President can’t vote present!

September 17, 2012

Presidents can’t vote present!  –  Commentary article by Nancy Thorner and Edward Ingold


The events in the Middle East this past week stagger the imagination. They are the culmination of nearly four years of failed foreign policy in the Obama administration. It started in Obama’s tour through Europe before being elected, apologizing for American principles, leadership and sacrifices for world peace, continuing with his practice of  “leading from behind,” never taking a stand that might affect his popularity, at home or abroad. For nearly four years the President remained silent while minions in his staff and Congress have made countless proposals, waiting to see what the reaction of the public will be. Only when they succeed did the President stand up and take credit. Only after the landmark “Affordable Health Care Act” passed did he embrace it as “Obamacare.” While the debate raged on this, and many other issues, the President held back and, as in his lackluster Senate career, merely voted “present.”
 
In the present crisis, the State Department responded with a lame apology for a 14 minute film, allegedly insulting Islam, which hardly anyone had seen, then issued an affirmation of this message two hours later. Recognizing the film in this manner served to make it a convenient focal point for Islamic protests.
 
There is a long-standing principle that American embassies are US territory, which we have a right to defend, and the host country has an obligation to protect. Sixteen hours elapsed before Governor Romney brought the real issue before the American people. Another half hour elapsed before the State Department followed suit, and the President began denouncing Governor Romney for jumping the gun, “shooting then aiming.” This criticism was nearly identical to that issued by President Carter concerning a speech by Governor Reagen in 1979, following the Iranian takeover of our Embassy in Tehran.
 
A fundamental principle of statecraft is that sovereign nations do not have friends or enemies, only interests. President Carter ignored this principle when he helped topple the Shah of Iran and invited Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic extremists to take over the country. Besides the  lasting effects in Iran, this served to alienate the friendly Arab nations of Jordan and Saudi Arabia (and others). If the US betrays the Shah, who could count on support from the US? The Camp David Accord, between Egypt and Israel, was largely due to Egypt’s desire to regain the Sinai Peninsula (with it, complete control of the Suez Canal), and Israel’s ability to hold it if they desired. The agreement holds as long as the Egyptian government remains secular – a status in question following last year’s “Arab Spring” revolts.
 
Much as President Carter’s foreign policy was dominated by his version of “human rights,” so is President Obama’s policy dominated by his ideology of “Global Government,” where human rights are those bestowed by a benevolent government, rather than endowed by the Creator. Each President has ignored the need to defend interests of the US, and incidentally, its values as expressed in the Constitution and its history.
 
In the “Arab Spring”, extended to the uprising in Syria, President Obama remained nearly silent until it was clear which side would win, and only belatedly threw long-standing leaders under the bus. While these leaders were hardly benevolent in terms we understand in the US, they largely coincided with US interests. Rather than support rebels, unknown entities, it would have been prudent to remain silent until that sovereign nation resolved its own fate. Having done otherwise undermined faith that friendly governments in the region, including Israel, can expect our support. Moreover, this vacillation makes the United States appear weak and irresolute. As a result, we can expect more attacks on our embassies, citizens and interests in the future, and not just in the Middle East.
 
There are two ways to deal with schoolyard bullies. You can hang your head and give up your self-respect (and lunch money) in exchange for fewer beatings, or you can send the bully home to explain to his mother why his nose is bloody and clothes are torn. Even if you get “whupped” in the attempt, you keep your self respect, and often respect of the bully. The US did not emerge from WW2 as the leader among nations because we were tough – we got “whupped” a lot more than the Bowdlerized history books would suggest – but because we persevered.
 
We see a strong contrast between the way various administrations have handled foreign affairs. President Carter created a lasting disaster for our standing in the Middle East. President Reagen brought down the Soviet Union and freed Eastern Europe without firing a shot. President Clinton (whom I largely like) tried to rescue Bosnia with air raids and rockets. The genocide did not abate until there were boots on the ground. Within six weeks of 9/11, President Bush brought the Taliban to their knees, and drove Al Qaeda from their safe haven Afghanistan. The photo of members of our Special Forces riding into battle on horseback is burned in our memories  – our “allies” were slow to allow deployment of motorized cavalry.
 
President Obama needs more time to “explain” his position – which is firmly in the rear of events both foreign and domestic. The killing of Bin Laden, for example was through the efforts of a brave and dedicated team of SEALS, culminating years of intelligence gathering, which virtually halted once Obama took office. The mission was only approved after several denials at the urging of his advisors – because it was dangerous politically if it failed. To paraphrase President Kennedy, “We do these things not because they are necessary, but because we can succeed. 

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