Obama The Appeaser?

Imagine Reagan tearing down ‘that wall’ with ‘engagement.’

26th February 2009 - Forbes.com

President Obama's broad scheme for foreign policy has been something of a puzzle, short on specifics and long on talk about forging alliances, extending hands and "engaging."

In his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, Obama offered a further hint--repeating the gist of the argument with which, as one of his first acts in office, he ordered the closing of Guantanamo Bay: "Living our values doesn't make us weaker. It makes us safer, and it makes us stronger."

So far, there's not much reason to feel safer. If anything, the world seems to be getting less safe, at speed. On Wednesday, just hours after Obama delivered his speech, Iran began its first test-run of the nuclear reactor built with Russian help at Bushehr.

Barring forcible intervention of some kind, it's highly likely Iran will fire up this reactor in earnest later this year--and start cranking out, on an industrial scale, spent fuel that can be processed into plutonium for nuclear bombs. That's in addition to Iran's uranium enrichment, another route along which Iran, according to U.N. officials, has now traveled far enough to have the makings of a bomb.

The Bushehr test run follows a month, post-Inauguration, in which Iran has launched a satellite, underscoring its interest in long-range missile capability. North Korea in short order announced its aim to soon do the same. Russia has been flexing its muscles in its continuing bid to reassert hegemony in what Moscow considers the "near abroad."

Pakistan released from house arrest the godfather of its nuclear program and chief broker-dealer of its proliferation networks, A.Q. Khan. The International Atomic Energy Agency released a report confirming the finding last year of unexplained "uranium particles" at the site of Syria's secret nuclear reactor.

Syria has just replied by denying the reactor's existence, but telling diplomats that the site now hosts a missile launching facility. On a related note, rockets hit Israel again this week, out of both Hamas-controlled Gaza and Hezbollah-infested Lebanon.

So what are the values with which Obama plans to address this landscape?

Are they the values now on display in U.S. policy toward Gaza, run by the terrorist group Hamas? There, despite overwhelming evidence of the Iranian-backed terror nest that Gaza has become, the U.S. seems less interested in ending the terrorist reign of Hamas than in bankrolling its territorial base.

Reports earlier this week, citing an unnamed U.S. official, said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to attend a funding conference in Cairo next week where she will pledge $900 million in U.S. aid for Gaza. At a Tuesday press briefing, a State Department spokesman confirmed that while details, including the exact amount, are still being worked out, a whopping pledge is indeed in the offing: "It'll be, you know, several hundred million."

Or does Obama have in mind the values articulated by Clinton when she sidelined human rights during her visit last week to China? There, our prematurely jaded new Secretary told reporters that America and China already know each other's stands on human rights, so needn't bother with ritual recitations; and in any event, such issues as human rights "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and security crises."

Will we be living by the values implied in the Obama administration's decision to "engage" in preparations for the United Nations Durban II conference scheduled this April in Geneva. This conference, convened in the name of fighting "racism," is actually an exercise in censorship and condemnation directed at the free world, starting with Israel.

Durban II is a pet project of the despotic lobbying bloc that controls the 192-member UN General Assembly, which is led most of the time by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC (headquartered in Saudi Arabia), which overlaps with the 130-member Group of 77 (currently chaired by Sudan). The Durban II conference preparations were captured from the start by such nations as Libya, Iran and Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC).

The Durban II conference is already configured to savage Israel and endorse a global gag-order on free speech about Islam. It is styled as a "review" of the U.N.'s 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa. That played out as such a bacchanal of bigotry that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the U.S. delegation to walk out.

Under President Bush, America declined to legitimize Durban II by taking part in the plans. Obama this month reversed that decision and sent a delegation to a planning session in Geneva. Now is the moment that the U.S. might usefully mount a boycott and invite other decent governments to join. Instead, Obama's administration has been coy--which suggests he's going to lend a U.S. stamp of legitimacy to the sordid doings of Durban II.

And then there are the values implicitly endorsed by Obama's new Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. He's been talking about Iran's reach into Afghanistan not as part of the problem, but as part of the solution. Despite allegations, some by NATO officials, that Iran has been helping Taliban "extremists"--as Obama labels the terror-dedicated Taliban--

Holbrooke opined recently on an Afghan TV station that Iran (yes, the same Iran run by the totalitarian mullahs who applaud Palestinian suicide-bombers, jail and torture dissident bloggers, and execute children and homosexuals) has a "legitimate role to play in this region, as do all of Afghanistan's neighbors."

Or will America be living the values suggested by Obama's plan to appoint as head of the National Intelligence Council, crafting the influential National Intelligence Estimates, Charles "Chas" Freeman, sharp critic of democratic Israel and head of a Washington think-tank endowed by the King of Unfree Saudi Arabia. Freeman is also a critic of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, in which Chinese demonstrators built their own Statue of Liberty--or, as they called it, Goddess of Democracy.

Writing in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, Gabriel Schoenfeld quotes a 2006 posting on a confidential Internet site, in which Freeman offered his view of "the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities"--which apparently was not the decision by China's despots to order in China's own army to shoot China's own people--but "the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud."

For that matter, will America be engaging abroad on the terms of the values displayed by Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, who from his high national pulpit recently denounced America as "a nation of cowards"--with no public rebuke from Obama.

Holder was speaking about race in a speech to a domestic audience. But is anyone in the Obama administration paying attention to how such talk might feed the aggressive ambitions of America's enemies abroad? For that matter, in appointing Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, despite the tax-cheat scandal, has Obama considered what kind of signal that sends not only to Americans but beyond our shores, regarding the value placed by the current White House on integrity in financial dealings?

What are we to make of the values involved in Obama's signing, with fanfare, an order to shut down Guantanamo Bay, our holding tank for alleged terrorists--while holding out olive branches to assorted despotisms that specialize in consigning democratic dissidents to some of the world's worst dungeons?

If the world is one, and Obama is a citizen, how do we reconcile the showmanship over Guantanamo with the sidelining of issues that lead to the doors of Syria's horrific Tadmor Prison, Iran's Evin Prison, Libya's Abu Salim or the labor and death camps of North Korea?

On two fronts, Obama has displayed sharp concern for "values" over realpolitik--or whatever we might call the above mix. Guantanamo, as just mentioned, and Darfur, on which Obama and Vice President Biden recently held an evening pow-wow in the White House with actor George Clooney.

These are not equivalent issues. What they do have in common, however, is that, unlike the dissidents of Iran and Syria, the vanished dissenters of North Korea, the smothered voices of democracy in China, they are favorite causes of the American media and Hollywood.

Obama has been described, at least in his speech delivery, as Reaganesque. But had Ronald Reagan lived by such values, it's a good bet he never would have delivered the mortal blows he did to the Soviet Union and its satrapies, summed up in his 1987 demand in West Berlin: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Instead, we might have heard something like "We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not always lived up to our best intentions"… Oh, wait! We did hear that, not so long ago. That was Obama, speaking last July, in Berlin.

It is one thing to tear down a wall that imprisons people within a tyranny. It is another to tear down distinctions between democratic and despotic governments, ignoring profound differences of principle in the hope that appeasing and engaging, with maybe some cash thrown in, will bring peace.

In Obama's defense, it might be said that no government is entirely consistent in such matters. The world is too complex for that. Reagan stood up to the Soviets but flinched when Iran-backed Hezbollah bombed the marine barracks in Beirut.

George W. Bush talked big about democracy, and wrestled it through to where it stands a chance in Iraq, but otherwise tilted heavily in his second term toward engagement--negotiating with North Korea, hosting Syria at Annapolis, attending the Beijing Olympics and largely turning over the urgent matter of Iran's nuclear ambitions to the feckless care of the European Union and the UN. If America's values are freedom, democracy, individual liberty and justice for all, then every presidency has come freighted with some big exceptions.

But by lights of American values, the Obama presidency at its outset is charting a course in which such exceptions look more like the rule. To the great benefit of both the wider world and its own people, America has stood and prospered for a long time as a beacon of freedom. Is the future as bright with America transforming itself into a beacon of "engagement"?

Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.com.


china, foreign-policy, gaza, hezbollah, israel, lebanon, obama