- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009


President Obama recently told the United Nations that the era of George W. Bush’s foreign policy was over and that he is taking a bold new approach to international diplomacy and dealing with the world’s troublemakers.

He declared that he has ended Mr. Bush’s policy of conducting aggressive interrogation techniques against some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, that he is closing down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, that he ended the war in Iraq and that he’s determined to defeat the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan.

But much of the president’s speech was filled with pomp, exaggeration, political posturing and over-the-top promises that he is going to have a hard time fulfilling - from climate change to persuading the world’s thugs and despots to abandon their nuclear threats and be nice to their neighbors.

Ending “enhanced interrogation” methods, which intelligence reports tell us have yielded critical information about al Qaeda’s operations and foiled terrorist plots against us, certainly isn’t going to make the United States or the world safer. To the contrary, the terrorists couldn’t be happier to hear this, and no doubt some of the U.N. member nations that harbor terrorists or support them were applauding Mr. Obama the loudest.

Other changes on the terrorist front would move a number of detainees through the U.S. court system, where, presumably, their rights can be better protected, resulting in prolonged, if not endless, litigation - but to what end?

As for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, eight months into his presidency, it is still open and operating and detaining some very dangerous people who should never be let out - which was Mr. Bush’s policy and which we now learn Mr. Obama apparently has embraced.

Indeed, The Washington Post reported last week that the Obama administration “has decided not to seek legislation to establish a new system of preventive detention to hold terrorism suspects and will instead rely on a 2001 [Bush era] congressional resolution authorizing military force against al Qaeda and the Taliban to continue to detain people indefinitely and without charge.”

But the Obama administration - against the advice of its top intelligence advisers - has begun an investigation into the CIA’s interrogations under Mr. Bush’s presidency, with the inherent threat of criminal prosecution. That has plunged morale among our best intelligence officers, but no doubt has improved it among the terrorists.

Despite Mr. Obama’s repeated claims that he has ended the Iraq war - or at least America’s participation in it - the fact remains that America’s role there was in the process of winding down at the end of the Bush presidency. The United States and Iraq already had worked out a troop-withdrawal schedule as Mr. Obama was preparing to take office, and to a large degree, it was the Iraqi government that accelerated that process.

In effect, the Iraq war that Mr. Bush handed off to Mr. Obama was all but over, U.S. troops were being redeployed, al Qaeda attacks had plummeted, the Nouri al-Maliki government was arguably more secure, and Iraqi military forces were fully in charge, with U.S. backup as needed.

Afghanistan now looms as the greatest national-security test of Mr. Obama’s presidency. U.S. forces liberated Afghans from the Taliban during the Bush era, and Mr. Bush installed a friendly pro-Western government. But the Taliban have come roaring back since Mr. Obama came into office, and he is, for all intents and purposes, pursuing Mr. Bush’s existing military policies to stabilize that nation by adding more troops to the fight.

When the war in Iraq was going badly, Mr. Bush gave Gen. David H. Petraeus the funds and forces he needed to defeat al Qaeda. Now Mr. Obama faces the same decision in Afghanistan that Mr. Bush faced in Iraq: whether to agree to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s request for up to 40,000 more troops or else lose the war.

Gen. Petraeus and the rest of the Pentagon’s top brass have endorsed the request, but Mr. Obama has publicly expressed his doubts about a wider war and has delayed a decision until he can complete a further review.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama said his Afghan war strategy would be “stronger and smarter.” Last week, doubts were beginning to creep into his mind. “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” he asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Elsewhere on his global agenda, things are looking more dangerous than ever since he has taken office. North Korea has grown far more belligerent and dangerous, firing off missiles that threaten its neighbors and possibly the United States. Iran continues apace with its nuclear ambitions and its short-range and midrange missile program. Russia scored a major victory by getting Mr. Obama to kill the anti-missile installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that it opposed.

Indeed, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be getting more than he hoped from Mr. Obama, who has proposed slashing President Reagan’s visionary Strategic Defense Initiative program by 15 percent.

Mr. Obama talked big in his U.N. speech, but the foreign-policy threats that loom on the horizon are growing bigger.

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.

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