The Corner

Abyssinia and Manchuria All Over Again?

I have a great deal of empathy for President Obama on matters like North Korea and Iran — both lunatic players that I think represent firsts in his own experience. You see, there are no good choices, and he can’t simply vote “present” this time. Any decision he makes will be evaluated not necessarily on the basis of its superior logic or the eloquence with which it is presented, but solely on whether it works or not. If it does, he will be praised; if it doesn’t, he will be damned, unfairly or not. Soon some wannabe Republican presidential candidate will be barnstorming the country, second-guessing Obama’s decision-making, giving him no benefit of the doubt, and adopting simplistic answers as a candidate that he could not possibly embrace as Commander-in-Chief — the one constant being that whatever Obama does, the potential rival, without the responsibilities of office, will argue that it was wrong.

Fate, chance, luck, and more will contribute to the outcome of any presidential action — unpredictable, of course, but in the cruel game of assessing presidential decision-making, no grounds for excuse.

Moreover, both these problems not only antedated Obama, but antedated Bush as well, yet they cannot be massaged with “reset” button and a “Bush did it,” nor by soaring “hope and change” rhetoric. Neither Ahmadinejad nor Kim Jong-il care a whit about Obama’s landmark advance to the presidency, or his sober and judicious efforts to show rational concern for their own predicaments; instead, they calibrate only the degree to which Obama poses an obstacle to their regional ambitions, whether they be rational or not.

In short, Obama will be dealing with two cruel entities, irrational at times, and both capable of great evil — thuggish regimes that laugh at calls for UN solidarity or multilateral fronts. Worse still, the soft-power advocates and internationalists abroad who praised Obama to the skies for his restraint and postmodern campaign rhetoric will be the first to damn him as Carteresque and hesitant should these two rogue nations begin to act a little crazy and start testing the waters.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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