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On Point

The Land Beyond Chitchat and Oughtta Be


by Austin Bay
April 20, 2010

Barack Obama isn't leading. Instead, events are leading the president -- and I don't mean stage-managed summits, puppet press conferences or White House dinners, but the international events that matter, the ones paid for in blood.

Iran and North Korea are immediate cases where rogue regimes seeking nuclear weapons follow calculated strategies that harm American interests and allies.

North Korea is impoverished, but its gangster dictatorship knows how to run a nuclear extortion racket to obtain cash and political concessions from its neighbors.

Iran's mullah regime surveys the Middle East's oilfields and concludes a similar scheme -- with a few local twists -- will shakedown its region. One difference makes Iran's ploy potentially more dangerous than North Korea's. North Korea has quit the communist expansion business (that religion failed). Tehran, however, harbors international aspirations. Radicals in high government office insist nuclear weapons will advance their version of global Islamic revolution.

Both nations bluster, but they also act. Last month, an event caught South Korea by surprise: an explosion sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. Last week, investigators examining the wreck said it appeared an external explosion (possibly a torpedo or mine) sunk the ship.

An accident? Or did North Korea launch a sneak attack? The South Korean government is avoiding talk of reprisal, but East Asia is on edge. North Korea announced it might test a nuclear weapon next month. What will the Obama administration do if the situation deteriorates?

From its inception, the Obama administration has talked and talked a great deal about the way it wants the world to be. Rhetorical theatrics, to include sermons promoting visions, and emotionally charged media spectaculars hold pre-eminent and almost holy positions among administration elites.

This is understandable, for these are the tools of domestic politics in a free, secure nation of laws -- the terrain where American community organizers operate. Obama believes that if he can chitchat long enough and with sufficient eloquence, the world will align with his words -- his rhetorical "oughtta be" becomes the way it is. It worked in Chicago.

But talk does not stop mass-murdering dictatorships. Events -- especially unexpected, game-changing events -- demand action. Failure to stop Adolf Hitler's militarization of the Rhineland encouraged the Nazis. Khomeinists probing for weakness aren't any different. Claims of grievance and historical wrongs masked Hitler's first moves. He knew the Western allies wanted to avoid war. If France and Great Britain had only been pre-emptive ...

Obama, however, wears a pair of a self-forged handcuffs when it comes to military action. He damned, with deep personal indignation, the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. Hard-left academicians also littered his mind with anti-American tales of grievance and historical wrong -- hence his Cairo apology to the Muslim world.

I suspect Obama's preference for chitchat and scorn of decisive action lies behind Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' leaked memo.

 The New York Times wrote on April 18 that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the White House in January, via a secret memo, that the U.S. lacks "an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran's steady progress toward nuclear capability."

After the story ran, Gates' press office claimed the Times "mischaracterized" the memo's "purpose and content." Gates said "the memo identified next steps in our defense planning process where further interagency discussion and policy decisions would be needed in the months and weeks ahead. ... It presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process." In other words, the memo pushed for serious contingency planning, to include preparing military options.

Gates understands the consequences of surprise and wishes to avoid it by thorough preparation. Gates is telling the president to focus on achieving objectives with concrete actions, instead of relying on vague processes, sound-bites and hope.

Leaking rarely involves leadership. One-upmanship, garbed in various psychological costumes, drives Washington's little world of leaks. The media operative gets her story, the leaker's target grapples with an uncomfortable headline followed by a barrage of questions, televised gossip, and -- a new vexation -- Internet innuendo.

There are, however, occasional exceptions, and this is one of them. 

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