The murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya on Wednesday is the direct consequence of President Obama's weakness as a leader. His administration's support of Islamist uprisings across the Middle East has led to a destabilized region where radical anti-Americanism is running rampant. The images being transmitted across the planet today give a glimpse of what the world looks like absent strong U.S. leadership in international affairs: Rioting mobs ripping down the American flag from our embassy in Cairo and a diplomat's brutalized body being dragged through the streets of Benghazi. These are not isolated incidents but the predictable result of four years of Mr. Obama meekly trying to "lead from behind."
Machiavelli famously wrote that it "is much safer to be feared than loved." For most of the past century, the United States has pursued consistent policies so Washington didn't have to choose between the two and simultaneously generated feelings of love for the freedom we espoused and fear for the consequences of raising our ire. The loyalty shown to Americans by nations freed from communist oppression behind the Iron Curtain is an example of the respect our country gained by consistently standing against tyranny anywhere in the world.
Libya in the 1980s is a perfect example of the respect gained by making evildoers pay the price for provoking the most powerful nation on Earth. After Americans were killed in terrorist attacks in Europe, more than 30 U.S. warplanes were launched to hammer targets in Tripoli and Benghazi. Hellfire poured down on military targets and command centers holding those responsible for backing the terrorists who caused the American deaths. In the reprisal, which was conducted in April 1986, Moammar Gadhafi's daughter was killed, his sons were wounded and the Libyan dictator himself was reportedly injured. President Reagan went on national television after the raid and announced unapologetically, "When our citizens are abused or attacked anywhere in the world, we will respond in self-defense. Today we have done what we had to do. If necessary, we shall do it again." Message delivered.
With members of his family, close entourage and senior advisers dead, Gadhafi disappeared from the world stage for a long time and eventually re-emerged seeking reconciliation and engagement with America and the West. Gadhafi experienced firsthand what should happen when innocent U.S. citizens are targeted, and subsequently his days as one of the leading supporters of global terrorism were over. This is how bad actors respond when a superpower shows toughness and resolve tempered by principle.
Paris also felt the brunt of getting in the way of American justice. After refusing flyover rights to our warplanes, adding thousands of miles to the retaliatory trip, the French embassy in Tripoli was accidentally bombed in a snafu eerily similar to the "mistaken" bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. After that hit, it was later disclosed that Beijing's diplomats had been hiding Serbian intelligence units inside the embassy and that the People's Republic of China (PRC) had been supplying anti-aircraft batteries to the Serbs to use against U.S. aircraft. (Libya, incidentally, served as the middleman for these missiles.) The lesson to take away from these events should be clear: America can hit anyone, any time, anywhere, so don't mess with us.
Fast forward to 2012. The U.S. foreign-policy apparatus is under the control of Barack Hussein Obama, and America is neither feared nor respected. In fact, America is getting walked all over. Not only are U.S. installations under attack in the Muslim world, there are Russian submarines patrolling our coast in the Gulf, our southern border is crossed at will by Mexican drug gangs, Iran's program to obtain nuclear weapons is unimpeded, and the secretary of state is jilted on an official visit to China, which happened last week. This is what logically follows from the policies implemented by Mr. Obama, such as pandering to Islam, instituting unilateral cuts to our nuclear arsenal, blathering about pushing a nonsensical reset button with Moscow, bestowing de-facto amnesty to illegal aliens, giving the mullahs a little wink and nod, publicly bowing to the PRC president and refusing to come to the aid of our allies when they are threatened by the mob. With every step, Mr. Obama has undermined America's power position.
When he was running for president four years ago, then-Sen. Obama was photographed conspicuously carrying a copy of "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria, the now-disgraced plagiarist who enthusiastically posited that, "The distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance." Such a shift is not inevitable but rather is the result of bad political decisions. Like Mr. Obama, President Jimmy Carter was embarrassed by U.S. power and retreated from our pre-eminent position as the bold, muscular leader of the free world. The result was national humiliation: In 1979, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was killed by radicals in Kabul and the U.S. embassy was overrun in Tehran. If this week's tragic murder of Ambassador Stevens and the attacks on our embassy in Cairo spark flashbacks of the disastrous Carter presidency, it's no accident. America is a target when weak presidents occupy the White House.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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