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KUHNER: President of the world?

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

KUHNER:

The world loves Sen. Barack Obama. A recent BBC poll of 22 countries - including Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Russia, India, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates - found foreigners overwhelmingly prefer Mr. Obama to Sen. John McCain. They believe the liberal Democrat will restore America's supposedly tarnished image.

Mr. Obama vows to change course from the Bush years. He will end the Iraq war by 2010; devote more manpower and resources to defeating the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; repair alliances with our European partners; reinvigorate multilateral institutions like the United Nations; and focus on diplomacy as a transformative instrument for peace. In short, he will give international leaders what they want: The end of President Bush's muscular, "cowboy unilateralism." During his summer European tour, Mr. Obama proclaimed himself a "citizen of the world." His admirers return the favor with support and affection. In France, for example, polls indicate 80 percent want him to occupy the White House.

Mr. Obama's global popularity, however, is a mark of his weakness in foreign affairs: He is unable and unwilling to defend vital U.S. geopolitical interests.

President Bill Clinton was also much-beloved abroad. While often engaging in media-hyped summitry, he dithered as the forces of radical Islam grew stronger: The 1993 terrorist strike on the World Trade Center, the 1996 assault on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, and the year 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole. Mr. Clinton's worldwide love affair did not dissuade Osama bin Laden from declaring war on America.

Likewise, foreigners cheer Mr. Obama in the salons of Paris, the bazaars of Dubai and the Internet cafes of Beijing. But his foreign policy amounts to appeasement with a broad and flashy smile.

Mr. Obama cannot confront the seminal threat of our time: Islamic fascism. His call for a precipitous troop withdrawal from Iraq is irresponsible. It demonstrates a shocking ignorance of Middle Eastern geopolitical realities. Iraq is the strategic linchpin to achieving wider reform in the region. Its location and vast oil resources make the fledgling democracy a potential model for the Arab world. A liberal, pro-Western Iraq will transform the Middle East similar to post-1945 Japan in Asia - thereby, uprooting the region's dysfunctional political culture that serves as a breeding ground for jihadists. Instead of seeking a quick exit, Mr. Obama should be promoting total victory.

His desire to bolster NATO's military presence in Afghanistan sounds tough. But it is a road to nowhere. The Taliban cannot recapture Kabul. They are a rag-tag guerrilla force pinned down in the southeastern corner of the country; they use the long, mountainous border along Pakistan as a sanctuary. Adding more American troops would simply squander blood and treasure in a futile effort to subjugate a country that is ungovernable - as well as strategically peripheral.

More important, America would be diverted from the looming threat of Iran. Tehran is bent on getting nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama's approach consists of more economic sanctions and direct negotiations - the very policies that have failed to deter Iran so far.

The cornerstone of his foreign policy - and why he is so beloved by so many abroad - is his belief in the transformative power of diplomacy. If he could just sit down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Obama believes he could bridge the gap between the two countries. He cannot. No one can.

Diplomacy has been the fatal illusion of Western statesmen throughout the 20th century. During the late 1930s, the most popular leader in the West was not Winston Churchill, but British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The Europeans adored Chamberlain for his 1938 deal at Munich with Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader, however, played Chamberlain for a fool. Diplomacy not only failed to stop Hitler, it gave him more time to unleash his campaign of conquest and genocide.

Like Hitler, Mr. Ahmadinejad is a messianic revolutionary. The Iranian leader will stop at nothing to acquire the bomb. This is why diplomacy will not work; he will only use it to further his destructive, apocalyptic goals. By embarking on a policy of direct negotiations instead of containment and military intervention, Mr. Obama would put America in grave peril.

The real vigilance of American national security will not win accolades across the globe. Europeans, Russians, Chinese and Turks are weary of the war on terror. This is why they support Mr. Obama and despise Mr. McCain. They hope a combination of law enforcement, diplomacy, sanctions, greater sensitivity to Muslim concerns and multicultural outreach - "soft power" in the current jargon - will dissipate the Islamist threat. It won't. It will only embolden the jihadists. And like Chamberlain, Mr. Obama would then fall from the heights of popularity to the depths of infamy.

Voters would be wise to remember: World adulation is no substitute for principled, effective leadership.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times.