WASHINGTON -- When Barack Obama went to Cairo in June 2009, he was lauded for seeking "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." His speech was spiked with apologies for what he believes are past American errors and omissions and peppered with Utopian calls for "peace in the Middle East," a "world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons" and upholding "the richness of religious diversity." The president also boldly proclaimed himself to be "a student of history." But two years on, it appears he has not learned some of history's lessons very well.
Obama must have missed the lesson "What To Say and When" in Presidency 101. Harry Truman missed it, too. In January 1950, with Mao Zedong and the communists triumphant in China, Secretary of State Dean Acheson pointedly omitted the Republic of Korea from the Truman administration's Asian "defensive perimeter." They were listening in Pyongyang and Beijing. Six months later, the Korean People's Army assaulted across the 38th parallel and plunged the world into the Korean War -- at the cost of more than 36,000 American lives.
In October 1956, in the midst of Hungarian protests against Soviet occupation troops, President Dwight Eisenhower erred by allowing his administration to say too much. He raised popular hopes by having his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, bring the matter before the United Nations Security Council. When the U.S. government's Radio Free Europe broadcast appeals for the Hungarian people to join the resistance and fight for liberation, they did. Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev responded with 17 Soviet armored, mechanized and infantry divisions to crush the rebellion. Nearly 3,000 were killed.
Jimmy Carter's presidency was a cascade of national security catastrophes precipitated by saying too much at the wrong time. On New Year's Eve going into 1978, he toasted the Shah of Iran at a state dinner in Tehran as "an island of stability." By August, the president was demanding "immediate, free and fair elections in Iran." On Jan. 16, 1979, the shah fled to Egypt, and two weeks later, Carter's ambassador in Tehran described Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as a "Gandhi-like figure." Days later, after the ayatollah was declared "supreme ruler," a Carter administration spokesman described the "holy man" to be a person of "impeccable integrity." On Nov. 4, Iranian "students," supported by Khomeini's 5-month-old Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, sacked the U.S. Embassy and took 56 American citizens hostage. They were held for 444 days. We still are living with the consequences.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.