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By Ralph Peters
April 8, 2009
THE real climax of President Obama's Spring Apologies Tour wasn't his photo op with our troops in Baghdad or even his "American Guilt" concerts in Western Europe.
While fans in the press cheered wildly at every venue, the real performance came in Turkey. And it was a turkey.
Obama means well. Just as Jimmy Carter, his policy godfather, meant well. But the road to embassy takeovers and strategic humiliation is paved with good intentions -- coupled with distressing naivete.
On every stage, Obama draped Lady Liberty in sackcloth and ashes, drawing plentiful applause but no serious economic or security cooperation in return. Then, in Turkey, he surrendered our national pride, undercut our interests and interfered in matters that aren't his business.
On the latter point: Suppose the European Union president went to Cuba and insisted that the world's sunniest concentration camp should be welcomed into NAFTA? That's the equivalent of what our president did in Ankara on Monday when he declared that he supports Turkey's bid for EU membership.
The Europeans don't want Turkey in their club. Because Turkey isn't a European state, nor is its culture European. And it isn't our business to press Europe to embrace a huge, truculent Muslim country suffering a creeping Islamist coup.
The Europeans were appalled by Turkey's neo-Taliban tantrum on-stage at last week's NATO summit. The Turks fought to derail the appointment of a great Dane, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, as the new NATO secretary general. Why? Because he didn't stone to death the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Mohammed.
Which brings us to the even bigger problem: Obama has no idea what's going on in Turkey. By going to Ankara on his knees, he gave his seal of approval to a pungently anti-American Islamist government bent on overturning Mustapha Kemal's legacy of the separation of mosque and state.
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, means headscarves, Korans, censorship and stacked elections. The country's alarmed middle class opposes the effort to turn the country into an Islamic state. Obama's gushing praise for the AKP's bosses left them aghast.
Obama's embrace of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now orchestrating show trials of his opponents) was one step short of going to Tehran and smooching President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
What was Obama thinking? He wasn't. He relied on advice from State Department appeasement artists who understand neither Turkey, Islam nor the crises raging between the Bosporus and the Indus. State's answer is always "More love, more humility, more aid."
Well, I, for one, don't think our country has anything to apologize for, either to Turkey or to Europe.
Insisting that America's always guilty, Obama omitted any mention of Turkey's wartime betrayals of our troops, its continuing oppression of its Kurd minority or the AKP's determination to turn a state with a secular constitution into a Wahhabi playground.
When it came to the Armenian genocide, Obama bravely ducked: He never dared use the g-word.
And Obama's disdainful remarks about President Bush were just shabby.
After those overpriced tour T-shirts have shrunk in the wash (trust me -- they will), what will we have gained from Obama's superstar act?
He told the Europeans that the global economic crisis is all our fault. No mention of European greed, overleveraged governments, destructive Euro-loans or Chinese currency manipulation. We did it. Whip us, please.
In return, the Europeans gave him . . . nothing.
Even though Obama was right when he said that Europe faces a greater terror threat than we do, the entire continent only ponied up 2,500 short-term non-combat troops for Afghanistan. The Europeans know we'll do the heavy lifting.
He gave the Russians yet another blank check, too. (Meanwhile, in Moscow, Putin's thugs beat an aging pro-democracy dissident to a pulp.) In return, the Russians promised to . . . well, actually, they didn't promise anything.
Then Obama went to Turkey, undercut secular political parties, infuriated the Europeans -- and disclaimed our country's Judeo-Christian heritage. (Did Turkey's leaders respond by denying Islam's importance to them? Naw.)
In Turkey, Obama got . . . nothing we didn't already have.
Then he went to Iraq and told its prime minister that Iraq would get nothing.
I believe that our president wants to do the right thing. But he doesn't have a clue how. For now, he's enraptured by the applause. But he hasn't tried to charge his fans for their tickets. And they've already made up their minds they won't have to pay.
By DANIEL HENNINGER
Apr 9, 2009
Today is Holy Thursday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews. This week was an opportune time for President Barack Obama to visit Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, which has been both a Byzantine church and Islamic mosque. In Turkey he spoke of seeking engagement with Islam based on "mutual respect."
The subject of this column is the status of minority faith groups, mostly Christian, living inside Islamic countries. That status is poor. In some cases it verges on extinction, after centuries of coexistence with Islam. So it is useful to review what Mr. Obama said of his goals for living with Islam:
"I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. . . .
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith. . . . Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."
This is an eloquent description of ecumenical civility. In reality, the experience of Arab Christians living now amid majority Islamic populations is often repression, arrest, imprisonment and death.
Coptic Christians in Egypt have been singled out for discrimination and persecution. Muslim rioters often burn or vandalize their churches and shops.
In Turkey, the Syriac Orthodox Church (its 3,000 members speak Aramaic, the language of Christ) is battling with Turkish authorities over the lands around the Mor Gabriel monastery, built in 397.
Pakistan's recent peace deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley puts at risk the 500 Christians still trying to live there. Many fled after Islamic extremists bombed a girls' school late last year. Pakistan has never let them buy land to build a church.
In 1995, the Saudis were allowed to build a mosque in Rome near the Vatican, but never reciprocated with a Christian church in their country. Saudi Arabia even forbids private worship at home for some one million Christian migrant workers.
In Iraq, the situation for small religious minorities has become dire. Reports emerge regularly of mortal danger there for groups that date to antiquity -- Chaldean-Assyrians, the Yazidis and Sabean Mandaeans, who revere John the Baptist. Last fall the Chaldean-Assyrian archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped and murdered. Some Iraqi Christians believe the new government won't protect them, and talk of moving into a "homeland" enclave in Nineveh. Penn State Prof. Philip Jenkins, author of "The Lost History of Christianity," calls the Iraq situation "a classic example of a church that is killed over time."
In short, the "respect" Mr. Obama promised to give Islam is going only in one direction. And he knows that.
Candidate Obama last fall sent a letter to Condoleezza Rice expressing "my concern about the safety and well-being of Iraq's Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities." He asked what steps the U.S. was taking to protect "these communities of religious freedom." Candidate Obama said he wanted these groups represented in Iraq's governing institutions. Does President Obama believe these things?
A Bush official who worked on this problem in Iraq told me there is a school of thought that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki understands that these ancient groups are Iraq's "connective tissue," and that weaving them formally into the system could be a basis for binding together his fractured nation. If these harmless peoples can't coexist, who can?
Mr. Obama's designated ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, has been criticized for subordinating human-rights issues with North Korea. That would be a mistake in the Middle East. The willingness of Islamic governments to formally protect these small Christian groups should be a litmus test of their bona fides on larger political issues.
If Islam won't let its leaders give basic rights to a handful of ancient Christians, there is no hope for what Mr. Obama proposed this week in Turkey. What his special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, wishes to achieve with Israel and its neighbors will also fail, again.
An established network of smart people exists to help Mr. Obama here, starting with the Vatican of Pope Benedict XVI and its diplomatic outreach efforts to senior Islamic clerics. The widely connected Anglican Vicar of Baghdad, Andrew White, also happens to be director of the little-known Religious Sectarian project for the U.S. Department of Defense. There are many others.
Mr. Obama should make formalized tolerance of Christian sects in the Middle East the basis for arriving at what he called "common ground" with Islam. As will be noted in churches in the rest of the world this weekend, that "common ground" was first walked in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.
By DAVID LEWIS SCHAEFER
Apr 9, 2009
In response to North Korea's rocket launch, President Barack Obama has committed the U.S. to reducing our supply of nuclear weapons, urged the passage of a ban on nuclear weapons testing, and through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, proposed scaling back our missile-defense program. In short, Mr. Obama apparently believes that the chief lesson to be learned from Pyongyang's missile launch is the need for more arms-control initiatives.
As a means of reducing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear war, this makes no sense. Once a country passes a minimal threshold, there is no reason to suppose that increasing its nuclear arsenal heightens the likelihood of its use. The only means of deterring rogue states from using (or more likely, threatening to use) nuclear weapons once they have acquired them are first, the capacity to threaten a much more massive response, and second, an effective program of missile defense.
Reducing our nuclear arsenal only gives outlaw states (including China) the incentive to increase theirs, to try to rival ours. And eliminating nuclear-weapons testing reduces the reliability of our arms and hence their effectiveness as a deterrent.
Mr. Obama's flight to arms control demonstrates the persistence of a dangerous illusion of the 20th century -- the notion that reducing a democratic nation's armaments is a means of mitigating the threat of war. Here's some of the history:
The likelihood that reducing America's strategic forces is going to elicit reciprocal behavior from our antagonists is nil. Nor will anything short of forceful sanctions (such as the George W. Bush administration applied, but then withdrew, against North Korean financial assets), have any effect in halting their march towards nuclear status.
- Beginning in 1906, Britain cut back an ambitious program of naval construction, begun under a previous administration, in the hope of thereby avoiding an "arms race" with Germany. But the change in British policy actually encouraged Germany's Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz to redouble his efforts to build a navy that would rival Britain's. This perception of British weakness may well have buttressed the confidence that led the Germans to launch World War I.
- The Washington Naval Conference of 1922 set limits on battleship construction by the U.S., Japan, Britain, France and Italy. But as a result, Japan instead focused on building other kinds of warships, paving the way for Pearl Harbor.
- Britain's policy of restraint in military production during the 1930s -- combined with the refusal of British and French governments to send forces to turn back Hitler's then weak army when it violated the Versailles Treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936 -- did not placate Hitler. It only whetted the dictator's appetite, generating what Winston Churchill called the "unnecessary war," World War II, which might never have occurred had the Western allies maintained their armaments and a firm policy during the years that led up to it.
- The U.S. signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks antiballistic missile treaties with the Soviet Union in 1972, expecting they would produce a "stable" balance and ultimately a reduction in nuclear armaments. Instead the Soviets continued their race for nuclear superiority, as summed up in congressional testimony by Jimmy Carter's Defense Secretary Harold Brown in 1979: "[W]hen we build, they build. When we cut, they build." As President Ronald Reagan observed in a 1985 radio address on the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program the Soviets never accepted the "innocent" American notion "that being mutually vulnerable to attack was in our common interest."
- As soon as the Soviets signed the 1972 convention banning the manufacture of biological weapons, they immediately (secretly) ramped up their production of such weapons.
- The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire were brought about not by arms reductions, but by Reagan's unwillingness to give up work on SDI. Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the Soviets simply lacked the means to compete.
In the words of the Joan Baez antiwar song from the 1960s: When will they ever learn?
Mr. Schaefer is professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross.
By Victor Davis Hanson
Mar. 13, 2009
Last summer, with several other Americans, I went to a garden reception attended by some French barristers, generals, and assorted professionals in Versailles. Most of them, conservatives and liberals alike, were quite ecstatic about the prospect of Barack Obama as the next American president - except one. He glanced around and then quietly whispered to me, "There is only room for one Obama - and, you remember, we already are the Obama."
I think we are beginning to understand something of what he meant.
Europe went gaga over the campaign of Barack Obama - especially his serial references to multilateralism, vows to leave Iraq, eco-utopianism, and the soothing way in which he trumped Europe's own disgust with the Bush administration.
Promises of nationalized health care, higher taxes, Kyoto redux, and more government cheered Europeans, leading them to believe that Obama would steer America on a path closer to their own. (That the French, German, and Italian governments may be slightly to the right of Obama was never mentioned - nor was the fact that in their lethargy Europeans occasionally like to come over here for a swig of old-fashioned rip-roaring America.)
Yet after the first seven weeks of the Obama administration some in Europe may be reminded of the old adage, "Be careful what you wish for."
Take unilateralism. After the invasion of Iraq, Europe mostly lambasted Bush as a go-it-alone cowboy who ridiculed "Old Europe." They forgot about American attempts to lead a joint effort to stop nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, beat back al-Qaeda, and ensure European autonomy in the face of an ascendant Russia. Tell a European that the U.S. military killed some pretty awful Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan, Waziristan, and Iraq - terrorists who liked Europeans no better than us - and he was likely to play-act that we had created such creepy killers.
But now President Obama seems to be taking Europe at its multiculturalist, multilateralist word. He asks for more European troops in Afghanistan, and yet before they even arrive he wants to open dialogue with the "moderate" elements of the Taliban - sort of like searching out reasonable Nazis around 1942, or looking for circumspect Japanese after Iwo Jima. (Apparently, he thinks the Taliban haven't heard of his $1.7-trillion deficit and his trashing of the cowboy Bush, or read his sympathetic press rebranding the once "good" Afghan war as the "quagmire.")
Meanwhile Obama is playing Jacques Chirac in the Middle East, seeking talks with both Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions. His Al Arabiya interview put him squarely to the left of the old European colonialists. (It was not for nothing that he sent back the bust of Winston Churchill and offered the visiting British pith helmets some fire-sale DVDs as presidential presents.)
Recently, in a letter to Russian leaders, Obama tried his hand at Kissingerian quid pro quo, apparently offering to give up Eastern European missile defense (had the Poles and Czechs heard about that?) if Russia would help stop the nuclear program it had helped jumpstart in Iran. That would be like asking Dr. A. Q. Khan, strangely released last month from house arrest, if he might talk sense to North Korea's rogue nuclear scientists. In any case, those missiles were expensive in times of dearth, and how can you press the reset button with Putin if those pesky Eastern Europeans insist on chest-thumping to their former overlords?
Unlike the strutting but committed free-trader Bush, Obama is far more likely to arrange some quiet protection for American industries from subsidized foreign competition. So he may well back off from open markets and free-trade leagues, just as he promised in the campaign - and just as jittery EU functionaries worry in their pro forma praises of America's commitment to globalization. And if European technocrats come over here to bitch about new trade realities, they will surely get a dose of mellifluous "Hope and Change" and elegant denials that will shame them into never suggesting that we had become Buchanan-like protectionists.
Europeans once loved to ridicule Bush as a laissez-faire capitalist as they racked up trade surpluses with the United States. Now a far more sympathetic Obama may well make it harder for Europeans to send in goods without encountering some sort of tariff. And if Europeans and everyone else once looked to a wide-open, low-tax, risk-it-all United States to jumpstart the world economy and help spread globalization, well, from now on, we will be consulting with Europe for joint government initiatives on convincing the Indians and Chinese to shut down their coal plants - as we ask the lattermost to lend us more cash.
It was easy to ridicule straw-in-the-mouth Bush for cracking down on Islamic terrorists. Now Obama may well send some of them back from Guantanamo to face European postmodern justice. It was also easy for Euros to slur the Patriot Act and "extraordinary rendition" as signs of the new American fascism, even as their own judiciaries, immigration services, and investigative units quietly did things that we haven't dreamed of since the Civil War.
But now the Europeans are confused - is Obama to the left of them in the war on terror (does the war on terror even exist any more?) or is he Bush without the twang? Can we Americans at last lecture our allies about the absence of habeas corpus in some European countries, or their illiberal practice of preventive detention?
What is going on here?
Europeans got what their hearts wanted, but forgot what their heads told them. For 50 years, they have caricatured America as it served as the dumping ground for the export economies of the world. It (often clumsily) defended Europe at no cost, and got snickers and triangulation as its thanks. America's belching cars and smokestack industries were the object of disdain by the supposedly green Euros, who in fact never met any of the Kyoto guidelines that they preached to everyone else.
Europe talked a great multicultural game, as the antithesis to America's dirty role as the world's cop that had to do nasty things like get Saddam out of Kuwait and then Iraq itself, rid the world of Milosevic, and chase the Taliban from Afghanistan.
Europeans gave Nobel Prizes to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore with the idea of poking in the eye the conservative American establishment - not as proof that in their wildest dreams they would wish to see once again Carter's 1977-80 governance or enact Al Gore's ideas for shutting down the West's industrial infrastructure within a decade. (French nuclear plants and Eastern European coal-based production have no place in the Goreist wind-and-solar global paradise.)
Suddenly America has flipped, and Europe is bewildered and afraid that we may be the new, but more powerful and influential, Europe - and thus Europe will be left alone, with no foil. Its intellectuals talk of post-colonialism and post-imperialism, as they brag of their new multicultural fides. Quietly they worry about unassimilated minorities in their cities with names like Hussein. And while they accept that a Barack Obama would never make it to a major European ministry, they cannot accept that he knows that all too well himself - and should have little problem from time to time reminding the world of it as well.
What will soon scare London and Paris and Berlin is that when the Russians "haggle," or squeeze Ukraine, or play games with gas exports, Americans will be right behind them in referring all such crises to the United Nations for multipolar talks. We may slice our deficit by cutting a carrier group or three, content to suggest that the Charles de Gaulle dock off Darfur to do a little air recon, or visit Georgia to reassure the people of Western support.
In the Middle East, we will worry about the sorry legacy of colonialism, as our multicultural president opens new initiatives with some pretty rough customers. (Europe, not the U.S., will be in range of the new Iranian missiles.) Europe can't even get its old rise out of us by bashing Israel, not when we are giving Hamas-controlled Gaza $1 billion in aid, and when the administration wanted Samantha Power and Charles Freeman as our regional experts.
Re-empowered unions, Democratic protectionism, high taxes, big government, astronomical deficits, idealistic 1930s isolationism - not the globalization and free-market trade once demanded by the now moribund masters of the universe on Wall Street - are America's new creed. Who knows? Soon our elite may be thinking of emigrating to the Netherlands or Denmark to avoid America's high taxes and its new redistributive government regulations. Who knows? Soon a European eccentric may have to come over here, Churchill-like, to warn us about the storm clouds on the global horizons.
In short, we are going to Europeanize Europe in a manner far beyond what they ever dreamed of doing to us.
- Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.