Détente and the Bunker
How to oppose a president’s disastrous foreign policy.
by Elliott Abrams
10/12/2009, Volume 015, Issue 04
The appearance in Washington last week of Iran’s foreign minister, while the blood is not yet dry from his government’s continuing suppression of student protests, is a reminder of the disastrous foreign policy path the Obama administration has chosen. Not so long ago, proponents of a stronger U.S. foreign policy faced a similar policy of weakness and accommodation. The 1970s saw some pretty dark days of “détente”–when Gerald Ford refused to see Alexander Solzhenitsyn; when the United States allowed Cuban troops to flow into Angola; and when, in the single year of 1979, Jimmy Carter watched a small band of would-be commies take Grenada, the Sandinistas take Nicaragua, and the Soviets go into Afghanistan–not to mention the shah’s fall and the Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover of Iran.
One begins to wonder how far we will drift into a new period of generalized disaster. In Honduras, we back the Hugo Chávez acolyte and say we won’t respect November’s free elections. In Israel, we latch on to the bizarre theory that settlement growth is the key obstacle to Middle East peace and try to bludgeon a newly elected prime minister into a freeze that is politically impossible–and also useless in actually achieving a peace settlement. In Eastern Europe, we discard a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czechs and leave them convinced we do not mean to fight off Russian hegemony in the former Soviet sphere.
Manouchehr Mottaki, foreign minister of Iran, visited Washington, as noted, after such visits had been forbidden for a
decade. High-ranking American officials have made six visits to Syria, even while the government of Iraq and our commanding general there complain of Syrian support for murderous jihadists. The highest ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in decades recently toured Castro’s tropical paradise. The president won’t see the Dalai Lama, however, for fear of offending the Chinese.
See a pattern here? The president’s U.N. General Assembly speech tied all this together, perhaps unintentionally: Talk of allies and enemies and national interests was absent. Getting something for concessions we make is contrary to the new spirit of engagement. The president, transcending all such anachronisms, poses as the representative of . . . the world. So why would his country treat friends better than foes, and why would we bargain for reciprocal concessions? So old fashioned, so Cold War.