Waiting for the Realists

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.