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The Failure of Grip-and-Grin Diplomacy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- During the presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama famously said he was willing to meet "without preconditions" with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. It was a pledge that he repeated -- with minor modifications -- throughout his campaign, and it never failed to bring forth enthusiastic applause. Last November, the voters endorsed the approach and handed him a sweeping victory. But that commitment -- like his oft-repeated promise to close Gitmo -- may prove to be our undoing.

Unfortunately for us, it wasn't just idealistic American voters who were listening to Mr. Obama's naive campaign rhetoric. So, too, were our adversaries. And now, little more than four months into his administration, it should be apparent that his grip-and-grin "I like you, and you should like me" approach to foreign policy is a potential disaster.

This week's North Korean nuclear test and flurry of ballistic missile launches should not be viewed in isolation. It is but the most recent indicator that the O-Team is out of touch with the increasingly dangerous realities of a new world disorder. Despite a string of increasingly ominous events, the Obama administration appears intent on pursuing a Rodney King "can we all get along?" national security policy.

In early February, Moscow replied to Mr. Obama's offer to "reboot" the U.S.-Russia relationship by stiffing us on a key logistics base for our troops in Afghanistan. In response, the O-Team agreed to pay exorbitant fees to ship nonlethal supplies through Russian-controlled territory for NATO troops fighting in the shadow of the Hindu Kush.

During the first week of March, military aircraft and patrol boats of the People's Liberation Army Navy forced the USNS Impeccable -- an unarmed oceanographic survey ship -- to withdraw from international waters 75 miles off the coast of Hainan Island, which is a major Chinese naval and submarine base in the South China Sea. The O-Team meekly acquiesced and promised a "diplomatic resolution." It has not worked. On May 1, little noted by the so-called mainstream media, the USNS Victorious was harassed by Chinese vessels more than 180 miles off the Chinese coast.

On April 5, the North Koreans launched a 2,000-mile-range Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan. The O-Team referred the matter to the toothless United Nations Security Council. There, Chinese and Russian emissaries, brandishing veto threats, warned against "punitive" sanctions. They are babbling about the same things now.

On April 18, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez replied to the Obama magic with a photo-op presentation of a virulently anti-American screed at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Flush with success, Chavez returned to Caracas, offered more visas and passports to Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists, and increased arms shipments to narco-insurgents in Colombia and Mexico.

The O-Team proffer of "quiet discussions" with the Taliban has yielded a spring "jihad," which threatens to overwhelm the Pakistani army and put Islamabad's nuclear arsenal at risk. In Mesopotamia, the "date certain" withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities has precipitated a spike in grisly suicide bombings and the highest American casualty counts in more than a year.

On March 20, in a "video message" to the people of Iran, Mr. Obama offered Tehran "a new beginning" and stated, "My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up April 8, promising that the U.S. would be a "full participant" with Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in renewed talks with the Iranians on that "full range of issues."

The Iranian response to these "new openings" should have been instructive. On May 20, just hours after an Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the ayatollahs replied to Mr. Obama's "outstretched hand" and offers of face-to-face bilateral meetings by launching a 1,200-mile-range, solid fuel Sajjil-2 ICBM. Five days later, Iran rejected further talks with anyone regarding its nuclear program.

This week's detonation of a nuclear device near the North Korea-Russia border -- not to mention the ripple-fire launches of ballistic missiles and Pyongyang's subsequent abrogation of the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War -- is much more than just the test of an atomic weapon. It is a test of how the West in general -- and the U.S. in particular -- will respond. Every genocidal despot is watching -- especially those ruling Iran.

Short of a military attack, there are few things left in our quiver to deter the North Koreans and Iranians from developing and deploying nuclear weapons. That does not mean nothing can be done.

Mr. Obama said again this week that his most important responsibility is "protecting the American people." If that's true, he ought to announce immediately that no company doing business of any kind with North Korea or Iran will be allowed to do business in the United States. Second, he should ask Congress to reinstate the funding for homeland ballistic missile defense he cut out of the fiscal year 2010 defense budget. Third, he should expedite the installation of ballistic missile defense radars and interceptors in Europe. Doing less is a formula for disaster.

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