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The Very Softest of Powers

Today’s rocket launch by North Korea capped off what has been a remarkably successful first quarter for the world’s most toxic regimes and troublesome bad actors.

In January, Barack Obama gave his first presidential interview to Al Arabiya television, during which he praised Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah for his “great courage.” Obama has since fully embraced the Saudi peace initiative for the Middle East. (Among the initiative’s non-negotiable details is the Palestinian “right of return,” which would overwhelm the Jewish State with millions of “claimants.”) A week ago, the UN Human Rights Council passed a Saudi-backed “defamation of religion” resolution. The resolution internationalizes Islamic blasphemy laws to give cover to human rights and other abuses in Muslim countries. In England last week, Obama bowed before King Abdullah.

In February, a Taliban group secured a permanent peace treaty with Pakistan’s government, allowing the repressive Islamists to take control of Swat Valley, a mere 150 miles from Islamabad. After publicly renouncing the deal, American officials in Pakistan gave it their private backing.

Around the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Chinese leaders that American concern over human rights abuses in China would take a backseat to discussion of the world economic crisis and issues of national security. For this burst of  “smart power” China rewarded the U.S. by proposing to replace the dollar as a form of international currency. China, North Korea’s only unabashed ally, is also certain to veto any proposed UN Security Council condemnation of today’s launch. So much for economics and national security.

In March, Moscow revealed Barack Obama’s failed attempt to trade away an American missile shield in Eastern Europe for Russia’s help in halting Iran’s nuclear program. The rebuff strengthened Russia’s hand regionally, emboldened the Russia-Iran partnership, and made the American administration appear feckless.  None of which prevented Obama from engaging cordially with Medvedev last week in England, a further abasement that found Medvedev describing the American president as his “comrade.”

Also in March, Barack Obama offered a video greeting to Iran’s leaders on their Persian New Year. In the video, he took Iranian regime change off the table; spoke of approaching the Iranian leadership with respect; and vowed to pursue diplomacy instead of threats. In response, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly lashed into America’s “unconditional support for the Zionist regime,” “oppressive sanctions,” and “accusations against the great Iranian nation.” Khamenei’s words were greeted with chants of “Death to America!”

Here’s how the Obama administration plans to deal with today’s rocket launch: “Stephen W. Bosworth, Mr. Obama’s special envoy on North Korea, said that while the United States would seek to punish the North for the test, it was also prepared to resume six-nation talks with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons program.”

There will be no punishment because any UN declarations will be vetoed by China.

President Obama said that he wants the U.S. to lead not by force, but by example. However no one is following (not in these matters and not in the economic realm either). This means that there is, at this time, no world leader among nations. There is no unipolarity, but there is also no multipolarity. Declinists who thought American influence would be challenged (or augmented) by “emerging Asian superpowers” have been made irrelevant by the global economic crisis. Those countries are suffering as service economies and export economies, and don’t have the time-tested maritime-order institutions to weather the storm.

Influence is now in the hands of bad actors that see the Free World’s reluctance to take a stand. They and their enablers within international bodies are setting the global agenda. Everyone else is reacting. In three months, the Obama administration has not failed one foreign policy test but six, by this reckoning. The only national security areas in which the president has acted soundly are in Iraq and Afghanistan. And those have been matters of continuing or expanding Bush policies. There are still nine months left in the year.


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