Sun, Dec 25, 2011 | Rubin Reports | By Barry Rubin
When Obama Preaches; Anti-American Dictators First Sneer At Him, Then Spit at Us
This column was published in the Jerusalem Post in a different version.
I don’t think one could come up with a more teachable moment regarding international affairs — and including Middle East politics — than a little incident that just happened between President Barack Obama and Venezuela. First, the facts.
Obama gave an interview with a Venezuelan newspaper in which he articulated some of his administration’s most basic themes. Obama said:
“Venezuela is a proud, sovereign nation….The United States has no intention of intervening in Venezuela’s foreign relations, However, I think the government’s ties with Iran and Cuba have not benefited the interests of Venezuela and its people.”
“Sooner or later, Venezuela’s people will have to decide what possible advantage there is in having relations with a country that violates fundamental human rights and is isolated from most of the world. The Iranian government has consistently supported international terrorism.”
Now, this is precisely the same approach that Obama has taken toward Iran. He said, and this has been a common talking point for administration officials, that Iran would not benefit from having nuclear weapons. He continued:
“Iran understands that they have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.”
Obama has rejected America’s leadership role. He feels that the United States has been too much of a bully historically, so he doesn’t stress what U.S. interests require but politely asks other — hostile — countries to behave differently. He tells them that to do so is in their interest because their current behavior doesn’t benefit them.
Foreign leaders can only react with astonishment and — if they are hostile — laughter. If they are pro-American they react with horror.
First, you are signaling weakness and fear, practically putting a “kick me” sign on your back.
Second, telling some else what their “true” interests are is just as patronizing as telling them what your own interests are and demanding that they be respected. When you ask an aggressive dictator “pretty please” you are asking for some spit in the face.
And that’s just what Obama has received from Venezuela, Iran, and others. Here’s how the Venezuelan dictator, Hugo Chavez, responded:
“Obama, mind you own business, man. Focus on governing your country, which has become a disaster. Now you’re going looking for votes by attacking Venezuela….
“Obama, you’re a phony….Go and ask the black community in your country what you are to them: the biggest frustration in I don’t know how many years. Go and ask the many people in Africa who may have believed in you because of the color of your skin, because your father was from Africa. You’re a descendent of Africa, but you are the shame of all those people.”
In other words, your enemy reacts with disdain. You may not criticize him but he’ll criticize you. You may not do things he doesn’t like but he’ll do things you don’t like.
And each time Obama ignores these insults — and incidentally isn’t this the kind of statement that if made by a non-leftist, Westerner would be quickly labelled as “racist” and the media would launch a hate campaign against the persson? — ignores the violations of U.S. interests, ignores the threats and attacks on U.S. allies.
Incidentally, that’s also why Obama can disrespect U.S. allies, because they can only rarely if ever answer back as Chavez or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do. Obama may sizzle over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slap-down in a brilliant oration to a joint session of Congress, but his websites bulge with statements of praise wrung from Israeli leaders heard through their gnashing of teeth.
But there’s something else going on here that shows your ignorance and signals your ineffectiveness. Your enemies know perfectly well where their interests lie. Of course, the Venezuelan regime benefits by building alliances with fellow radicals and anti-Americans.
Similarly, Iran’s regime benefits in many ways by seeking nuclear weapons. Turkey’s regime benefits by forming alliances with Iran, Hizballah, Hamas, and other fellow revolutionary Islamists. The Palestinian Authority rulers benefit by not negotiating or compromising with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood benefits by seeking to seize state power and transform their states into Islamist ones. And so on.
Obama thinks that he can persuade radicals to be moderate. Back in the administration of President Jimmy Carter, that U.S. government thought it could persuade the new Islamist regime in Iran to be moderate. President Bill Clinton thought that a spell in power would turn Yasir Arafat into a moderate. It was just a matter of these revolutionaries seeing where their true interest was. In Marxist terms, America’s enemies were suffering from “false consciousness.”
In another recent example of this syndrome, Vice-President Joe Biden says that U.S. policy toward the radical, anti-American Afghan group, the Taliban, is to:
“Try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies….”
Recently, a Third World diplomat whose democratic country has faced threats from radical regimes asked me: “Why don’t these people understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is a radical group?” My answer was: “Because they don’t understand the role of ideology.”
Part of this handicap is cultural; part due to ideological blindness on Obama’s own part. Yet the Obama Administration is also ensuring it won’t learn by covering its eyes and ears, pretending that a revolutionary Islamist ideology doesn’t even exist.
Here’s what’s equally incredible. I have seen numerous attempts by the Obama Administration, and its apologists — including Jews — to pretend that its policy is really good for Israel. Over and over again such people and their writings always ignore the regional strategic aspect of the damage that it is doing.
So what if the U.S. government gives Israel military aid, which mostly consists of maintaining old programs? The Obama Administration is building up the threat Israel faces to unprecedented levels. “I love Israel” statements don’t solve this huge strategic problem.