What a symbolic moment. Bridget Johnson caught this one on Monday (emphasis added):
“There was an Iranian announcement that they are moving ships close to the United States, and we have no evidence that Iran is, in fact, sending ships close to the U.S. border,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today.
On the reports that Iran has also been successfully conducting missile tests, Carney said “we have been clear that even as we work with the P5+1 to test the hypothesis that Iran is ready to meet its obligations to the international community with regards to its nuclear program, that we are at odds with Iran on a number of issues.”
When pressed again on whether he was disputing the warships report, Carney quipped, “Is Fox reporting that they’re moving warships closer to the U.S.?”
He was reminded that Iran made the claim, and it was reported by several wire services.
The problem here isn’t just that Jay Carney should leave the snark to the pundits. The problem is that there’s nothing behind the quips and disclaimers.
Over in Iran, we have fantastic, magical-heroic nonsense being spouted about this month’s most overestimated warships. And in the United States, we have bored dismissal, and a reflexive – pathological – reversion to Fox Derangement Syndrome. Where’s the responsible grown-up in this situation?
For reasons laid out here, I think we do need to worry about what one of the Iranian ships is probably bringing to Central America, even if we don’t have to lose sleep over the antics of the frigate in company with her. In fairness, of course, the current occupant of the Oval Office may not agree with this assessment. Even if the same concerns are being batted around within the administration, they don’t necessarily form a suitable basis for policy statements. That’s understood.
But Carney didn’t make a policy statement, nor has anyone else from the Obama administration. That’s what’s missing from all this. And it’s what the American people have a right to require.
It isn’t enough to react to what the Iranians do, nor is it enough for the U.S. to wander through the world noting the things we disapprove of or disagree with other nations on. We have security interests, and we ought to have articulated policies that preexist anything attempted by Iran (or anyone else) in our hemisphere.
Times of significant change are precisely the times when national policies ought to be laid out, and core interests reiterated. The Obama administration missed some big opportunities during the Honduran crisis and the disputed Iranian election in 2009, and in the three years since the Arab Spring. It has missed opportunities in the Far East as well, and now it’s missing one again, as an unprecedented series of “negotiations” unfolds with Iran over her nuclear status, and the Iranians make an unprecedented naval deployment to visit the most anti-American regimes in the Western hemisphere. The ships may be unimpressive, but what they symbolize matters a great deal.
Sadly, so does Jay Carney’s all-too-predictable “quip” about Fox News on Monday.
The people running a presidential administration ought to know that cornering yourself with “red lines” is the bad thing that happens when you fail to communicate your core interests in advance. Red lines are about the other guy, and what he might try. Every red line you draw puts the other guy in the driver’s seat. The vehicle you’re always in charge of is the statement of your own interests and policies. They don’t have to be stated as a warning. But they will function as one, if you have put them out there, and made it clear from your general record of credibility that you’ll back them up.
This concept of proactive responsibility, so normal in American policy-making since the earliest days of the republic, is simply missing from the current administration. To put it in pop-psychology terms: each nation’s leadership has an obligation to its people to be inner-directed first. But in foreign policy, the Obama administration is the most-other directed national leadership in human history. All it does is triangulate and react. Sometimes, if we get lucky, it adds a blasé quip or two, just to punctuate its inanity.