As Barack Obama finishes up his second major foreign tour, a pattern in his approach to foreign policy seems to be emerging. On pressing matters of obvious importance, he has made responsible decisions that have not been far out of line with the policies of his predecessor and current necessities. But when it comes to setting priorities for the future, he has chosen to emphasize initiatives that seem more appropriate to situations America faced in his college years, the late 1970s and early 1980s, than to the threats America faces today.
Candidate Obama campaigned as the man who would lead us out of Iraq. President Obama, admitting belatedly and begrudgingly the success of George W. Bush's surge strategy, decided to keep large numbers of troops there for another 19 months and an unspecified number after that. Responsibly, he decided not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. On Afghanistan, in line with his campaign rhetoric that this was the good war Bush was neglecting, he has decided to send in more troops, and his envoy Richard Holbrooke has pressed the Pakistani government to fight the Islamist terrorists, too.
On Easter week, confronted with the seizure of an American ship captain by Somali pirates, he authorized negotiations but apparently insisted that no ransom be paid and that the pirates not be set free. And he authorized the use of deadly force, with the happy result that three Navy Seal bullets killed three pirates and the captain was rescued. Some critics grumbled that he had no other course. But I give him credit here, as on Iraq and Afghanistan, for making responsible choices under considerable pressure.
His choice of priorities for the future is another thing. The climax of his European trip was his speech in Prague on April 5 (don't look for it on the White House Website; the latest speech text there is dated Feb. 27) on "the future of nuclear weapons in the 21st century" in which he called for "a world without nuclear weapons." A noble goal, and one shared incidentally by Ronald Reagan. And how did he propose to start? By negotiating a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, getting the Senate to ratify the nuclear test ban treaty and stopping U.S. production of fissile material.