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Obama’s French lesson

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Charles Krauthammer
October 2, 2009
“President Obama, I support the Americans’ outstretched hand. But what did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing.”
—French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Sept. 24

When France chides you for appeasement, you know you’re scraping bottom. Just how low we’ve sunk was demonstrated by the Obama administration’s satisfaction when Russia’s president said of Iran, after meeting President Obama at the United Nations, that “sanctions are seldom productive, but they are sometimes inevitable.”


You see? The Obama magic. Engagement works. Russia is on board. Except that, as The Washington Post inconveniently pointed out, President Dmitry Medvedev said the same thing a week earlier, and the real power in Russia, Vladimir Putin, had changed not at all in his opposition to additional sanctions. And just to make things clear, when Iran then brazenly test-fired offensive missiles, Russia reacted by declaring that this newest provocation did not warrant the imposition of tougher sanctions.


Do the tally. In return for selling out Poland and the Czech Republic by unilaterally abrogating a missile-defense security arrangement that Russia had demanded be abrogated, we get from Russia … what? An oblique hint, of possible support, for unspecified sanctions, grudgingly offered and of dubious authority—and, in any case, leading nowhere because the Chinese have remained resolute against any Security Council sanctions.


Confusing ends and means, the Obama administration strives mightily for shows of allied unity, good feeling and pious concern about Iran’s nuclear program—whereas the real objective is stopping that program. This feel-good posturing is worse than useless because all the time spent achieving gestures is precious time granted Iran to finish its race to acquire the bomb.


Don’t take it from me. Take it from Sarkozy, who could not conceal his astonishment at Obama’s naivete. On Sept. 24, Obama ostentatiously presided over the Security Council. With 14 heads of state (or government) at the table, with an American president at the chair for the first time ever, with every news camera in the world trained on the meeting, it would garner unprecedented worldwide attention.


Unknown to the world, Obama had in his pocket explosive revelations about an illegal uranium enrichment facility that the Iranians had been hiding near Qom. The French and the British were urging him to use this most dramatic of settings to stun the world with the revelation and to call for immediate action. Obama refused. Not only did he say nothing about it, but, reports Le Monde, Sarkozy was forced to scrap the Qom section of his speech.

Obama held the news until a day later—in Pittsburgh. I’ve got nothing against Pittsburgh (site of the G-20 summit), but a stacked-with-world-leaders Security Council chamber, it is not. Why forgo the opportunity? Because Obama wanted the Security Council meeting to be about his own dream of a nuclear-free world. The president, reports The New York Times citing “White House officials,” did not want to “dilute” his disarmament resolution “by diverting to Iran.”


Diversion? It’s the most serious security issue in the world. A diversion from what? From a worthless U.N. disarmament resolution?


Yes. And from Obama’s star turn as planetary visionary: “The administration told the French,” reports The Wall Street Journal, “that it didn’t want to ‘spoil the image of success’ for Mr. Obama’s debut at the U.N.”


Image? Success? Sarkozy could hardly contain himself. At the council table, with Obama at the chair, he reminded Obama that “we live in a real world, not a virtual world.” He explained: “President Obama has even said, ‘I dream of a world without (nuclear weapons).’ Yet before our very eyes, two countries are currently doing the exact opposite.”


Sarkozy’s unspoken words?


“And yet, sacre bleu, he’s sitting on Qom!”

At the time, we had no idea what Sarkozy was fuming about. Now we do. Although he could hardly have been surprised by Obama’s fecklessness. After all, just a day earlier in addressing the General Assembly, Obama actually said, “No one nation can … dominate another nation.”


That adolescent mindlessness was followed with the declaration that “alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War” in fact “make no sense in an interconnected world.”


NATO, our alliances with Japan and South Korea, our umbrella over Taiwan, are senseless? What do our allies think when they hear such nonsense?


Bismarck is said to have said: “There is a providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.”


Bismarck never saw Obama at the United Nations. Sarkozy did.


Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post. His e-mail address is letters@charleskrauthammer.com.

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