Claiming a place in history before the ink was dry on the previous administration, President Obama came to office soaring on the wings of his own charisma and self-regard. To Berlin he had gone during the campaign, in mimicry of JFK, but only in style; the substance was utterly lacking. To Egypt he went during the early days, to promise that things would be different because He was now running things. To Russia – the crotchety bear of Eastern Europe, the great bane of freedom-loving peoples in the post-Soviet empire whose demise its KGB agent-turned perpetual president still laments – he promised a “reset” in relations.
History smiled on our law professor turned president, and offered him the softballs of revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Libya. All he had to do was what America has always done: lead in defense of freedom, stand with the oppressed. Instead, he demurred. Or, as his staff put it, he led “from behind.” Surely the Czechs today rejoice that Havel chose to lead from the front. As did Reagan and Thatcher, who are loved because they envisioned the world the way it could be: without the Soviet Union. Their vision lit the fire that drove the Soviets onto history’s ash heap.
In complete contrast, however, the results of Mr. Obama’s leadership abroad speak for themselves. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood ascends to lead and Mr. Obama has no response. In Iran the mullahs remain ensconced and determined to nuclearize, and Mr. Obama pursues more failed sanctions. In Libya, leading from behind produced a political vacuum and a revolution without direction. In the near East, the Poles are naked after our president removed the warm blanket of our missile shield, the Georgians lay helpless as the Russian bear slowly makes its way towards their border. As with so many of Mr. Obama’s hapless forays abroad, the advertised “reset” has served only to undermine our moral authority, credibility, and influence with foreign leaders most fearful of freedom’s spread.
But rest assured, we are told, our president is leading from behind, behind the force field of his charisma, and his Tele-Prompter. Such charisma has proven hollow for the despondent lovers of freedom in North Korea, Egypt, Iran, and Eastern Europe, and the Christians in China, Palestine, and Egypt. To their defense Mr. Obama has not come, their persecution he has not bothered to mention. Religious freedom has no constituency in the Obama administration foreign policy.
Thus far, Mr. Obama’s mark on the world amounts to a few self-serving speeches in foreign capitals and a hasty retreat from difficult wars abroad in the name of domestic political appeasement. America has found its Chamberlain, a man who promises peace in our time while avoiding the entrenched challenges foreign and domestic. We cannot interrogate terrorists at Guantanamo Bay so we simply kill them, even American citizens. We cannot drill for oil domestically or utilize Canada’s oil via the Keystone pipeline, so we pay Russia and Saudi Arabia for oil and invest in failed green schemes here at home. We cannot get serious about the southern border, so we send guns to Mexican cartels that are used to kill our own border agents. And so on. Yet after so much failure, there is something very simple, powerful, and non-partisan Mr. Obama can do.
As the world pauses to note the passing of one year, and the dawn of another, its persecuted people long to hear from the American president a message of hope and encouragement in the midst of their persecution. Religious persecution is rampant in places like Egypt, Afghanistan, China, and Saudi Arabia. As a man who professes a Christian faith and love of freedom, the world needs Mr. Obama to heed the message of Mr. Havel and Ms. Thatcher. He too must, as they did, summon the courage and conviction to speak and act boldly in support of the religious and political freedom that we hold dear, and the world’s oppressed long for. The American people, and the world, will rally to support him if he does. Happy New Year, Mr. President.