"Mr. Obama has made the U.S. popular in places like Montreal and Berlin, where our unpopularity never mattered much to begin with. But foreign policy is not about winning popularity contests."
Barack Obama has now been president for 21 days, following an inauguration that was supposed to have pressed the reset button on America's relations with the wider world and ushered in a new period of global cooperation against common threats. Here's what pressing reset has accomplished so far:
– Iran. Since President Obama's inauguration, Iran has launched a satellite into space and declared (with an assist from Russia, which is providing the nuclear fuel) that it would complete its long-delayed reactor at Bushehr later this year. At the Munich Security Conference last week, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani promised a "golden opportunity for the United States" in its relations with the Islamic Republic. He proceeded to make good on that opportunity by skipping Joe Biden's speech the next day.
Also, as if to underscore that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denial is merely emblematic of his regime's outlook, Mr. Larijani offered that there could be "different perspectives on the Holocaust." Mr. Larijani is widely described as a "moderate."
– Afghanistan. This is the war Mr. Obama has said "we have to win" — as opposed to Iraq. Our NATO allies are supposed to feel the same way.
So what was NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer doing at the Munich conclave? Why, reproaching our allies. "When the United States asks for a serious partner, it does not just want advice, it wants and deserves someone to share the heavy lifting," he said.
But the plea fell on deaf ears. Germany will not, and probably cannot, commit more than 4,500 soldiers to Afghanistan, and then only to areas where they are unlikely to see combat. The French have no plans to increase their troop commitment beyond the 3,300 now there. Mr. Obama, by contrast, may double the U.S. commitment to 60,000 troops.
- North Korea. A constant liberal lament about the Bush administration was that its supposed hard line on Pyongyang had yielded nothing except five or six North Korean bombs.
So what is Kim Jong Il to do now that the Obama administration is promising a friendlier approach? In late January, Pyongyang announced it was unilaterally withdrawing from its 1991 nonaggression pact with the South.
Satellite imagery later showed the North moving a Taepodong 2 missile — potentially capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast — to a launch pad. "The missile is pointing at Obama," Baek Seung-joo, a director at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, told the L.A. Times. "North Korea thinks that with such gestures they can control U.S. foreign policy."
- Pakistan. Perhaps the most unambiguous of the Bush administration's successes was rolling up the nuclear proliferation network of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who was kept under house arrest for five years.
But if some latent fear of the 43rd American president prevented the Pakistani government from releasing their dubious national hero, that fear clearly vanished with the arrival of the 44th. Mr. Khan was released last week, ostensibly by order of a Pakistani court, plainly with the consent of the government. So far, the Obama administration has done little more than issue a muted statement of concern.
- Russia. At the Munich conference, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov praised the "very positive" tone set by Mr. Biden. And Mr. Ivanov's tone? Less positive. Russia will continue to build military bases in Georgia's breakaway republics. It will press ahead with the fueling of the Bushehr reactor.
Russia also won't hesitate to complicate the U.S. position in Afghanistan — and then lie about what it has done in a manner worthy of the late Andrei Gromyko. "There is no correlation between the decision of the Kyrgyz republic and the loans that the Russian federation granted," Mr. Ivanov said, referring to Kyrgyzstan's oddly timed decision to close an airbase used by the U.S. to supply Afghanistan after securing a $2 billion Russian "loan."
– The Arab street. "I have Muslim members of my family," Mr. Obama recently told Al-Arabiya. Yet so far his efforts at outreach have been met with derision from Arab hard-liners and "liberals" alike.
"We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza," wrote Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany in a New York Times op-ed. "We also wanted Mr. Obama . . . to recognize . . . the right of people in occupied territory to resist military occupation." In other words, the price of Arab support for Mr. Obama is that he embrace Hamas and its terrorist tactics.
And so it goes. True, Mr. Obama has made the U.S. popular in places like Montreal and Berlin, where our unpopularity never mattered much to begin with. But foreign policy is not about winning popularity contests. And woe to the president who imagines he needn't inspire fear among the wicked even as he embraces the adulation of the good.