The chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, David Sanger, refers to Iraq as the “Great Distraction” in his new book titled, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power.
In a recent interview with VOA’s Press Conference USA, Mr. Sanger told host Carol Castiel and senior news analyst Gary Thomas that while the United States was mired in Iraq, the North Koreans announced that they were using fuel to create six or eight nuclear weapons, and the Iranians were able to advance their nuclear program. He concludes that the US-led war in Iraq resulted in many missed opportunities for the Bush Administration.
Mr. Sanger is a bit more sanguine about the Obama Administration’s foreign policy direction. He feels that, although it is still early, a series of new initiatives aimed at reviving diplomacy have emerged, such as outreach to Syria and Iran. Nonetheless, Mr. Sanger says that the current administration has less time to “get it right” than its predecessors. He cautioned that the current economic crisis could become to President Obama what Iraq was for President Bush, “a Great Distraction.” Mr. Sanger says, “It all depends on how long it lasts and how effective the administration is in turning it around.” He also believes that some elements of the Bush foreign policy may be continued such as programs to combat HIVAIDS and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
With respect to Pakistan, Mr. Sanger argues that the Pakistani government has been an “inconsistent ally” in the war on terror. He says, “Pakistan has been an ally to the war on terror only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but on Tuesday and Thursday there has been some work with the Taliban.” The crux of the problem he asserts is that Pakistan lacks unified command and control over its own territory. He cited the continuing instability in the tribal areas, the deal related to the Swat region in the Northwest Frontier Province, which gave the Taliban greater rein throughout the area, and the recent attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team.
On pushing for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, David Sanger is pessimistic because of the split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. He says, “The big difficulty is going to be getting enthusiasm for a Palestinian settlement among the Israelis and then putting together some kind of unified negotiating partner that would make it possible to deal with Hamas without seeming to deal with Hamas.”
Regarding Washington’s relationship with Beijing, Mr. Sanger notes that, while many opportunities were lost during the Bush years, especially in the areas of energy and the environment, they are recoverable. He is therefore “very optimistic about a constructive US-China relationship in the years ahead.”
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