"If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."
- President Barack Obama, January 2009
Since taking office in 2009, the Obama Administration continually snubs allies of the United States and sooths adversaries to the detriment of American interests abroad. The "Obama Doctrine" seems to be: actively engage and reward hostile regimes in the hope they will change their ways, while spurning proven allies during times of need. This approach breaks with history, puts freedom on the retreat abroad, emboldens enemies and relinquishes the U.S. role as global superpower.
Iran: The prospect of a theocratic, nuclear-armed Iran is among the gravest threats facing the U.S. and our allies, and even an existential threat to Israel. As recently as April 14, 2010, Iran announced that it had further defied the U.N. by enriching uranium from 3.5 to 20 percent purity en route to its desired weapons-grade enrichment level. Additionally, Iran is already the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world, supporting Hamas and Hezbollah among other groups.
The Obama Administration has yet to embrace new crippling sanctions designed to deter Iran from its belligerent course of action. This week, over 330 Members of Congress (including 171 House Republicans) wrote to the president urging him to finally exert his "existing authority on Iran." Sanctions legislation has already passed both the Senate and House, but the president has not yet shown the resolve to act. Stalling or indifference on behalf of Russia or China is no excuse for U.S. inaction. On April 15, 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that the administration is "lowering its sights" and will consider weak sanctions if it would lead to a broader international coalition.
Russia: Under the leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia has aggressively interfered with its neighbors and increased repression at home. In the past few years, Russia has invaded its neighbor Georgia, bullied Ukraine, effectively annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and floated a "new security architecture" to undermine NATO. At home, Russia has regressed on human rights and democracy. International observers reported that the 2008 election for president was neither fair nor free, and failed to meet many international standards for democratic elections. There have also been high profile murders of human rights activists and journalists, according to the State Department's March 2010 report.
Despite Russian antagonism and regression, the administration is determined to appease Russia to "reset" relations. Most notably, in 2009, the administration abandoned plans for a missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic-former Soviet satellites-after Russia expressed unease with the plan. This decision, which leaves the U.S. and allies more vulnerable to the threat of ballistic missile attack, was a strategic victory for the Kremlin, which is determined to have a sphere of privileged interest in that region. Most recently, the administration agreed to a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, and the Kremlin immediately indicated that U.S. missile defense efforts moving forward would imperil the treaty. President Obama made no mention of human rights abuses or authoritarianism at the ceremony. Lubos Dobrovsky, former Czech defense minister spoke for many observers when he said, "This treaty is a diplomatic and military victory for Moscow, and I am not happy that this American defeat is being showcased in Prague."
Syria: Syria is a state sponsor of terrorism, and has been since 1979. According to the State Department, Syria's dictatorship supports terrorist groups and allows some of these organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to maintain headquarters in the Syrian capital of Damascus. Syria also has close ties to Iran. According to the Congressional Research Service, Syria plays a "spoiler" role in the Middle East peace process by sponsoring Palestinian militants and facilitating the rearmament of Hezbollah. Most recently, Syria transferred long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah inside Lebanon, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. These missiles have the range to strike Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Perversely, despite continued Syrian support of terrorism and sabotage of the Middle East peace process, President Obama has made "engaging" Syria a pillar of his foreign policy in the region. In February 2010, President Obama elevated the Syrian regime by nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005. The Bush Administration pulled its envoy to Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese Minister Hariri, which was widely blamed on Syria. The State Department also recently dispatched its number three diplomat, William Burns, to Damascus to hold consultations with President Assad. The administration remains stubbornly committed to its "engagement" strategy, although most analysts conclude that "there have been few substantive changes in Syrian government policy over the last year," according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
Venezuela: Venezuela, led by Hugo Chavez, is the most vehemently anti-American country in Latin America. Under Chavez, Venezuela has systematically moved toward socialism, abused human rights, increased military arms purchases, suppressed the media and tightened relations with Iran and Cuba. According to Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, "Chávez and his allies are likely to oppose nearly every U.S. policy initiative in the region, including the expansion of free trade, counter drug and counterterrorism cooperation, military training, and security initiatives, and even U.S. assistance programs."
True to his campaign promise, President Obama has warmly engaged the authoritarian Chavez. At the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, the president "sought out and shook hands" with Chavez. At the summit, Obama accepted a book from Chavez entitled, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent." Speaking to Chavez and other gathered autocrats such as Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, President Obama declared, "We have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations." The U.S. president's remark drew wild applause. Since then, of course, Venezuela's stance on democracy, human rights and anti-terrorism cooperation have not improved.
Israel: Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East, is the U.S.' most cherished ally in the region. Israel and the U.S. have shared an extraordinary bond since the establishment of the country in 1948. Since President Truman provided Israel with international legitimacy by recognizing it minutes after its establishment, the U.S. has stood by Israel. The two countries have developed a partnership based on shared values and interests, including Middle East peace, fighting terrorism, and containing Iran's nuclear program.
The Obama Administration has repeatedly strained the partnership by berating Israel publicly to no clear effect. During a visit to the country, Vice President Biden openly denounced the Israeli government for building housing developments in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Netanyahu has noted that, "Jerusalem is not a settlement; It's our capital." In late March during a White House visit, President Obama dressed down Prime Minister Netanyahu over the construction issue and left him for dinner, but informed Netanyahu that, "I'm still around. Let me know if there is anything new." The Israeli newspaper Haaretz concluded that, "The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came." U.S.-Israeli relations are at the lowest point in recent memory.
United Kingdom: The Obama Administration has systematically worked to weaken the famous "Special Relationship" with Great Britain-a State Department official even denied such a thing existed last year. Of course, the U.K. has long boasted exceptionally close political, diplomatic, cultural and historic relations with the U.S., and this relationship has been cultivated by every president since Franklin Roosevelt. The U.K. has about 10,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, more than any other ally.
Despite our longstanding friendship, the White House refused five Oval Office meetings with Prime Minister Gordon Brown before he was finally granted an audience with the president. Most recently and troublingly, the State Department declared support for Argentina's calls for negotiations over the Falkland Islands. With the exception of Argentina and some of its regional allies, there is no argument that these islands are possessions of the U.K. The Falklands have been British since 1833-of the roughly 3,000 inhabitants nearly all are British by birth or descent. The U.K. lost hundreds of servicemen retaking the Falklands (with the support of President Ronald Reagan and the U.S) after Argentina invaded the islands in 1982. The State Department's ad hoc policy reversal on the Falklands' status is a matter of serious concern in London and threatens U.K. support for future Anglo-American cooperation.
Colombia: Colombia has proven to be a model of democratic reform and security gains in Latin America. It is the oldest democracy in South America and a strong security partner of the U.S. located in a hostile neighborhood, as proven by recent developments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Colombia is especially critical to U.S. counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts.
Predictably, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reacted to U.S.-Colombian partnership by threatening to halt all business transactions with Colombia, which is over $7 billion annually. However, the Obama Administration is also turning its back on trade with Colombia. In 2006, Colombia and the U.S. signed a trade promotion agreement which would reduce tariffs and other trade barriers, but the deal still awaits Congressional approval. The deal would have significant economic benefits for the U.S. and Colombia, but the Obama Administration and Congress refuse to push the deal forward. The trade agreement would deepen our economic ties with Colombia, promoting peace, democracy and freedom in Latin America. It would provide a substantive and symbolic bulwark against a rising tide of radicalism on the continent. Wavering countries in the hemisphere will rightly judge the reliability of the U.S. as a partner based on its treatment of Colombia under the signed trade deal.
South Korea: South Korea is a democratic ally situated precariously near two nuclear-armed communist countries-North Korea and China. South Korea is an important economic partner and strategic ally, and the U.S. stands to benefit economically from deeper ties with the country. South Korea is also a critical security partner in a volatile region. Seoul has worked closely with the U.S. in countering North Korea's nuclear program and is sending civilian and military personnel to support the coalition mission in Afghanistan for the first time since 2007. Much like Colombia though, South Korea is eager for Congress to approve a free trade deal signed with the U.S. in 2007. Passing the deal would reward South Korea's recent support for U.S. foreign policy priorities and demonstrate continued U.S. engagement and leadership in North East Asia. However, the Obama Administration and the Democrat Congress have shown no interest in approving the trade deal which would reward an ally and support U.S. interests in Asia.
Czech Republic and Poland: The Czech Republic and Poland are staunch U.S. allies who have admirably progressed from Soviet satellite states into vibrant democracies and free market economies since the fall of the Soviet Union. Both countries (also NATO members) have contributed troops to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration, however, has done these countries no favors since taking office. In 2009, the administration scrapped planned missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in an effort to coddle a menacing Russia which has been bullying its neighbors. A missile shield located in Eastern Europe would be a strong deterrent to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. The Czech Republic and Poland are just outside Iran's current ballistic missile range. Other allies, such as Israel, Turkey, and Greece, are already within range of Iranian missiles. It appears that the administration is willing to jeopardize U.S. security interests in exchange for hitting the "reset" button on relations with Russia. As a spokeswoman for the Polish Ministry of Defense summed up, "This is catastrophic for Poland."