- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Historian Bernard Lewis has observed that a nation can make few mistakes worse than to be “harmless as an enemy, and treacherous as a friend.” Is that a fair characterization of American foreign policy under the Obama administration?

Start with Honduras, which has been a stable and valuable ally for two decades. Recently, President Manuel Zelaya attempted to subvert his country’s laws and democratic institutions in pursuit of the kind power enjoyed by such left-wing and anti-American strongmen as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega.

Honduras’ Supreme Court stood up to Mr. Zelaya — eventually ordering the military to remove him from office. Honduras’ Congress voted to install a new president, Roberto Micheletti, the next in line under Honduras’ constitution, and a member of the same Liberal Party to which Mr. Zelayla belongs.

New elections, Mr. Micheletti said, should be held in November, as scheduled — or sooner if that would ease tensions. As for the decision to expel Mr. Zelaya from the country, that must be understood, he explained, “in the context of genuine fear of Mr. Zelaya’s proven willingness to violate the law and engage in mob-led violence.”

Nevertheless, President Obama was quick to denounce Mr. Zelaya’s ouster and — echoing Mr. Chavez, Mr. Castro and Mr. Ortega — demand that he be reinstated. Senior White House officials threatened sanctions if Honduras’ Legislature, courts and military refuse to do as told. More than $18 million in military and development assistance already has been suspended.

Contrast that with the White House response to the massive election fraud that recently took place in Iran: Mr. Obama said he did not want to be seen as “meddling.” He eventually did express his preference for Iran’s dissidents over those beating, arresting and killing them — though many saw his support as a day late and a dollar short.

In recent days, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to have begun to restore a modicum of coherence to the administration’s position on Honduras. She has criticized Mr. Zelaya — who last weekend set up a “government in exile” in Nicaragua — as “reckless,” and she seems to be supporting attempts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to mediate the conflict within the Honduran government.

These are not the only examples of what Mackubin Thomas Owens, editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, calls Mr. Obama’s “disturbing propensity to curry favor with our adversaries at the expense of our friends.”

The Czechs and Poles now “are rightly concerned that they will be sacrificed on the altar of better U.S. relations with Russia,” Mr. Owens wrote. “And the Israelis fear that the Obama administration’s desired opening to the Muslim world will be achieved at their expense.”

In particular, Mr. Obama has been pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make unilateral concessions to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

The predictable result: Mr. Abbas has hardened his stance. One of his deputies, Kifah Radaydeh, said in a recent television interview, “our goal has never been peace. Peace is a means; and the goal is Palestine. I do not negotiate in order to achieve peace.”

“Change” was one of Mr. Obama’s campaign themes, so he was bound to try new foreign policy approaches. He may have been misinformed about who staged a coup against whom in Honduras. He may have believed that “outreach” would be sufficient to “reset” relations with Russia, and that the prospect of “engagement” would induce Iran’s rulers to give up their nuclear ambitions. He might have thought he could persuade Palestinians to meet Israelis half-way. He may have figured that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il would rather feed his people than play with missiles, and that in a post-Bush era Mr. Chavez would be eager for rapprochement.

But in these and other cases, Mr. Obama’s policies have collided with harsh realities. If Mr. Obama is as smart as advertised, he’ll learn, and he’ll adjust. If not, America’s friends will grow colder while its enemies will grow bolder. And, over time, we will have fewer of the former and many more of the latter.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide