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Remedial Diplomacy

The point is not to reward one’s enemies and ­punish one’s friends.

Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By SETH CROPSEY
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The Obama administration should think this one through carefully. Returning the bust of Churchill to the British embassy and snubbing Prime Minister Brown by failing to hold the traditional post-meeting press conference shortly after Obama was inaugurated last year might be dismissed as mere awkward gestures. The same could be argued about such events as Obama’s initial unwillingness to meet with the Dalai Lama. It cannot be said of breaking agreements to base U.S. ballistic missile defense systems on the territory of such good friends as Poland and the Czech Republic—or supporting Hugo Chávez’s Honduran ruler colleague who sought illegally to continue his term in office, or scaring off friendly and important segments of Lebanese society by seeking accommodation with Syria, which remains implacably hostile to the United States. 

No. With qualified exceptions such as Afghanistan and the credit the administration has begun to claim for progress in Iraq, the Obama administration’s foreign policy seeks to jettison the United States’ traditional vision of itself as an agent of democratic political change and replace it with the goal of becoming the prime international mediator. The administration’s calculation is that discarding erstwhile friends will moderate current adversaries as it prevents the rise of future ones. Such policy is absurd so long as the United States remains a democracy and the object of envy for its economic and military power. Seeking to become the global arbitrator makes even less sense if U.S. power declines, since the critical element in international mediation is the ability to enforce one’s will. 

The unfolding Falklands dispute crystallizes the tension within the administration between its ambition to become the great international mediator and its practical understanding that our security depends importantly on success in Afghanistan and Iraq. Britain is our closest international partner. Britain’s leaders have demonstrated this association at their own political risk by supporting us in Iraq and continuing to support us in Afghanistan despite the British public’s misgivings about both. We need their help if the NATO coalition in Afghanistan is to succeed. They should be rewarded, not punished, for siding with us. 

At the same time the Obama administration is bending over backwards—as Secretary of State Clinton’s support for the Argentine president shows—to prove our credentials for impartiality, oddly, with a South American leader who is close to Hugo Chávez. Last fall Chávez said publicly that he would be happy to supply Iran with uranium. He will if he can find any. It’s a strange position, dis-respecting the allies who are helping us destroy radical Islamists and playing up to Argentine politicians who are thick with another Latin American caudillo, one who is in cahoots with the most dangerous of the Islamists. 

Mollifying China, Russia, Syria, Iran, or Latin American demagogues will earn the United States nothing but their disdain. It will not change their ambitions. Obama needs to decide whether he wants steadfast allies or an international atmosphere in which contempt for the United States unites our adversaries with our erstwhile friends. Remembering that Britain is our closest ally would be a good place to start.



Seth Cropsey is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as deputy undersecretary of the Navy.



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