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The wages of appeasement

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Charles Krauthammer
December 16, 2011
“Ask Osama bin Laden … whether I engage in appeasement.”
—Barack Obama, Dec. 8, 2011

Fair enough. Barack Obama didn’t appease Osama bin Laden. He killed him. And for ordering the raid and taking the risk, Obama deserves credit. Credit for decisiveness and political courage.


However, the bin Laden case was no test of policy. No serious person of either party ever suggested negotiation or concession. Obama demonstrated decisiveness, but forgoing a non-option says nothing about the soundness of one’s foreign policy. That comes into play when there are choices to be made.


And here the story is different. Take Obama’s two major foreign-policy initiatives—toward Russia and Iran.


The administration came into office determined to warm relations with Russia. It was called “reset,” an antidote to the “dangerous drift” (Vice President Biden’s phrase) in relations during the Bush years.


In fact, the Bush coolness toward Russia was grounded in certain unpleasant realities: the Kremlin’s systematic dismantling of democracy; its naked aggression against Georgia; its drive to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence in the near-abroad; and its support, from Syria to Venezuela, of the world’s more ostentatiously anti-American regimes.


Unmoored from such inconvenient realities, Obama went about his “reset.” The signature decision was the abrupt cancellation of a Polish- and Czech-based U.S. missile defense system bitterly opposed by Moscow.


The cancellation deeply undercut two very pro-American allies who had aligned themselves with Washington in the face of both Russian threats and popular unease. Obama not only left them twisting in the wind. He showed the world that the Central Europeans’ hard-won independence was only partial and tentative. With American acquiescence, their ostensibly sovereign decisions were subject to a Russian veto.


This major concession, together with a New START treaty far more needed by Russia than America, was supposed to ease U.S.-Russia relations, assuage Russian opposition to missile defense and enlist its assistance in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.


Three years in, how is that “reset” working out? The Russians are back on the warpath about missile defense. They’re denouncing the watered-down Obama substitute. They threaten not only to target any Europe-based U.S. missile defenses but also to install offensive missiles in Kaliningrad. They threaten additionally to withdraw from the START treaty, which the administration had touted as a great foreign-policy achievement.


As for assistance on Iran, Moscow has thwarted us at every turn, weakening or blocking resolution after resolution. And now, when even the International Atomic Energy Agency has testified to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Russia declares that it will oppose any new sanctions.


Finally, adding contempt to mere injury, Vladimir Putin responded to anti-government demonstrations by unleashing a crude Soviet-style attack on America as the secret power behind the protests. Putin personally accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sending “a signal” that activated internal spies and other agents of imperial America.


Such are the wages of appeasement. Makes one pine for mere “drift.” Even worse has been Obama’s vaunted “engagement” with Iran. He began his presidency apologetically acknowledging U.S. involvement in a coup that happened more than 50 years ago. He then offered bilateral negotiations that, predictably, failed miserably. Most egregiously, he adopted a studied and scandalous neutrality during the popular revolution of 2009, a near-miraculous opportunity—now lost—for regime change.


Obama imagined that his silver tongue and exquisite sensitivity to Islam would persuade the mullahs to give up their weapons program. Amazingly, they resisted his charms, choosing instead to become a nuclear power. The negotiations did nothing but confer legitimacy on the regime at its point of maximum vulnerability—and savagery.


For his exertions, Obama earned (a) continued lethal Iranian assistance to guerrillas killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, (b) a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador by blowing up a Washington restaurant, (c) the announcement just this week by a member of parliament of Iranian naval exercises to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, (d) undoubted Chinese and Russian access to a captured U.S. drone for the copying and countering of its high-tech secrets.


How did Obama answer that one?


On Monday, he politely asked for the drone back.


On Tuesday, with Putin-like contempt, Iran demanded that Obama apologize instead. “Obama begs Iran to give him back his toy plane,” reveled the semiofficial Fars News Agency.


Just a few hours earlier, Secretary Clinton asserted yet again that “we want to see the Iranians engage … we are not giving up on it.”


Blessed are the cheek-turners. But do these people have no limit?


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

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