Few commentators have expressed less confidence in the ability of the Obama administration to rebound than I have, but the five weeks since the shellacking have been the most successful this president has had. The clear message of the WikiLeaks fiasco is that American diplomats and foreign-policy planners recognize that China is engaged in an insidious and unsubtle process of asserting itself in as disagreeable a manner as possible, without being dangerously belligerent; that Russia is a Mafia state run by a thug; and that the engagement policy with America’s more vocal critics in the Muslim, African, and Latin American theaters has not accomplished anything useful.
The administration came into office with the most astoundingly over-simplified views of economic and national-security and energy problems, and a painful adjustment was inevitable. The most inexperienced incoming president since Chester A. Arthur apparently believed that the ideological and strategic differences that the United States had had with many countries would dissolve with a few speeches and an emphasis on the fact that, for the first time, the White House did not have a white man as its chief tenant. Only a small part of inter-state relations is public relations; it is almost all national interests, and pressing the reset button won’t change history and geography, any more than, to use other notorious brainwaves from Vice President Biden, Iraq’s problems could be resolved by dividing it into three countries or the Taliban defeated on the ground with sea-launched cruise missiles.
Absurdities remain, but they are not Mr. Obama’s fault. It is amusing that, as a discontented homosexual in the armed forces explains that he released hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks because he was out of sorts at his treatment in the army, Sen. Carl Levin is riveting the attention of lawmakers debating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the armed forces by explaining that a gay person can aim a gun as accurately as anyone else. There is little now of the mindless prattle about a nuclear-free world, and one self-propelling out of the habit of carbon use for energy needs, but there are still echoes.
Talks are resumed with Iran over nuclear proliferation, but refused with North Korea, and the crossroads on the spread of nuclear weapons is at hand. WikiLeaks confirms that sanctions are not nearly tight enough to deter Iran from arming itself with a nuclear offensive capability, and that the Arab leaders, especially the kings of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, are urging military action on the U.S. to prevent it from happening. The fact that the American officials seem to have replied noncommittally at least preserves the kernel of hope that the administration will act before it is too late. It emerges that the U.S. believes that China is ultimately responsible, more than Pakistan or Russia, for Iran’s making much of the progress it has toward a nuclear military capability.
If Iran is allowed to achieve this status, the U.S. will have very little credibility as a superpower, and the genie of proliferation will be out of the bottle. Providing anti-missile defenses to friendly countries is commendable, but the best defense, as the Cold War demonstrated, is a massive retaliatory capability, and the combination of Iranian nuclear ambitions and American resolution will put an end to the self-serving hypocrisy of the world’s arms-control regime, where the nuclear club winks at new members that it is confident will behave responsibly, and uses aerated wafflings about arms control as a placebo to silence or distract everyone else. If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, so will dozens of other countries. The almost complete absence, in what has been released to date, of any of Obama’s sophomoric nonsense about disarmament is an unalloyed plus point.