It’s been a busy and momentous fortnight. As we celebrated Christmas and prepare for 2012, the world said a warm goodbye to Vaclav Havel, and a bitter good riddance to Kim Jong Il. Also, political observers noted the passing of legendary essayist Christopher Hitchens, and glimpsed a cinematic preview of the upcoming Margaret Thatcher movie.
For Havel’s contributions, the Czech people enjoy a democratic republic, free of the Soviet menace. For Hitchens’ contributions, atheism was momentarily in vogue and the Iraq war found an eloquent defender. For Mr. Jong Il’s contributions, millions are dead, millions more are starving, and nuclear technology was exported to Syria and Iran. For Maggie Thatcher’s contributions, the British resurrected their economy and helped bring down the Evil Empire.
Of these, three were world leaders, two were champions of liberty. The latter provide useful instruction for those in power today. In different ways, Margaret Thatcher and Vaclav Havel bore witness to the consequence of supporting freedom at home and abroad, and demonstrated that convictions produce beneficent consequences. In America, this is sometimes true.
Reagan brought morning to America, death to the Soviet Union, and hope to the persecuted everywhere. “Tear down this wall!” became the freedom cry of a generation. The Clinton presidency, in contrast, was said to be a vacation from history. Rather than set the course of world events or stand for grand ideas, President Clinton reacted to them and reacted too late: to Bosnia, to Islamic terrorism, to Rwanda, to the Lewinsky affair. “I did not have sex with that woman” became the mocking tag line of an inconsequential presidency.
9/11 woke America up, and history was upon us. The War on Terror changed the terms of the terrorism debate – America entered the contest and took the fight to the enemy on the enemy’s territory, but on America’s terms. Led by President Bush, our soldiers and diplomats, America enabled the birth of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan at great and tragic cost. Across the globe, the message was sent: America cares about freedom outside its shores, and will support those who labor for it.
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.