When President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, it was awarded "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." His vision of global citizens, a world without nuclear weapons, unconditional talks with America's staunchest foes, and constitutional rights for detained al Qaeda terrorists and other foreigners appealed to countless idealists worldwide.
Yet despite White House lofty goals for global peace and harmony, it seems that tyrants in places like Syria, Iran, Ukraine, North Korea, Venezuela and beyond didn't get the memo. Or perhaps if they did, they got a good laugh before tossing it into the wastebasket.
In Syria, Bashar Assad's dictatorship has killed more than 130,000 people, drove out 2.4 million refugees who are destabilizing neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and, to a lesser extent, Turkey, while internally displacing another 6.5 million. Calling Mr. Obama's bluff on his "red line" threat over Mr. Assad's use of chemical weapons, Russian President Vladmir Putin's resolve to protect the Damascus regime combined with U.S. domestic skepticism over a half-baked plan for limited military action ensured nothing happened. The Syrians still have the chemical weapons.
In Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's dictatorship ruthlessly cracked down on pro-democracy protestors in the 2009 "Green Revolution," killing dozens and jailing thousands, ensuring the regime could keep exporting a radical Islam-themed global revolution to challenge U.S. and Western power. Iran's Basij paramilitary forces used rooftop snipers and civilian-clothed thugs to infiltrate the ranks of protesters, killing a young Iranian woman named Neda in the streets of Tehran in a cold-blooded murder symbolizing Tehran's brutality. Today the so-called "moderates" continue to pursue a nuclear weapon — emboldened by the practically worthless Geneva II accord that doesn't even address missile technology or weapons development. They've also threatened to sink U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, deployed their own warships to the Atlantic, and still execute homosexuals just for being gay. Where's Amnesty International when you need them?
In Ukraine, Russian-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych has been forced out by European Union-friendly mass protests in Kiev. The protests that left nearly 100 dead were sparked when Mr. Yanukovych scrapped a trade agreement with the EU designed to lift Ukraine out of abject poverty, and instead took a Vladimir Putin-orchestrated $15 billion loan, plus promise of cheaper gas and oil. Former EU-friendly Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has re-emerged as a power player in Ukraine's future, having just been freed from jail, where Mr. Yanukovych sent her shortly after he took power. At the heart of Ukraine's problem are bad economic policies, corruption and strangulating regulations, placing it at No. 155 on the Heritage Foundation's world index of economic freedom. The northwestern Ukrainian-speaking population favors the EU free-market system, while the southwestern Russian-speaking population apparently favors Moscow's kleptocracy. What has Team Obama done? They've "warned" Russia to stay out, yet Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland's recent f-word slur directed at the EU was far more prominent.
In North Korea, Kim Jong Un continues his iron grip on the nuclear-armed regime, most recently executing the country's next top official, his Uncle Jang Song-Thaek — and his entire family. This month, a nearly 400-page U.N. report on North Korean human rights accused the regime of "political camps, selective starvation, torture and execution." Pyongyang has also provided to missile technology to Iran, missiles which can strike Israel, Turkey and Egypt today and America in the future. What has Team Obama done? Well, there's that pivot Asia — not that Pyongyang has noticed.
In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro inherited the Hugo Chavez regime and has not disappointed Chavistas in turning a democracy into a dictatorship by further dismantling democratic institutions. They've cracked down on mass student protests, killing scores, featuring Iranian Basij-inspired tactics for demonstration-busting, with "colectivos" or armed gangs on motorcycles shooting protesters. Fearing the truth will spread about skyrocketing crime, curtailed freedom of speech, plus endless shortages of food and basic hygiene staples like toilet paper and toothpaste, Mr. Maduro kicked out international television networks like Colombia's NTN-24, CNN International and CNN Espanol. Since Chavez's election in 1999, the attack on the business sector has ensured Venezuelans remain cash-poor, despite vast petroleum reserves. Not surprisingly, they are ranked No. 175 on the economic freedom index. What has the White House done? It has expressed "concern."
What's the lesson here?
While pursuit of global peace is inherently an honorable goal, the effort must be grounded in reality, not sentimental fantasy. When tyrants in aggressive nations and non-state terror networks like al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hezbollah see peace overtures based on trust primarily as an opportunity to regroup and rearm, they are not worthy negotiating partners. There is no substitute for strength in world affairs, and regrettably, this White House seems to prefer projecting weakness.
J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009.