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Debacle in Moscow

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, October 16, 2009

About the only thing more comical than Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was the reaction of those who deemed the award "premature," as if the brilliance of Obama's foreign policy is so self-evident and its success so assured that if only the Norway Five had waited a few years, his Nobel worthiness would have been universally acknowledged.

To believe this, you have to be a dreamy adolescent (preferably Scandinavian and a member of the Socialist International) or an indiscriminate imbiber of White House talking points. After all, this was precisely the spin on the president's various apology tours through Europe and the Middle East: National self-denigration -- excuse me, outreach and understanding -- is not meant to yield immediate results; it simply plants the seeds of good feeling from which foreign policy successes shall come.

Chauncey Gardiner could not have said it better. Well, at nine months, let's review.

What's come from Obama holding his tongue while Iranian demonstrators were being shot and from his recognizing the legitimacy of a thug regime illegitimately returned to power in a fraudulent election? Iran cracks down even more mercilessly on the opposition and races ahead with its nuclear program.

What's come from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking human rights off the table on a visit to China and from Obama's shameful refusal to see the Dalai Lama (a postponement, we are told)? China hasn't moved an inch on North Korea, Iran or human rights. Indeed, it's pushing with Russia to dethrone the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

What's come from the new-respect-for-Muslims Cairo speech and the unprecedented pressure on Israel for a total settlement freeze? "The settlement push backfired," reports The Post, and Arab-Israeli peace prospects have "arguably regressed."

And what's come from Obama's single most dramatic foreign policy stroke -- the sudden abrogation of missile defense arrangements with Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia had virulently opposed? For the East Europeans it was a crushing blow, a gratuitous restoration of Russian influence over a region that thought it had regained independence under American protection.

But maybe not gratuitous. Surely we got something in return for selling out our friends. Some brilliant secret trade-off to get strong Russian support for stopping Iran from going nuclear before it's too late? Just wait and see, said administration officials, who then gleefully played up an oblique statement by President Dmitry Medvedev a week later as vindication of the missile defense betrayal.

The Russian statement was so equivocal that such a claim seemed a ridiculous stretch at the time. Well, Clinton went to Moscow this week to nail down the deal. What did she get?

"Russia Not Budging on Iran Sanctions; Clinton Unable to Sway Counterpart." Such was The Post headline's succinct summary of the debacle.

Note how thoroughly Clinton was rebuffed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that "threats, sanctions and threats of pressure" are "counterproductive." Note: It's not just sanctions that are worse than useless, but even the threat of mere pressure.

It gets worse. Having failed to get any movement from the Russians, Clinton herself moved -- to accommodate the Russian position! Sanctions? What sanctions? "We are not at that point yet," she averred. "That is not a conclusion we have reached . . . it is our preference that Iran work with the international community."

But wait a minute. Didn't Obama say in July that Iran had to show compliance by the G-20 summit in late September? And when that deadline passed, did he not then warn Iran that it would face "sanctions that have bite" and that it would have to take "a new course or face consequences"?

Gone with the wind. It's the United States that's now retreating from its already flimsy position of just three weeks ago. We're not doing sanctions now, you see. We're back to engagement. Just as the Russians suggest.

Henry Kissinger once said that the main job of Anatoly Dobrynin, the perennial Soviet ambassador to Washington, was to tell the Kremlin leadership that whenever they received a proposal from the United States that appeared disadvantageous to the United States, not to assume it was a trick.

No need for a Dobrynin today. The Russian leadership, hardly believing its luck, needs no interpreter to understand that when the Obama team clownishly rushes in bearing gifts and "reset" buttons, there is nothing ulterior, diabolical, clever or even serious behind it. It is amateurishness, wrapped in naivete, inside credulity. In short, the very stuff of Nobels.

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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