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Obama’s foreign policy stumbles

In this June 28 2011 file phoPalestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks during an interview with Associated Press West Bank

In this June 28, 2011 file photo, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Palestinian officials said Thursday that Fayyad offered his resignation to President Mahmoud

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:21AM

Spring may be the season of hope, but President Barack Obama faces a winter of discontent in foreign policy as he suffers setbacks from the Middle East to the Korean peninsula. Neither diplomacy nor the flexing of military muscle have produced desired results and have even backfired.

Obama tasked his new secretary of state, former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, with the herculean job of reviving the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations only to suffer disappointment at the start with this weekend’s resignation of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. The economist with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas was trusted by Western governments with weeding out corruption and inefficiency from a Palestinian Authority long notorious for both. In doing that, he angered entrenched interests in Fatah, the ruling political party on the West Bank.

His enemies found a convenient avenue to attack him as the West Bank economy, once an engine of impressive growth, weakened. The United States and Israel had cut back financial support after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ foolish but successful effort to get the U.N. General Assembly to grant the authority the same non-state status enjoyed by the Vatican.

It didn’t help that Abbas failed to come to Fayyad’s defense as the political attacks within Fatah escalated. Nor did an American push for Fayyad to keep the job help; in fact it boomeranged as the Palestinians showed no more liking than the Israelis for U.S. attempts to influence internal matters. Kerry tried at least twice to talk Fayyad out of resigning. The former International Monetary Fund official will stay on as a caretaker until Abbas finds a replacement. Kerry tried to put the best face on the matter by saying that “there needs to be more than one person you can do business with.” True enough, but it will be difficult to find anyone who inspires the trust Fayyad did.

If that wasn’t bad enough, another development threatened to undermine Obama’s main achievement during his visit to Israel last month — getting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan for the deaths of Turkish militants who attacked Israeli troops trying to prevent the radicals from breaking Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. The goal was a rapprochement between two countries. But this weekend Erdogan said he plans to visit Gaza, ruled by the terrorist group Hamas. Hopefully, Obama can talk him out of that when the Turkish leader visits Washington in May.

The news was no better in the effort to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The latest round of talks ended with no results. Obama’s policy is diplomacy backed up by sanctions, but those tough penalties have yet to halt Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

The Islamist rulers of Iran no doubt take heart from how nuclear weapons enable tiny, impoverished North Korea to thumb its nose at the United States. Kerry went to Beijing last week to try to get China to rein in its client state. But while China is disturbed by Kim Jong Un’s bellicose rhetoric, his reckless decrees like shutting down an industrial park operated with South Korea and his flouting of nuclear weapons, China’s leader rebuffed Kerry. Instead, Chinese concerns apparently were partly behind the Obama administration’s decision to ease up on its displays of military might out of fear of provoking Un to some rash act. Now Kerry is offering the possibility of direct talks if only Un will back away from nuclear arms. That will surely be seen as a sign of weakness by North Korea, as well as our allies in the region.

Spring may be followed by a long hot summer of intractable foreign policy realities.

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