World adu­la­tion no sub­sti­tute for Amer­i­can lead­er­ship

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The world loves Sen. Barack Obama. A re­cent BBC poll of 22 coun­tries — in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, Canada, Ger­many, France, Rus­sia, In­dia, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emi­rates — found for­eign­ers over­whelm­ingly pre­fer Mr. Obama to Sen. John McCain. They be­lieve the lib­eral Demo­crat will re­store Amer­ica’s sup­pos­edly tar­nished im­age.

Mr. Obama vows to change course from the Bush years. He will end the Iraq war by 2010; de­vote more man­power and re­sources to de­feat­ing the resur­gent Tal­iban in Afghanistan; re­pair al­liances with our Euro­pean part­ners; rein­vig­o­rate mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions like the United Na­tions; and fo­cus on diplo­macy as a trans­for­ma­tive in­stru­ment for peace. In short, he will give in­ter­na­tional leaders what they want: The end of Pres­i­dent Bush’s mus­cu­lar, “cow­boy uni­lat­er­al­ism.” Dur­ing his sum­mer Euro­pean tour, Mr. Obama pro­claimed him­self a “ci­ti­zen of the world.” His ad­mir­ers re­turn the fa­vor with sup­port and af­fec­tion. In France, for ex­am­ple, polls in­di­cate 80 per­cent want him to oc- cupy the White House.

Mr. Obama’s global pop­u­lar­ity, how­ever, is a mark of his weak­ness in for­eign af­fairs: He is un­able and un­will­ing to de­fend vi­tal U.S. geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests.

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton was also much-beloved abroad. While of­ten en­gag­ing in me­dia-hyped sum­mitry, he dithered as the forces of rad­i­cal Is­lam grew stronger: The 1993 ter­ror­ist strike on the World Trade Cen­ter, the 1996 as­sault on Kho­bar Tow­ers in Saudi Ara­bia, the 1998 bomb­ings of U.S. em­bassies in East Africa, and the year 2000 sui­cide at­tack on the USS Cole. Mr. Clin­ton’s world­wide love af­fair did not dis­suade Osama bin Laden from declar­ing war on Amer­ica.

Like­wise, for­eign­ers cheer Mr. Obama in the sa­lons of Paris, the bazaars of Dubai and the In­ter­net cafes of Bei­jing. But his for­eign pol­icy amounts to ap­pease­ment with a broad and flashy smile.

Mr. Obama can­not con­front the sem­i­nal threat of our time: Is­lamic fas­cism. His call for a pre­cip­i­tous troop with­drawal from Iraq is ir­re­spon­si­ble. It demon­strates a shock­ing ig­no­rance of Mid­dle East­ern geopo- lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. Iraq is the strate­gic linch­pin to achiev­ing wider re­form in the re­gion. Its lo­ca­tion and vast oil re­sources make the fledg­ling democ­racy a po­ten­tial model for the Arab world. A lib­eral, pro-West­ern Iraq will trans­form the Mid­dle East sim­i­lar to post-1945 Ja­pan in Asia — thereby, up­root­ing the re­gion’s dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that serves as a breed­ing ground for ji­hadists. In­stead of seek­ing a quick exit, Mr. Obama should be pro­mot­ing to­tal victory.

His de­sire to bol­ster NATO’s mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan sounds tough. But it is a road to nowhere. The Tal­iban can­not re­cap­ture Kabul. They are a rag­tag guer­rilla force pinned down in the south­east­ern cor­ner of the coun­try; they use the long, moun­tain­ous bor­der along Pak­istan as a sanc­tu­ary. Adding more Amer­i­can troops would sim­ply squan­der blood and trea­sure in a fu­tile ef­fort to sub­ju­gate a coun­try that is un­govern­able — as well as strate­gi­cally pe­riph­eral.

More im­por­tant, Amer­ica would be di­verted from the loom­ing threat of Iran. Tehran is bent on get­ting nu­clear weapons. Mr. Obama’s ap­proach con­sists of more eco­nomic sanc­tions and di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions — the very poli­cies that have failed to de­ter Iran so far.

The cor­ner­stone of his for­eign pol­icy — and why he is so beloved by so many abroad — is his be­lief in the trans­for­ma­tive power of diplo­macy. If he could just sit down with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad, Mr. Obama be­lieves he could bridge the gap be­tween the two coun­tries. He can­not. No one can.

Diplo­macy has been the fa­tal il­lu­sion of West­ern states­men through­out the 20th cen­tury. Dur­ing the late 1930s, the most pop­u­lar leader in the West was not Win­ston Churchill, but Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain. The Euro­peans adored Cham­ber­lain for his 1938 deal at Mu­nich with Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader, how­ever, played Cham­ber­lain for a fool. Diplo­macy not only failed to stop Hitler, it gave him more time to un­leash his cam­paign of con­quest and geno­cide.

Like Hitler, Mr. Ah­madine­jad is a mes­sianic rev­o­lu­tion­ary. The Ira­nian leader will stop at noth- ing to ac­quire the bomb. This is why diplo­macy will not work; he will only use it to fur­ther his de­struc­tive, apoc­a­lyp­tic goals. By em­bark­ing on a pol­icy of di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions in­stead of con­tain­ment and mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, Mr. Obama would put Amer­ica in grave peril.

The real vig­i­lance of Amer­i­can na­tional se­cu­rity will not win ac­co­lades across the globe. Euro­peans, Rus­sians, Chi­nese and Turks are weary of the war on ter­ror. This is why they sup­port Mr. Obama and de­spise Mr. McCain. They hope a com­bi­na­tion of law en­force­ment, diplo­macy, sanc­tions, greater sen­si­tiv­ity to Mus­lim con­cerns and mul­ti­cul­tural out­reach — “soft power” in the cur­rent jar­gon — will dis­si­pate the Is­lamist threat. It won’t. It will only em­bolden the ji­hadists. And like Cham­ber­lain, Mr. Obama would then fall from the heights of pop­u­lar­ity to the depths of in­famy.

Vot­ers would be wise to re­mem­ber: World adu­la­tion is no sub­sti­tute for prin­ci­pled, ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship.

Jef­frey T. Kuh­ner is a colum­nist at The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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