Obama, Hobbes & that 3am call

Events of the past week -- Russia invading Georgia, the repeated failure of the diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, and the impending departure of Pakistan's Musharraf -- should reinforce for any sensible voter just how dangerous the world remains. While the United States has been focused on Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider war on terrorism, other nations have consolidated power and made substantial moves against our interests. And, while the world has focused on the idealism of diplomacy to curb the expansionist goals of rogue regimes, Thomas Hobbes has been working overtime: proving that the international system still does resemble the "state of nature", and that life is consequently "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". For all those enamored with Barack Obama, this should also constitute a reality check, for this is no time for a neophyte as president. The geopolitical challenges that will face the next president are complex, highly volatile and full of potential peril. Take Russia, for example. For the past decade, Vladimir Putin has acted to consolidate authoritarian power in the Kremlin by crushing dissent and vacating the system of free elections. He has effectively made himself "leader for life" and has turned Russia from an emerging democracy into a dictatorship on a model that the Soviets would be justly proud of. At the same time, Russia sits on the second largest oil reserves in the world, is awash with wealth and has much of the West reliant on its energy exports. Its an envious position to be in if you are interested in empire-building.

And make no mistake, Putin is interested in rebuilding Russia into a global power. Though its export may no longer be socialism, Russia has designs on bringing the former Soviet republics back into the fold, while actively working to defeat American power. It is, on a lesser scale, the return of a Cold War-style conflict: Russia working to support many of the enemies of America, Western Europe and Israel, while consolidating power at home -- which in Putin's mind includes the former Soviet republics. The invasion of Georgia fits perfectly into this picture.

Similarly, the Iranian nuclear program represents a critical threat to world security and will be a central test to the next administration. Our record on Iran during the Bush presidency has been poor: because of the difficulties in Iraq, we have been unable to credibly deter Iran with the threat of force. Because of this, we have been forced to rely on a purely diplomatic approach, led by the Europeans. While this has cheered the left in the U.S. and fits perfectly with the prevailing pacifist approach in Europe, it has met with absolutely no success. While we talk, Iran has played for time, continuing to enrich weapons-grade uranium while supposedly "seriously considering" the myriad offers of economic and political incentives. It has thus far been a disaster: only the most idealistic among us could possibly believe that Iran is truly interested in an agreement that will result in suspending their nuclear weapons program.

Unfortunately for the security of the United States, one of those idealists is Barack Obama. Obama has consistently supported the European-led negotiations, and has famously offered to meet personally with the Iranian regime "unconditionally" should he become president. Obama, like many on the left, believes fundamentally that Iran wants to join the community of nations, and thus is interested in a deal that would bring them deeper into the international system. Such a view is a serious misreading of history, and shows a mius-understanding of the goals of the Iranian regime. Iran is a revolutionary state that seeks not accommodation with the west but rather its destruction. Whatever the interests of the moderates who live in Iran, the leadership wants to export Islam to the rest of the world. It is their raison d'etre. The creation of a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it will make that goal that much easier -- holding the Mideast hostage and presenting a direct threat to the existence of Israel. This is the absolute objective of the Iranian state -- and it isn't negotiable.

How, then, do you effectively deal with regimes like Russia and Iran? You take a page out of the Hobbesian view of the world and counter aggression with the credible threat of force. That means the willingness to use force if and when necessary -- as a means of making more effective the process of diplomacy. Alexander George coined the phrase "coercive diplomacy" almost a generation ago -- it is hardly a new concept. But it takes leadership with the courage to see the world realistically, and to admit that evil does exist in this world. Force in the defense of our security and our values is sometimes necessary when faced with an enemy that actively seeks our destruction. It does no good to unilaterally take force off the table as Obama has offered to do. It makes the cherished process of diplomacy completely ineffective.

It is time for the U.S. to collectively dust off its copy of Hobbes' Leviathan and get serious about both the nature of the threats facing us, and the qualities we need in the next leader of the free world. The challenges that we face are multi-faceted and complex; its no time for an untested idealist with zero foreign policy experience and a very poor understanding of the world to be president of the United States