- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009




The European security conference in Munich, Germany, has provided a boost for President Barack Obama, even though he was not there and Vice President Joe Biden led the U.S. delegation. The event also has strengthened trans-Atlantic ties after years of discord and tension during the tenure of President George W. Bush

During the U.S. presidential campaign, Mr. Obama’s selection of Mr. Biden as his running mate caused some debate, though generally muted. Illinois Sen. Obama was promising change but Delaware Sen. Biden, one of the longest-serving in the upper house of Congress, seemed to personify the Washington status quo.

While Mr. Biden’s liberal voting record appeals to many fervent Obama supporters, he also has ties to a number of the many corporations headquartered in his state. In foreign policy, Mr. Biden supported the invasion of Iraq, which Mr. Obama opposed.

The Munich meeting has been a useful opportunity for Mr. Biden to demonstrate foreign policy expertise - and interpersonal skills - at stage center. Long service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has given him a very broad knowledge base, and he put that to good use.

The security gathering also has been extremely helpful to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), a durable institution beleaguered during the last eight years. President Bush and in particular Vice President Dick Cheney constantly pressed for expansion of alliance membership into Eastern Europe, which Russia opposes.

The NATO summit last spring in Bucharest, Romania - a state in the old Soviet empire - was highlighted by heavy Bush administration pressure to admit both Georgia and Ukraine. Later that year, the Russian army invaded Georgia under the pretext of protecting ethnic minorities, but also to remind Washington of power realities in the region.

The alliance is fundamentally anomalous. An organization founded to oppose Soviet expansion saw that mission end successfully two decades ago, yet continues to exist. Cold War victory has resulted in debate about best future roles, not abandonment of the alliance.

Terrorist killers on Sept. 11, 2001, triggered NATO for the first time to defend an ally under attack. French aircraft patrolled North American skies to free our own for attacks in Afghanistan, which remains a NATO theater of operations. One American Munich mission, directly reflected in Mr. Biden’s principal address, was to underscore the vital importance of more European participation in the allied effort against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In looking to the future, and building directly on Munich, the Obama administration should focus on specific U.S. national interests and encourage more collaboration under the NATO umbrella. Afghanistan must continue to be a priority. Greater cooperation with Turkey, historically a close ally and a major military power, but fiercely opposed to the invasion of Iraq, should be a Washington priority.

Historically, Munich has served as a shorthand reference to appeasement, thanks to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s acquiescence to Adolf Hitler’s territorial demands at a meeting there before World War II.

The end of the Cold War was a great victory for the policy of restraint and deterrence, termed “Containment,” supported by every U.S. president from Harry Truman onward.

NATO was vital to the Cold War victory, and reflects the importance of handling military challenges through alliance structures whenever possible, a basic lesson of World War II. This Munich conference has provided a good foundation for the next policy moves of the Obama administration.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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