At the 1988 Republican National Convention, a conservative Hispanic group sold T-shirts mocking the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis, as weak on foreign policy.
The T-shirt featured a cartoon of communist dictators Fidel Castro of Cuba and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua riding on a donkey whose face bore an uncanny resemblance to Dukakis. The word bubble above Ortega, roughly translated, said “Let’s go, Fidel! With this jackass we can take the free world. The implication, of course, was that Dukakis’ spineless foreign policy agenda would embolden the world’s dictators.
Today, more than two decades after George H.W. Bush soundly defeated Dukakis, we have a president who is even weaker internationally than Americans feared Dukakis would be. The result is a dramatic shift in the geopolitical balance of power that is bad for America and bad for our allies.
• Apology Tour: Barack Obama began his presidency by rejecting American exceptionalism and by apologizing to Europe and to the Muslim world for American “arrogance.” These speeches revealed Obama’s discomfort — even embarrassment — with American power and signaled his unwillingness to use it.
• Betrayal of Eastern Europe: Despite pleas from Poland, one of our closest allies, within months of taking office Obama caved to Russian demands to scrap the proposed Eastern European-based missile defense system that would have helped protect Europe and the U.S. from a nuclear Iran and an expansionist Russia.
• False victory in the War on Terror: Yes, American forces finally captured Osama bin Laden. But the War on Terror is far from over. By pretending otherwise — to the point of trying to cover up the assassination of our ambassador to Libya by terrorists in Benghazi — Obama put his political interests (re-election) first and advertised to the world America’s lack of resolve for fighting this elusive and perhaps endless war.
• Capitulation on Iran: Obama foolishly loosened sanctions on Iran in the hope of a deal on nuclear weapons. But even Iran’s moderate leaders say it has no intention of curbing its nuclear program. What’s worse, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire says that intelligence reports estimate Iran will have missile technology capable of reaching the United States by next year.
• Vacillation on Syria: Let’s face it, on Syria, Obama looked like a wimp. He drew a line in the sand, which he lacked the temerity to enforce, and then allowed Russia’s Vladimir Putin to bail him out. Under Putin’s phony deal, Assad claimed he would dismantle his chemical weapons in exchange for remaining in power. The episode legitimized the Assad regime and made Putin the region’s most important power broker.
After these and other profiles in weakness, is it any wonder Putin thought he could annex Crimea and threaten the sovereignty of Ukraine without significant consequence?
In 2012, Obama mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting that Russia was our most significant geopolitical foe. “The 1980s are now calling asking for their foreign policy back,” Obama quipped.
But, as it happens, Romney was right, which even liberal publications like the New Republic and Slate now admit.
Today, the independence of the former Soviet republics — many with large ethnic Russian populations — is threatened; two of our strongest allies, Israel and Poland, no longer trust us; Iran remains a credible nuclear threat; Syria is a destabilizing force in the Middle East.
And Vladimir Putin holds all the cards.
“The whole world is watching” was once a favorite chant of liberals ashamed of the use of American power abroad.
Unfortunately, today, Obama’s feeble foreign policy renders this a more appropriate slogan: “The whole world is laughing — at us.”
Jennifer C. Braceras is a lawyer and political commentator.
Orignially appeared in the March 25, 2014 print edition of the Boston Herald.