Cliff May

Punditry is easy. Policy is hard. OK, to be fair, writing articles and speeches that are powerful and persuasive is a demanding job. But crafting sound policy adds layers of complexity.

Example: President Kennedy pledged that Americans will "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Very inspiring. But try translating that into policies toward Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Russia, China, Venezuela and Burma. That's tough.

Policies can solve one problem and exacerbate others. An argument can be made for shutting down oil refineries in the U.S. to improve the environment. But if that makes Americans more dependent on foreign oil, our national security is weakened. If it leads to higher gasoline prices, that places an economic burden on businesses, their employees and their families. Speechwriters and editorialists can ignore such tradeoffs; policy makers do so at the nation's peril.

It is a fact, not a criticism, that President Barack Obama is a neophyte foreign policy maker. During his short but spectacularly successful political career he has given speeches about foreign policy - and powerful and persuasive have those speeches been. Not surprisingly, translating fine phrases into action has proven challenging.

Example: During last year's campaign, Obama told crowds: "I recall what John F. Kennedy once said. We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate." Indeed, we should not - but that begs the question: How do we negotiate with hostile and extremist regimes and reach beneficial outcomes? What do we offer? What do we threaten?

Just a few weeks ago, Obama's advisors could argue - plausibly if wrongly -- that Iran was relatively democratic, and that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei enjoyed widespread popular support within Iran.

However, the blatantly fraudulent election results announced by the regime, the mass demonstrations that followed, and the regime's despotic response - scores killed, mass arrests, beatings, government goons "trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods," and dragging wounded protestors from their hospital beds -- reveals a reality very different from what those advisors had perceived.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.