"Ask Osama bin Laden whether I engage in appeasement."
-- President Obama, Dec. 8
WASHINGTON -- Fair enough. Obama didn't appease Osama bin Laden. He killed him. And for ordering the raid and taking the risk, Obama deserves credit. Credit for decisiveness and political courage.
However, the bin Laden case was no test of policy. No serious person of either party ever suggested negotiation or concession. Obama demonstrated decisiveness, but foregoing a non-option says nothing about the soundness of one's foreign policy. That comes into play when there are choices to be made.
And here the story is different. Take Obama's two major foreign-policy initiatives -- toward Russia and Iran.
The administration came into office determined to warm relations with Russia. It was called "reset," an antidote to the "dangerous drift" (Vice President Biden's phrase) in relations during the George W. Bush years.
The signature decision was the abrupt cancellation of a Polish- and Czech-based U.S. missile defense system bitterly opposed by Moscow.
The cancellation deeply undercut two very pro-American allies who had aligned themselves with Washington in the face of both Russian threats and popular unease. Obama showed the world that the Central Europeans' hard-won independence was only partial and tentative. With American acquiescence, their ostensibly sovereign decisions were subject to a Russian veto.
Three years in, how is that "reset" working out? The Russians are back on the warpath about missile defense. They're denouncing the watered-down Obama substitute. They threaten not only to target any Europe-based U.S. missile defenses but also to install offensive missiles in Kaliningrad. They threaten additionally to withdraw from the START treaty, which the administration had touted as a great foreign-policy achievement.
As for assistance on Iran, Moscow has thwarted us at every turn, weakening or blocking resolution after resolution. And now, when even the International Atomic Energy Agency has testified to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Russia declares that it will oppose any new sanctions.
Such are the wages of appeasement. Makes one pine for mere "drift."
Even worse has been Obama's vaunted "engagement" with Iran. He began his presidency apologetically acknowledging U.S. involvement in a coup that happened more than 50 years ago. He then offered bilateral negotiations that, predictably, failed miserably. Most egregiously, he adopted a studied and scandalous neutrality during the popular revolution of 2009, a near-miraculous opportunity -- now lost -- for regime change.
For his exertions, Obama earned (a) continued lethal Iranian assistance to guerrillas killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, (b) a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador by blowing up a Washington restaurant, (c) the announcement just this week by a member of parliament of Iranian naval exercises to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, (d) undoubted Chinese and Russian access to a captured U.S. drone for the copying and countering of its high-tech secrets.
How did Obama answer that one?
On Monday, he politely asked for the drone back.
On Tuesday, with Putin-like contempt, Iran demanded that Obama apologize instead. "Obama begs Iran to give him back his toy plane," reveled the semiofficial Fars News Agency.
Just a few hours earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted yet again that "we want to see the Iranians engage we are not giving up on it."
Blessed are the cheek-turners. But do these people have no limit?