Among the academic set from which President Obama springs, everyone agrees that wars are the result of “arrogance” and bullying by the United States. So concerned was then-senator Barack Obama about the potential for U.S. aggression that he declined to vote for 2007 legislation that would have designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
The IRGC had been involved in training and arming terrorists worldwide, particularly in Lebanon (Hezbollah), but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories. But Obama worried that such a vote would be “saber rattling.”
Our standing in the “world community” (an oxymoron to beat all oxymorons) and our credibility had been badly damaged by just such bellicosity, Obama argued. His administration would deploy “soft power” and diplomacy to make the world safer and more peaceful.
Though the president has repetitively declared that Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable,” his true wish — to accept Iran as a nuclear power in hopes that they will change their behavior — is now unfolding. In Vienna, diplomats from the P5 + 1 (the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, France, and Germany) dine on fine cuisine washed down with excellent wines and periodically issue declarations of progress — which usually means only the agreement to meet for more empty discussions. Meanwhile, the severest sanctions against the Iranian regime have been lifted just as they were beginning to bite.
It can’t do any harm to talk, right? That was Obama’s claim in 2008, when he suggested that he would meet with any rogue leader. He thinks words are like chicken soup — they may not help but they cannot hurt. We’re now seeing how dangerous that view is.
First, regarding Iran, as Claudia Rosett of Forbes notes, the pattern of talks we’re engaged in with Iran is identical to what we did with North Korea. “The pattern was one of procedural triumphs . . . followed by Pyongyang’s reneging, cheating, pocketing the gains and concessions won at the bargaining table, and walking away,” she writes.
Formal conclaves that permit evil regimes to gain concessions in exchange for promises they quickly break are one form of dangerous talk. Obama has been perfecting another type as well: the empty threat. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” the president declared in 2011. Shockingly, the tyrant willing to murder more than 100,000 people and displace millions didn’t immediately grab his coat and obey. Obama did nothing to back his words with actions (like arming the opposition, which was then not dominated by al-Qaeda). Later he did something — he spoke more words. This time, it was Obama threatening that, well, okay, Assad didn’t have to go, but if he used chemical weapons that would cross a “red line for me.” (Talk about saber rattling.)
When Assad flamboyantly hop-scotched over Obama’s red line and received no response, the world rocked on its axis. Though the Obamaites couldn’t see it, every small, peace-loving nation in the world was instantly made more vulnerable. Perhaps now, with Russian ships and tanks aiming at Ukraine, they are beginning to understand how international relations work. (“It’s not some chessboard,” the president asserted recently, displaying his continuing confusion.) No, the game isn’t chess; it’s more like boxing, where the winner is the stronger one.
The Ukraine crisis flows directly from the Syria debacle, as Putin, like Assad, has taken Obama’s measure. The Left heaped scorn on George W. Bush for initially praising Putin, but Bush wised up fast. Obama, by contrast, has submitted passively as Putin put one thumb after another in his eye (Edward Snowden, Bashar Assad). Not only has Obama failed to respond vigorously, he’s permitted Putin to play peacemaker in Syria, supposedly presiding over Assad’s surrender of chemical weapons. This would be regarded as too risible for fiction, as Russia is Assad’s chief sponsor and arms supplier.
In January, the administration, so easily surprised by the world, announced that Syria was “dragging its feet” on removing chemical-weapons stockpiles and that only an estimated 4 percent of its supply had been relinquished. “It is the Assad regime’s responsibility to transport those chemicals to facilitate removal,” said spokesman Jay Carney. “We expect them to meet their obligation to do so.”
Weakness invites aggression. Prepare for more.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.