Re­al­ity in­trudes on ‘West Wing’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

The White House is a risky place for on-the-job train­ing, as Barack Obama and the rest of us are learn­ing. But the pres­i­dent doesn’t de­serve all the blame for the in­stal­la­tion of a hand­some but un­pre­pared mati­nee idol in the tough­est job in the world. The ador­ing cult, the 53 per­cent of the gid­dily obliv­i­ous elec­torate that took a flyer on Elec­tion Day, de­serves most of it.

Mati­nee idols only do what mati­nee idols do, look pretty and in­vei­gle softly with prac­ticed se­duc­tive­ness. Trou­ble ar­rives when the mati­nee idol and his pub­lic con­fuse role with re­al­ity. Re­al­ity ar­rives with the sur­prise and im­pact of a lemon-cream pie in the face.

Nasty sur­prises abound across the real world. Iran com­pletes a third round of test­ing of Sha­hab-3 and Sa­jjil medium-range mis­siles ca­pa­ble of hit­ting not only Is­rael, East­ern Europe and sev­eral Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries but, if all that were not sober­ing enough, sev­eral U.S mil­i­tary bases as well. Venezuela boasts that it’s work­ing with Rus­sia and Iran in find­ing sources of ura­nium, the key in­gre­di­ent of nu­clear weapons tech­nol­ogy. China says it will dis­play new “up­graded mis­siles” in cel­e­bra­tion of the 60th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of Red China. In­dia an­nounces that it can now make nu­clear weapons up to a strength of 200 kilo­tons, four times over the line that the nu­clear Non­Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty pledges sign­ing na­tions not to cross.

This is the fine mess Barack Obama told us would never hap­pen if Amer­i­cans would elect him to soothe the fears of the fright­ened and bank the am­bi­tions of evil­do­ers of the world. Sud­denly, the pres­i­dent has to deal with headaches, a thou­sand town halls, with hun­dreds of thou­sands of an­gry big­ots, racists and Nazis of hys­ter­i­cal lib­eral imagination jeer­ing his scheme to take over the health care of the na­tion, never pre­pared him for. He’s got headaches no speech­writer can cure.

Headache No. 1 is Iran, where Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad taunts Mr. Obama and the dazed leaders of the West. Mr. Obama may be the most puz­zled of all. He went many thou­sands of miles out of his way to apol­o­gize for the sins of the evil coun­try he’s the pres­i­dent of, promis­ing with servile hu­mil­ity to hec­tor us to do bet­ter. For his ef­forts, he learns that the Ira­ni­ans have not only not dis­banded their nu­clear-bomb fac­tory, but have added an­other to en­rich ura­nium, and dared Mr. Obama and the West to do any­thing about it. “We are go­ing to re­spond to any mil­i­tary action in a crush­ing man­ner,” boasts the chief of Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Air Force, “and it doesn’t make any dif­fer­ence which coun­try or regime has launched the ag­gres­sion.” A teleprompter won’t be much pro­tec­tion against an in­com­ing nu­clear mis­sile.

Who can blame the Ira­ni­ans for think­ing they have Mr. Obama’s num­ber? The more that soft diplo­macy doesn’t work, the softer diplo­macy be­comes. Robert M. Gates, the pres­i­dent’s de­fense sec­re­tary, says he’s sure Mr. Ah­madine­jad in­tends to build nu­clear weapons, but he doesn’t know what any­one can do about it ex­cept talk some more. “The re­al­ity is, there is no mil­i­tary op­tion that does any­thing more than buy time.” (But when that time runs out, couldn’t the mil­i­tary just buy some more?)

There are signs that the Euro­peans, so ea­ger only a year ago to march to the mu­sic of the piper from Hyde Park, are sober­ing up like the mil­lions of in­de­pen­dent vot­ers who have stepped out of the pa­rade in Amer­ica. The buzz about Barack Obama at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences is no longer about how strong and art­ful he is in the pres­i­den­tial role, but how naïve and art­less re­al­ity has re­vealed him to be. Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy of France is said to have told con­fi­dants that he thinks the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is “weak.”

Clark Judge, a re­cent del­e­gate to the an­nual Global Se­cu­rity Re­view con­fer­ence in Geneva, spon­sored by the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, was sur­prised by the emerg­ing “wide skep­ti­cism” of the pres­i­dent. “The im­pres­sion emerged for me,” he says, “that Mr. Obama’s riv­et­ing rhetoric is in dan­ger of turn­ing from a plus to a mi­nus.” One for­mer for­eign min­is­ter scorns the pres­i­dent’s “point­less rhetoric, no mat­ter how el­e­gantly ex­pressed.”

Re­al­ity is an un­for­giv­ing teacher, and in­evitably grades on a steep curve. Mr. Obama imag­ined last year that he was au­di­tion­ing to re­place Martin Sheen on the tele­vi­sion se­rial “West Wing.” He’s learn­ing bet­ter now.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Play­ing pres­i­dent on TV: Martin Sheen

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