As the nation’s attention is currently focused on our troubled commerce, and no less on the Big Government responses that President Barack Obama favors, it is easy to slight international relations. But this administration will be no more successful in its so-called "soft power" approach to intractable and dangerous situations than was President Bill Clinton. Intellectual sophisticates are afflicted with the conceit that words can accomplish what force cannot. Long ago the Greek political philosopher Aristotle identified the error, viz., that politics can be reduced to rhetoric. Aristotle wrote a work on rhetoric as well as politics and ethics, so he did not believe that rhetoric was unnecessary. But he understood that it was not sufficient.
This sort of prudence was fully appreciated by America’s founders, as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "free and independent states" have "full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances [and] establish commerce." In the Constitution they authorized Congress "to provide for the common defense," "to regulate commerce with foreign nations," and declare war; and the President to command the armed forces, negotiate treaties with foreign nations and establish diplomatic relations.
It is necessary to review these elementary facts to remind ourselves that the world is a dangerous place, occupied by enemies as well as friends, not to mention fair-weather friends and even enemies with whom we may at times have a common interest. It will not do, as Democrats are prone, to take refuge in our fundamental principles. Hard choices must be made, based on what can accomplish the most good and cause the least evil in the circumstances.
When in 2001 President George W. Bush described an Axis of Evil, consisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, he spoke the truth and laid down our obligations to deter or defeat the threat that they posed. Their common denominators were their despotic nature and their possession, or imminent possession, of weapons of mass destruction and, sooner or later, the means of delivering them to other countries.
Much abuse was heaped upon the President for singling out Iraq, particularly when there turned out to be insufficient evidence that Saddam Hussein was as advanced a threat as our intelligence estimated. But Bush rightly concluded that temporizing with the regime that had used chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds was no longer entitled to keep his region and the world in tension.
Barack Obama pretty consistently denounced Bush’s Iraq policy, on the grounds that force was employed without adequate cause. He also contended that "we had taken our eyes off" the primary target in Afghanistan, where the former Taliban regime had harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the vicious attack on our country on September 11, 2001.
There are those who think that Obama’s public statements on Iraq and Afghanistan show that his quarrel with Bush was over strategy and tactics, not over the broad aim of defeating our enemies. But permit me to doubt. His decision to keep troops in Iraq somewhat longer than the 16 months he promised during the campaign simply split the difference with the Joint Chiefs, who recommended longer to accomplish the pullout. Whether Obama means to preserve the strategic advantage which Bush gained by the successful "surge" remains to be seen.
If nothing else, liberal Democrat members of Congress were unhappy with the decision, not less because a substantial number of troops will remain after the withdrawals. Obama already caved to Congress in the content of the "porkulus" bill recently passed. Why should he show any leadership in Iraq if his fellow Democrats want to bug out sooner with less assets left in place?
As to Iran, partly because our main focus was on Iraq but also because domestic opposition to that intervention placed severe limits on what could be accomplished elsewhere, Bush consented to European negotiations with Iran, which has not tempered the mullah’s drive for a nuclear war capacity. Yet Obama denounced Bush for not negotiating with Iran.
Similarly with North Korea. Bush lacked leverage with that tyrannical regime too, although he may be criticized for having let the State Department dominate the negotiations, as the communists’ military buildup goes on unabated.
But in spite of the failure of these negotiations, Obama has already made clear his intention to talk–"without preconditions" he said during the campaign–to these and other despotic regimes. He believes that he and his "cosmopolitan" colleagues will point out to the two remaining members of the Axis of Evil the folly of threatening the world with nuclear weapons. Fat chance.