Memorial Day Surprises Knock Props from Obama’s Diplomatic Overtures
By Leo Rennert
President Obama vowed to do a better job than George W. Bush by using diplomacy instead of wielding a big stick in dealing with hostile nations like Iran, North Korea and Syria. It hasn’t worked.
Obama pleaded with them to “unclench their fists” and promised to reward them with a softer, more deferential United States eager to atone for past bullying tactics. Thus, the President opted for more positive relations with the United Nations, extolled the virtues of multilateralism, and appointed high-level special envoys to Iran (Dennis Ross), to Afghanistan-Pakistan (Richard Holbrooke) and to Israel and the Palestinians (George Mitchell).
So far, however, there have been no takers for Obama’s entreaties. Just the opposite. The president’s charm offensive has had the opposite effect — a tougher, more belligerent tone, coupled with ominous muscle-flexing by the likes of Tehran and North Korea. The Taliban also ihs been riding high, while Pakistan falters.
On Memorial Day weekend, North Korea announced that it has conducted a “successful” nuclear test, which came at the heels of its recent test-firing of an advanced, long-range rocket over Japan, while Iranian President Adhmadinejad ruled out negotiations with Washington over his nuclear program Tehran in the meantime rattled more sabers by demonstrating that it could reach Israel, U.S. troops in the Mideast and portions of Europe with a new 2,000-kilometer-range missile.
While Obama places his bets on “soft” power to cajole Iran, North Korea and Syria away from threatening their neighbors, they see his agenda as appeasement and a license to create even more mischief. Ahmadinejad even managed to draw the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan to a three-way summit that signaled Iran’s clear intention to erode U.S. influence with Islamabad and Kabul.
In the Middle East, Syria is reasserting itself, fearing no adverse reactions from Washington. Obama’s diplomats returned empty-handed from Damascus. President Assad, who was supposed to be weaned away from Tehran, instead insists that Syria’s close alliance with Iran’s regime is non-negotiable, as are his harboring of Hamas’s terrorist leadership and his supply of weapons and other support to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
An emboldened Hezbollah, with full backing from Syria and Iran, is making a determined bid to emerge stronger than ever from upcoming Lebanese elections and recently planted terrorist cells in Egypt to challenge President Mubarak’s hold on power and his alliance with Washington.
Wherever Obama has tried to woo bellicose adversaries with his benign I’m-not-George-Bush strategy, he has been met with ever-more ominous rebuffs and direct challenges to American influence and interests.
Even as Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he intends to pursue diplomatic overtures to rein in Iran’s nuclear program until the end of this year before moving to possible stronger measures, Ahmadinejad already has served notice that Obama is barking up the wrong tree — Iran is not about to abandon or slow down its drive to become a nuclear power. And Tehran’s determination not to be deflected from becoming a nuclear power is supported across the entire political spectrum — whether or not Ahmadinejad gets another term in upcoming elections.
Even in America’s own backyard, Obama has reaped nothing but snooty responses to his conciliatory gestures from the likes of Venezuelan President Chavez. Cuba’s Raul Castro pocketed Obama’s concession in easing travel restrictions, and now demands more such gestures as the price of normalizing relations
Given all these affronts to Obama’s diplomacy, the question now is how much longer will the president let himself be used as the favorite piñata of the world’s worst tyrants?
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