Foreign Policy

From Barbary to the Gulf: Corsairs Then and Now

In 2007, two years before he became Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren penned a magisterial history of America’s long involvement in the Middle East, which goes back to within a decade of America’s founding. In Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present, Oren shows that not only was America involved in what then Read More ›

Iran: New Canary, Old Tale, Dark Secrets

Recently the Wall Street Journal reported that while nearly 99 percent of Syria’s 1,300 metric tons of chemical munitions declared in 2013 have been destroyed, stocks of undeclared agents remain—even more lethal than those declared. To anyone familiar with arms control compliance history this should come as no surprise whatsoever. Inspectors entered only sites the Assad regime designated, fearing that otherwise they Read More ›

Fateful Fortnight of Denial

A fortnight overseas brought sunshine on the lovely Greek Isle of Naxos and gustatory classics in Provence, all enjoyed with stellar companionship of friends old and new. But in the background were ominous events that augur ill for global and domestic stability. In the forefront was the declaration of bankruptcy by Greece’s far-leftist populist president, backed by a rousing 60 Read More ›

Finding the First Amendment

A draw-Muhammad cartoon contest is staged in Garland Texas. Two ISIS terrorists show up with automatic weapons intending to massacre the assemblage. A single guard guns them down with a pistol, narrowly averting mass carnage. The post-attack response, even including conservative stalwarts, is to condemn not just the would-be assassins, but the speakers and the cartoons presented at the conference. Read More ›

President Barack Obama offers a toast to President Xi Jinping of China during a State Banquet at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

A Tale of Two Cynics: Nixon and Obama

President Richard Nixon’s historic gamble with Mainland China turned out well. When he was elected in 1968, it was an out-of-control society and regime, subverting its neighbors and condemning the United States. Today we have a similar regional foe — Iran. Will President Obama be in Tehran a year from now, celebrating the start of a similar moderation by the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism? Or will he have rewritten yet another campaign pledge ushering in an Islamist nuclear power with apocalyptic ambitions?

The Nixon/Obama parallels are instructive. Richard Nixon was, and Barack Obama is, a loner with many admirers and few friends. Both preferred to speak to the electorate in heavily scripted settings. Both were lawyers. Both were also charged — nearly every week — with violating the Constitution. Both tolerated substantial cuts in U.S. military spending while inflating social-welfare and environmental obligations.

And both did whatever they had to do to appeal to a consistent enemy of the United States and its key allies.

One-Man Leadership Assaults the Conventional Wisdom

In October 1967, Communist (or Mainland) China was offered a deal by private-citizen Richard Nixon. Writing inForeign Affairs, he called for “a policy of firm restraint [and] creative counter-pressure designed to persuade Peking that its interests can be served only by accepting the basic rules of international civility.” Longer run, that meant “pulling China back into the world community — but as a great and progressing nation, not as the epicenter of world revolution.”

In 2008, presidential candidate Obama pledged to meet with Iran’s theocrats and cited no preconditions. Although not “carrot and stick” like Nixon’s, it was also a big gamble.

In 1969 — President Nixon’s first year — the Soviet Union proposed that the U.S. and U.S.S.R conspire to eliminate Mainland China’s nuclear forces. Nixon said back to the Kremlin: Don’t even think about it. In 2009 — President Obama’s first year — a fraudulent presidential election kept Iran’s extreme Islamists in power. Thousands took to the streets. Obama gave them zero support.

Forty years apart, Nixon and later Obama sent early and strong signals: “Count on the new guy to head off anything that will rock your boat….”

By 1972, Nixon was breaking bread with mass-murderer Mao Tse-Tung. The joint communiqué said “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China.” Rather than seek repeal of the 1955 Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan — then as now the “Republic of China” — Nixon pretended it did not exist. Traditional Republicans faced shell-shock.

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Obama’s Iran Deal: The SALT Precedents

President Obama’s decision to avoid congressional scrutiny of his emerging nuclear deal with Iran led 47 GOP senators to write a letter warning Iran – and the president – that the Senate expects to be consulted.  A subsequent bipartisan letter signed by 367 members of the House of Representatives also urged the president to consult Congress.  A look at major Read More ›

House Chamber Details with Car of History Clock Benjamin Henry Latrobe's preliminary sketch of the Car of History clock appears in the center of this drawing of the principal entrance to the then House chamber, now National Statuary Hall. 1815 Library of Congress
From Architect of the Capitol @flickr (Public Domain)

Obama’s 1930s: We’re at 1937

Many pundits have drawn parallels between the last decade and the 1930s. Though the precise sequence of events eight decades ago is not being repeated, the kinds of events that transpired in the years 1933 to 1937 have been repeated in broad brushstroke during the Obama years. And events of 1938 to 1941 appear on the horizon as increasingly likely Read More ›

Guest: President Obama must press for human rights

President Obama concluded visits with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and King Salman of Saudi Arabia with predictable news media queries about whether he had raised specific human-rights cases with his hosts. The president spoke in general terms about human-rights issues when in India and acknowledged he had not raised specific cases in either country, including that of the Read More ›

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the UNGA Climate Summit 2014 in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations in New York, N.Y., Sept. 23, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Barack Obama delivers remarks at the UNGA Climate Summit 2014. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

The Great Obama Retreat

Just before he was elected president in 2008, Barack Obama declared, “We are just five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He may not succeed in his aim to transform the domestic landscape. Instead his legacy may be a different transformation entirely: a tectonic shift in America’s position in the world, diminishing America’s status abroad to Read More ›

Faust’s Networks: Why the Sony Kill Is Not the Last

Modern societies run on a set of networks whose hardware and software represent a modern technology Faustian bargain: achieve unparalleled efficiencies of economic cost and social interconnection at the price of equally unparalleled exposure to several forms of catastrophic “cascade” failure. Specifically, the hardware and software infrastructures that enable prosperous modern life in advanced societies are relatively simple—and hence increasingly Read More ›