The noble peacenik gets a hard les­son

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

Asoft an­swer can some­times turn away wrath, but not al­ways, and pres­i­dents have to be wary of show­ing timid­ity and weak­ness in the face of a bully. This is the ex­pen­sive les­son the tin­horns of the world are teach­ing Barack Obama. So far he is not an hon­ors stu­dent.

Throw­ing Poland and the Czech Repub­lic un­der that cel­e­brated bus, a cramped space al­ready brim­ming with old friends, pas­tors, men­tors, tu­tors and even mem­bers of his own fam­ily who are no longer use­ful, was costly. It’s never easy to be a friend of Amer­ica, and Mr. Obama is mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to be one.

He got a hu­mil­i­at­ing re­minder of re­al­ity last week when the Rus­sians, to whom he had paid such hum­ble obei­sance, gave him a hard slap across the face, just to re­mind him who he is and who is meant to be in charge of the world. Mr. Obama ex­pected to get some­thing when he blew off Poland and the Czech Repub­lic, which had agreed to host NATO mis­sile sites at con­sid­er­able cost and risk, be­ing close neigh­bors of the Rus­sians.

What he thought he got was an im­plicit un­der­stand­ing that Rus­sia rec­og­nizes the dan­ger of the Ira­nian nu­clear bomb, that it would change the power equa­tion in the Mid­dle East. Rus­sia would join the West in im­pos­ing sanc­tions tough enough to get the at­ten­tion of Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

But not so fast. It’s not as if the Rus­sians re­ally meant it. Vladimir Putin, the Rus­sian prime min­is­ter and an old KGB op­er­a­tive who is ob­vi­ously still in charge of ev­ery­thing im­por­tant in Moscow, warned “ma­jor pow­ers” — diplo­matic soft­s­peak for “the United States” — against try­ing to in­tim­i­date Iran into be­hav­ing it­self. He said talk of new sanc­tions against the Is­lamic repub­lic are “pre­ma­ture.” This is diplo­matic re­al­s­peak for “not now and not ever.”

“We need to look for a com­pro­mise,” Mr. Putin told re­porters in Bei­jing, where he was learn­ing to make the per­fect chop suey. “If a com­pro­mise is not found, and the dis­cus­sions end in fi­asco, then we will see. And if now, be­fore mak­ing any steps [to­ward hold­ing talks] we start an­nounc­ing sanc­tions, then we won’t be cre­at­ing fa­vor­able con­di­tions for talks to end pos­i­tively. This is why it is pre­ma­ture to talk about this now.”

All this was while Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton was in Moscow, try­ing to find out just how much help the Rus­sians in­tend to give to the West. Mrs. Clin­ton could not even see Mr. Putin, the real head man; there was a con­flict of sched­ules and he had to de­part for Bei­jing. This was a re­mark­able snub, treat­ing the sec­re­tary of state as if she were merely the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the PTA, lob­by­ing for more veg­eta­bles in the school lunch­room. Maybe there re­ally was a con­flict; maybe Mr. Putin had sched­uled a hair­cut at the only hour she was avail­able.

The Rus­sians suc­ceeded in putting Mr. Obama and the Amer­i­cans in their place. Niko­lai Pa­tru­shev, the chief of the Pres­i­den­tial Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, man­u­fac­tured an oc­ca­sion while Mrs. Clin­ton was in Moscow to warn that Moscow re­serves the right to make “a pre-emp­tive nu­clear strike” against both small and large en­e­mies.

In an in­ter­view with Izves­tia, the im­por­tant Moscow daily, he said Rus­sian of­fi­cials are ex­am­in­ing “a va­ri­ety of pos­si­bil­i­ties for us­ing nu­clear force, de­pend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion and the in­ten­tions of the pos­si­ble op­po­nent.” In sit­u­a­tions crit­i­cal to na­tional se­cu­rity, he said, “op- tions in­clud­ing a pre­ven­ta­tive nu­clear strike on the ag­gres­sor are not ex­cluded.” Even re­gional or “lo­cal” wars will be in­cluded in the new strat­egy, ex­pected to be of­fi­cial pol­icy in De­cem­ber.

A will­ing­ness to use any or all weapons, if the time and place is right, is noth­ing new, of course. If the stakes are high enough ev­ery­body will use ev­ery­thing, and only fools ob­ject. The sig­nif­i­cance of th­ese re­marks, which were cer­tainly cal­cu­lated for ef­fect while Mrs. Clin­ton was in town, is what they tell about how the Rus­sians re­gard the tough­ness of Barack Obama, the noble peacenik with a prize to prove it, and whether there is any “there” there.

Mrs. Clin­ton and her acolytes at the State Depart­ment, ever ea­ger to seek the soft­est way to say noth­ing, tried to put a nice face on her visit to Moscow. The United States, Rus­sia and China are “closer than be­fore” on their poli­cies re­gard­ing Iran’s nu­clear-weapons pro­gram, Mrs. Clin­ton told a ra­dio in­ter­viewer. She seemed to be tak­ing care not to say that ac­tual po­si­tions are closer, just that every­one un­der­stands those po­si­tions: Rus­sians tough, Amer­i­cans soft.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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