Published on TheHill.com on June 23, 2009
If only President Obama were a third as tough on Iran and North Korea as he is on Republicans, he’d be making progress in containing the dire threats to our national security these rogue nations represent. As it is, the president is letting the perception of weakness cloud his image. Once that particular miasma enshrouds a presidency, it is hard to dissipate.
If foreign policy issues actually involve war and the commitment of troops, they can be politically potent. But otherwise, the impact of international affairs on presidential image is largely metaphoric. Since foreign policy is the only area in which the president can govern virtually alone, it provides a window on his personality and use of power that domestic policy cannot.
When President Clinton, for example, dithered as Bosnia burned, he acquired a reputation for weakness that dragged down his ratings. It was only after he moved decisively to bomb and then disarm the Serbs that he shed that image. It took President George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq to set to rest concerns that he was a “wimp”. Jimmy Carter never recovered from the lasting damage to his reputation that his inability to stand up to Iran during the hostage crisis precipitated.
So now, as North Korea defies international sanctions and sends arms to Myanmar and Iran slaughters its citizens in the streets, President Obama looks helpless and hapless. He comes across as not having a clue how to handle the crises.
And as North Korea prepares to launch a missile on a Hail Mary pass aimed at Hawaii, the Democrats slash 19 missile interceptors from the Defense Department budget.
The transparent appeasement of Iran’s government – and its obvious lack of reciprocation – makes Obama look ridiculous. Long after the mullahs have suppressed what limited democracy they once allowed, Obama’s image problems will persist.
While Americans generally applaud Obama’s outreach to the Muslims of the world and think highly of his Cairo speech, they are very dissatisfied with his inadequate efforts to stop Iran from developing – and North Korea from using – nuclear weapons. Clearly, his policies toward these two nations are a weak spot in his reputation.
His failure to stand up to either aggressor is of a piece with his virtual surrender in the war on terror. Documented in our new book, Catastrophe, we show how he has disarmed the United States and simply elected to stop battling terrorists, freeing them from GuantÃ¡namo as he empowers them with every manner of constitutional protection.
Obviously, the Iranian democracy demonstrators will not fare any better than their Chinese brethren did in Tiananmen Square. But the damage their brutal suppression will do to the Iranian government is going to be huge. The ayatollahs of Tehran have always sold themselves to the world’s Islamic faithful as the ultimate theocracy, marrying traditional Muslim values with the needs of modern governance. But now, in the wake of the bloodshed, they are revealed as nothing more than military dictators. All the romance is gone, just as it faded in wake of the tanks in Budapest and Prague. All that remains is power.
China, of course, fared better after Tiananmen because of its economic miracle. But Iran has no such future on its horizon. The loss of prestige in the Arab world and the end of the pretense of government with popular support will cost Iran dearly.
In the meantime, Obama’s pathetic performance vis-Ã -vis Iran and North Korea cannot but send a message to all of America’s enemies that the president of the United States does not believe in using power – that he is a wimp and they can get away with whatever they want. A dangerous reputation indeed.