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NORTH: Failure to launch

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COMMENTARY:

From the day Barack Obama wrested the presidential nomination from Hillary Rodham Clinton, his campaign became, according to those who were running it, "inevitable."

Even before winning the election, he began assembling a much-vaunted "Team of Rivals" to guide U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Though his running mate, then-Sen. Joe Biden predicted, "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama," and warned it would be "an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy," we were assured the Obama administration would be ready on "Day One." Apparently, that's not the case.

In the days since the most expensive Inaugural in history, the "Rivals" have delivered a performance more akin to that of venal, self-serving, steroid-popping Major League Baseball players. Their promise to "focus like a laser" on the economy has produced "stimulus legislation" that even New York's Sen. Charles Schumer describes as "Porky." The "bank bailout" briefing proffered last week by tax-dodging Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was so confusing and short on details that the stock market tanked - again. That's only what the so-called mainstream media deemed worthy of coverage or comment.

Few of the potentates of the press have even bothered to report on the national security setbacks and missed opportunities that the "Ready On Day One" crowd has already delivered. Unfortunately for the new administration, few of these reversals can be blamed on their predecessors.

Since becoming president, Mr. Obama has repeatedly pledged a "new era of cooperation" with the rest of the world. Presumably this means the United States won't play the part of "superpower" any more.

It now appears there are those who aim to test his sincerity - and do so in ways that are not at all in our national interests.

Last week, Pakistan - which Mr. Obama offered to bomb during his campaign - responded to the new "kinder and gentler" overtures from Washington by releasing from detention the world's most notorious nuclear proliferator, Dr. A.Q. Khan. After masterminding Islamabad's nuclear weapons program, Dr. Khan used his "network" to help Libya, North Korea and Iran acquire nuclear weapons technology and components. He has been under "house arrest" since 2004 when Bush administration weapons of mass destruction sleuths and quiet diplomacy convinced Moammar Gadhafi to reveal his supplier. That was then and this is now. Just to make sure we - and the U.N.'s toothless International Atomic Energy Agency - got the message, the Pakistanis made it clear that Dr. Khan is now "free to travel" and resume his "research."

The "New Approach" in Washington has produced similar results in other capitals. Less than a week after Vice President Biden told NATO and European Union diplomats in Munich that Mr. Obama wanted to "push the reset button" on Russian-American diplomacy, and reduce U.S. nuclear weapons "by 80 percent" - Moscow responded with some "new initiatives" of its own.

More than a week ago, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, widely viewed as a puppet of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, convinced Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to reject American offers to renew a lucrative lease on the U.S.-built Manas Airbase outside the capital, Bishkek.

Since 2001, the Manas "Airhead" had been crucial to U.S. and NATO forces operating in Afghanistan. It is even more so today since the Taliban interdicted the overland route from Pakistan to Kabul. The next day, Moscow agreed to allow U.S. shipments of "nonlethal supplies" through Russian territory into Afghanistan over a route closed after Russia invaded Georgia last summer.

Just to make sure the "New Team" in Washington is paying attention, last Monday, Mr. Putin met with Cuba's new dictator Raul Castro. Despite Russia's ongoing currency crisis, the collapse of the Moscow stock exchange and falling oil prices, Mr. Putin cobbled together a deal the Castro brothers are glad to get - a new financial aid package. According to press reports in Moscow and Havana, the Russians have promised $270 million in "loans" and $37 million in Russian commodities such as grain and "commercial aircraft." Unmentioned by either country is what the Russians expect in return.

A former U.S. intelligence official warns: "The Russians never give anything away for nothing. With them, everything is a quid pro quo. Keep an eye on Lourdes." The location referred to was a Soviet signals-intelligence site south of Havana used for "listening" to U.S. defense and NASA communications. On Oct. 17, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced its closure.

None of this bodes well for the first few weeks of the new administration. Hopefully, none of the "over-promising" domestically or damaging diplomacy overseas is on an irreversible downward trajectory. In an increasingly unstable and dangerous world, the much hyped "New Way" of dealing with friends and adversaries has thus far, failed to launch.

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on the Fox News Channel, the author of "American Heroes" and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

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