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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Sensing weakness

Q: In the past week, China and Israel have issued sharp rebukes to President Obama and his approach to issues relating to trade and West Bank settlements. As a world leader facing political challenges at home, is this the right moment for Obama to show toughness and resolve and risk escalating the confrontations or to demonstrate patience and diplomacy in trying to defuse them?

Right or wrong, Israel and China sense weakness in the world's only superpower - and as in any diplomatic relationship, they are seeking to leverage that perception into tangible gains at the negotiating table. The president's plunging poll numbers, the high levels of debt and stagnation on domestic policy issues, have impacted America's bargaining power when it comes important bilateral relationships. Hence, President Obama would be wise to take a patient, diplomatic approach until we can get our own house in order.

Israel, on the one hand, understands that the U.S. must be perceived as strong enough to enforce any agreement that results in its stated goal of a stable two-state solution. But at the same time, Israel also understands that an American hard line against its planned settlements in the West Bank would open the President to domestic political attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a huge mistake with the timing of the announcement of new settlements. The U.S. made a mistake taking the disagreement public. It created an unnecessary distraction from the health-care work as well as additional attacks from domestic supporters of Israel. Attacks on their own that could be dealt with, but are more painful when combined with the multi-front attack on the health-care bills.

China, on the other hand, holds immense amounts of U.S. government paper and is our most formidable "adversary" when it comes to global influence. China's flush cash reserves position them to make the case that its fiscal policies are superior to our own - and while it would be naïve to think that this argument hasn't impacted world opinion - we are still a crucial piece needed to maintain their growth (China needs at least 11% annually to keep their economy going). While China is flexing some newfound muscle, they know deep down they are still in an extremely vulnerable time for their economy. And trying to push us around will have consequences especially if we actually stop dancing around China's currency manipulation that feeds our addiction to cheap Chinese goods.

At the end of the day, China and Israel need us as much as we need them - and that buys the president time. If he chooses to use that time to shore up his political support and find ways to reduce the deficit, these diplomatic challenges will be more easily addressed in the future. If not, they will only grow more difficult to navigate.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  March 17, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Let's hear a big hoorah for our Mr. President Obama. Few U.S. politicians have the fortitude to hold Israel to commitments made once they're faced with the political & financial pressure of Israel's many U.S. lobbying groups (AIPAC not the least of these). Recognizing U.S. and Israel's interests are "not always" aligned, I applaud our President's willingness to hold steady. Mr. Prime Minister Netanyahu's actions in expanding housing projects in Jerusalem, the capital of three major religions, have put our soldiers (including my relatives) fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan at risk by having our allies there question our ability to stand up to Israel while at the same time providing propaganda fodder to our enemies. A big booyah for Mr. President Obama and also for General Petraeus for putting U.S. Policy interests first.. They are my two nominees for this year's "Profile In Courage" award at the Kennedy Library.

Andrew Davis
Strawberry Hill
Acton, MA 01720

Posted by: AndreiTheAmerican | March 28, 2010 12:46 PM
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The article deals with only two countries most recently in the news. While your cross-political analysis is spot on, there's a larger picture worthy of mention.

Israel is the only democratic ally of the United States in the Middle East. We have a 60 year relationship based on shared values and interests. Its a strange time for the US to beat up on the Israelis in public, when it seems incapable of saying anything even mildly critical of Iran's nuclear ambitions, or the constant slaps in the face from the Russians.

Obama came in promising a new era of international comity. But instead, he has alientated the supposedly irreparably harmed ties with the Western Europeans created by the Bush administration, while cozying up to Putin, Chavez, and apologizing and bowing to any third world crack pot with a grievance.

The US and China are in a death grip. But Obama came in expecting to much, and then flipped, meeting the Dali Lama on the second go round and selling arms to Taiwan. There is legitimacy here, in context. But this execution seems petty and mean spirited.

You're supposed to strengthen your friends and weaken your adversaries. Is there something about the US being an ordinary country that says we have to diss our friends and curry favor with enemies? Is that the way you show a super power leading?

It shows appalling weakness, and endangers our key Asian relationships with Japan and India at a time of rising China.

But for a crowd that doesn't understand basic economics, how could you expect them to understand geopolitics.

Posted by: CoughlinC | March 18, 2010 10:35 PM
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..."At the end of the day, China and Israel need us as much as we need them..."

Can anyone explain how this statement is true? Do we really need Israel? What are the mutual benefits? Israel is taking our money and weapons and giving us big problems in the Middle East, as well as with Muslims world-wide, over Palestinian grievances. Aside from hurting us, what are they doing FOR us?

We buy cheap goods from China. It is a one-way street, with China keeping their goods and their yuan artificially low on the international market. This is creating a problem because we cannot compete for China's huge internal market. True, China reinvested a lot of money back into U.S. government debt. But, perhaps, they helped create some of that debt in the first place. And they certainly don't get much bargaining power from their investment. So why do we need them as much as they need us? We can live without cheap goods.

And President Obama did right to rebuke Israel, firmly, for their arrogant insult to our nation. Yes, Israel is testing this government. And, publicly, we must show them that they cannot control us as they did the GWBush puppet.

Posted by: paultaylor1 | March 18, 2010 9:45 AM
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The article has combined China and Isreal together and addressed the weakness of President Obama. China does not need US and US does not need China. We both can live as adversaries and destroy the world. US need to separate itself from China and let the American manufacturing come into the country and avoid Chinese products to reduce the burgening trade deficit. Also, most Chinese products are inferior to any other country and it is not a good practice for US citizens to keep buying these inferior products. On the other hand, Isreal should be careful not to take an adversarial position with Presiden Obama. Otherwise, the one and the only friend will move away from Isreal. Isreal needs US all the time.

Posted by: dr_vaman | March 18, 2010 6:56 AM
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