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Obama's big learning curve
May 21, 2008
By Anne Bayefsky
‘It’s terrorism, stupid." Nothing short of blunt talk will do in light of Sen. Barack Obama ‘s comments this past week on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. They are the most significant indication todate of the looming catastrophe for American national security posed by an Obama presidency.
Here is Obama in his own words, speaking in Pendleton, Oregon on Sunday night: "Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. In Iran they spend 1/100th of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance."
How does one begin a course for a presidential candidate in Terrorism 101? Where has Obama been for the past three decades during which the greatest threats to peace and security have moved beyond the sphere of state actors operating alone? After 9/11, why doesn’t Obama recognize the capacity of relatively small entities to wreak havoc, at comparatively little cost, on a nation as large and strong as America?
Despite Obama’s claim to be a foreign-policy realist, his fancy foreign-policy footwork contains as much realpolitik as a dancing sugar-plum fairy. Obama is keen to explain his hankering for a nearly heart-to-heart with Iranian President Ahmadinejad – with whom he would "be willing to meet separately, without precondition during the first year of [his] administration" or his desire to engage in "direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." His strategy so far has been to deny the undeniable transaction costs of an unconditioned presidential get-together: the undeserved legitimacy conferred on a would-be mass murderer, the time lost while a nuclear-weapons program continues in full swing, and the betrayal of brave local dissenters.
"Tiny" and not "serious" move us another step closer to the edge. The unfortunate reality is that Iran not only poses a serious threat already, but it does stand a chance of carrying out its dire program. Ahmadinejad, in addition to his professed affinity for genocide, is funding terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza who believe they have started the job and are committed to finishing it. The message Obama sends in denying that Iran has"tried to pose a serious threat to us" is that a grave threat to the peace and security of Israel is not a threat to the peace and security of the United States. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, of "Israel Lobby" fame, would be proud. But even the anti-nuclear-anything activists in the Democratic party should begin to worry about a president who thinks the consequences of an Iranian nuclear strike on Israel can be confined to the locals.
Official U.S. policy holds Iran to be a state sponsor of terrorism, along with Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Not only has Iran tried, and is trying, to pose a serious threat to us, in some ways it is a greater threat than that posed by the Soviet Union. The terrorist organizations or non-state actors whom these rogue states sponsor are not subject to the same economic and political pressures that could be brought to bear on the Soviet Union. Madmen and religious fanatics driven by a belief in the imminent reappearance of the 12th Imam following worldwide chaos, or visions of virgins in post-suicidal heaven,or who just hate us more than they love their children, are not susceptible to the rational calculus of Mikhail Gorbachev.
But according to his recently reported conversation with New York Times columnist David Brooks, Obama believes the problem with Hamas and Hezbollah is that the poor things don’t "understand that they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims." We need to hear more about where in the governing Hamas Charter (with its overt anti-Semitism and manifest dedication to the destruction of Israel), and Hezbollah’s takeover plans for Lebanon, Obama finds legitimate claims. And the solution according to Obama? "The U.S. needs a foreign policy that looks at root causes of problems and dangers."
Hezbollah Leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah couldn’t have said it better himself. Oh, wait: He has said it himself. Remember Iranian proxy Nasrallah in Beirut on September 30, 2006, just after he sent 4,000 rockets into Israel: "This experience of the resistance, which must be transferred to the world, relies on faith, conviction, trust, and the moral and spiritual willingness to give sacrifices. Also, it depends on the thinking, planning, organizing, training and armament, and as is said: dealing with the root causes." Surely, Obama ought to know that invoking the language of "root causes" to illuminate the behavior of Hamas and Hezbollah plays into the nefarious strategy of these terrorist organizations and their sympathizers.
How about the tiny factor? On the one hand, we could all hum tip-toeing through the tulips along with Obama and Tiny Tim. On the other hand, we might cast our minds back to "tiny" anthrax envelopes or think about "tiny" suitcase bombs or "tiny" nanotechnology innovations in chemical and biological weapons. I also wonder how all those developing countries, allegedly ready to embrace us once again with a President Obama, will enjoy the big boy’s view of their tiny status.
Coming from a man who aspires to bear the single greatest responsibility for the peace and security of the free world, the resemblance to "peace for our time" is the least of Obama’s problems. The real problem is a book with a name like "Terrorism for Dummies" would have to become bedside reading at the White House.
- Anne Bayefsky is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
She also serves as the director of the Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust.
and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org
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