Pres. Barack Obama came into office apparently believing that his non-traditional background, charisma, and good intentions could placate dictators hostile to America and ease global tensions.
In these first six months, the new administration has made clear to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and other strongmen like them that Barack Obama is not a mean-talking George Bush. A kinder, gentler United States has promised to push the “reset” button. In the interest of peace, an American president will finally be listening rather than lecturing, and willing to talk to authoritarian bullies without preconditions.
But so far the world’s thugs do not seem to appreciate that new goodwill. Intelligence reports indicate that North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il is planning to launch a ballistic test missile in the direction of Hawaii between July 4 and July 8. Russia’s Vladimir Putin would like his country’s money to replace the dollar as the global currency.
Most recently, Obama kept relatively silent for a week after the fraudulent Iranian election and the ensuing government crackdown against protestors. He was apparently worried about offending Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs above him who truly run the country — and thereby making it more difficult to negotiate once the resistance was put down.
Obama’s confusion about the world’s bad actors suggests that he needs a general refresher course in the world of thugs.
Lesson One: Thugs only want America, the world’s most powerful democracy — not others — to apologize. Iran’s Ahmadinejad does not care whether his friends the Russians slaughtered Muslims recently in Afghanistan and Chechnya, or have meddled in Iranian affairs for over two centuries. Iranian mullahs only want Russian nuclear expertise, not Russian apologies.
When President Obama says he is sorry to Iran about American involvement in a coup 56 years ago, it may make us feel better. But thugs like Ahmadinejad more likely interpret our apologies as signs of our own confusion — and so a green light for more troublemaking.
Lesson Two: Being anti-American and mouthing tired charges about imperialism, colonialism, or capitalism do not make a thug authentic or populist. By definition, thugs acquire power illegitimately. They keep it unlawfully. And they exercise it illegally — regardless of their professed concern for the “people” or their gripes against America.
Thugs are thugs, and they come in all ideologies, colors and religions — from Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il to the late Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia.
Theocratic Ahmadinejad may scream constantly about Western oppression, but that does not mean any of his grievances are legitimate, or that his own people see him as a romantic popular leader. Communist Fidel Castro may scream anti-American slurs, but he still spent a half-century jailing or executing anyone he pleased.
Lesson Three. The more we speak out about the harsh rule of thugs, the more oppressed people will come to respect us. Our past resistance to Ahmadinejad may help explain why the Iranian people seem to admire us more than do many in the Arab street, whose dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt we so fawningly have praised.
Lesson Four. Thugs can never be trusted — whether an Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin of the past or the rogue’s gallery of today. Ahmadinejad is lying about his peaceful plans for nuclear technology. Kim Jong-Il continued his nuclear program when he promised that he would not. Syria’s Bashar Assad hid his nuclear reactor under construction.
Lesson Five. Most of the world’s problems are caused by a handful of thugs. Any time one can be isolated and replaced by a consensual government, the world gets just a bit safer.
If Iran were to embrace a free and fairly elected government, it would likely not be threatening to wipe out Israel or funding terrorists in Lebanon and Palestine. Once Saddam disappeared, so did $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers on the West Bank and Iraq’s plan to conquer the Persian Gulf. With the Taliban out of power, Afghanistan is less likely to be used by terrorists to take down an American skyscraper.
So, Mr. President, do not talk to a thug unless you absolutely have to. Do not apologize to — or put our trust in — one. And whenever people rise up against a thug, speak out immediately and forcefully on their behalf — and let the thug, not America, worry about the consequences of the spread of freedom.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.