossad operations. Likewise, as mentioned in the Economist story below on Lebanon, the monitoring equipment Lebanon used to uncover Israel's spy network was the result of French and/or Russian equipment brought in in part to improve the monitoring of Hizbullah.  O happy unintended consequences!
(Update: I just saw this WSJ piece that is exactly along these lines. It's by Robert Baer, the former CIA field operative.)
Here's a few links to some of the more interesting coverage I've seen, do send more!
And not really Mabhuh assassination related, but telling of Dubai's role as an international zone of shady deals:
Finally, via The National, this map of the comings and goings of the hit team:
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Links for 09.14.09

Why I Love Al Jazeera - The Atlantic (October 2009) | Robert Kaplan. Incidentally, while some of what he says about al-J (here he means the English channel) is interesting, he does not seem to be conscious that The Atlantic is one of the most biased publications among the mainstream pseudo-highbrow mags in the US. ✪ Osama bin Laden: in it for the long haul | World news | guardian.co.uk | Ian Black on the new Bin Laden audio tape. ✪ Middle East Report 252 contents: Pakistan Under Pressure | New issue of Middle East Report, Getting By in the Global Downturn," with selected articles available online. ✪ A la Mostra, le déroutant voyage d'Ahmed Maher - LeMonde.fr | Success for Egyptian director Ahmed Maher at Venice Film Festival. ✪ The five ages of al-Qaida | World news | guardian.co.uk | Infographic.
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Links for 07.21.09 to 07.22.09

جريدة الراية -مجرد سؤال .. ماذا تريد القاهرة من دارفور المنتدى | Qatari columnist complains "what does Egypt want from Darfur?", says Egypt is trying to start a separate track for negotiations even though Qatar's track working well. The Egyptians certainly hate seeing Qatar getting busy in their near-abroad. The List: The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks | Foreign Policy | It's missing a few... will try to work on a complete list. Also not sure whether Assef Shakwat is still at the top of his game in Damascus. Facebook | Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" | Tell Facebook to correct itself. From gods to garbage dwellers | GlobalPost | On Egypt's cats. Israeli funding angers filmmaker | "ENGLISH filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government."
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Middle East diplomacy: Myths, illusions and peace | The Economist

Middle East diplomacy: Myths, illusions and peace | The Economist
A blandly positive review of Dennis Ross and David Makovsky's new book (which takes an opposite position on engagement with Iran than official Obama policy, which this review does not note), in which they argue against talking to "the Khamas and the Khizbullah".
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A New Number One

A New Number One
From the always excellent Silk Road Economy blog: "China overtook the United States earlier this year as the world’s largest exporter to the Middle East. It’s the first time the United States has lost its number one ranking since at least the 1960s, or as far back as there is data available. I haven’t seen the figure reported in the media. But I don’t expect to wait long. This is the type of easy to understand statistic that will rattle doors in Washington. I can see the cable news stations going into hyper-drive."
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NAF: The Middle East Comes To Town

From the New America Foundation, a conference on the Middle East peace process and the Obama administration's upcoming diplomacy: "The Middle East Task Force Directors Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah will be joined by Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, and Rob Malley, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the International Crisis Group, to walk us through expectations for the next two weeks."
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