Saul Singer at PostGlobal

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer, a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post, is co-author of the forthcoming book, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Middle East Quarterly, Moment, the New Leader, and (an Israeli/Palestinian e-zine). Before moving to Israel in 1994, he served as an adviser in the United States Congress to the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Banking Committees. He is also on Twitter. Close.

Saul Singer

Jerusalem, Israel

Saul Singer is a columnist and former editorial page editor at the Jerusalem Post. more »

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April 2009 Archives

April 6, 2009 7:37 AM

Obama Scores A Two (For Showing Up)

The Current Discussion: Rate Obama's first performance on the international stage on a scale of 1-10, and tell us why you think so.

President Barack Obama is not only a lawyer, but edited the Harvard Law Review and is more than familiar with constitutional law. So it is difficult for me to fathom how, as the representative and leader of the American people, he could bow to any king, much less a despotic one like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But that's exactly what he did.

This is not "only" a matter of protocol or national honor. It is emblematic of a syndrome that befell the U.S. president with the least successful foreign policy in modern times, Jimmy Carter. Carter was notorious for abandoning American allies, such as the certainly unsavory Shah of Iran, and being soft on adversaries, such as the Soviet Union. The results were disastrous, as implicitly acknowledged by Carter's own attempt to toughen up after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In the Talmud it says, "All who are compassionate to the cruel in the end are cruel to the compassionate." Kowtowing to despots is not just unseemly, it is betrayal of fundamental values, such as the pursuit of human rights. But, as in the case of the Obama's obsequious new year's wishes to the "Islamic Republic of Iran" and not just to the Iranian people, it is likely to invite aggression by America's enemies.

In theory, these sorts of gestures could be combined with toughness, in the spirit of Obama's inaugural statement calling on other countries, such as Iran, to "unclench" their fist. Carrots can be combined with sticks. But where are the sticks? Where is the American campaign to galvanize Europe into toughening sanctions on Iran? Without such a campaign, the chances of diplomacy succeeding fall to zero.

Obama was supposed to show us the effectiveness of "soft power," as opposed to the Bush's supposedly less sophisticated approach. I agree that Bush's approach was lacking, but will Obama's be more effective? Not if it's all "soft" and no "power." Diplomacy is not an objective but a means to one. Obama has the potential to wield non-military measures, such as diplomacy and sanctions, much more effectively than Bush did in the Iranian case. But if that potential is not exercised, the result will be a continuation of the Bush failure to thwart Iran's nuclear campaign.

Why not start with something basic, like asking the Europeans to stop subsidizing trade with Iran with export credits? So far, Obama's outstretched hand has been met with verbal slaps from Tehran. This trend will continue and worsen until the mullahs can see that there will be consequences for their actions.

My score for Obama at the summit: 2 (for showing up).

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