- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President-elect Barack Obama should conduct his foreign policy in the same manner as he conducted his campaign.

Mr. Obama warned his opponents that he could be easily underestimated. “I may be skinny, but I’m tough,” he said several times. His campaign strategy was to speak eloquently - and often in abstract terms - but to combine this with a shrewd, deliberate and realistic ground game that achieved record-breaking results. If he conducts his foreign policy in this manner - that is, the velvet glove atop an iron fist - he can also be a brilliant commander-in-chief.

His first test is at hand, even before he officially takes the oath of office on January 20. The ink was barely dry on the printing presses of America’s papers citing Mr. Obama’s historic victory when the Russians made their first move. On Wednesday, Nov. 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a Kremlin address, presented his country as the victim of an aggressive American foreign policy: “From what we have seen in recent years, the creation of a missile defense system, the encirclement of Russia with military bases, the relentless expansion of NATO, we have gotten the clear impression that they are testing our strength,” he said.

He then proceeded to test the strength of the next American president by declaring that Russia will deploy missiles near Poland, as a countermove to American plans to place missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, both NATO members. In other words, Mr. Medvedev used an old trick: Mask an aggressive policy as purely defensive.

Yet, despite such protestations, Russia is expanding its influence at the expense of its neighbors. Russian troops still have not complied with the terms of the agreement they signed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to withdraw troops from the separatist Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Shortly after their Aug. 7 invasion of the territories, which was condemned by the international community, the Russian government also unilaterally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations. These facts did not prevent Mr. Medvedev from stating the conflict resulted from “Georgia’s barbaric aggression” and was also “among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the American administration, which did not tolerate criticism and preferred unilateral decisions.”

Mr. Obama should announce his foreign-policy team and make an address to clarify his intentions in the region as soon as possible. In an Oct. 7 debate with John McCain, he stated that America has been “reactive for eight years” but should be “proactive with Russia.” He said that American policy must be more strategic: “Part of the job of the next commander-in-chief, in keeping all of you safe, is making sure that we can see some of the 21st century challenges and anticipate them before they happen.” The time for proactive action regarding Russia has arrived.

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