John R. Bolton |  Los Angeles Times

Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s observations on foreign policyshow hisinexperience and immaturity.

Barack Obama’s willingness to meet with the leaders of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea “without preconditions” is a naive and dangerous approach to dealing with the hard men who run pariah states. It will be an important and legitimate issue for policy debate during the remainder of the presidential campaign.

Consider his facile observations about President Kennedy’s first meeting with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in Vienna in 1961. Obama saw it as a meeting that helped win the Cold War, when in fact it was an embarrassment for the American side. The inexperienced Kennedy performed so poorly that Khrushchev may well have been encouraged to position Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, thus precipitating one of the Cold War’s most dangerous crises.

[Obama] consistently reveals failings in foreign policy that are far more serious than even his critics had previously imagined.

Such realities should cause Obama to become more circumspect, minimizing his off-the-cuff observations about history, grand strategy and diplomacy. In fact, he has done exactly the opposite, exhibiting so many gaps in his knowledge and understanding of world affairs that they have not yet received the attention they deserve. He consistently reveals failings in foreign policy that are far more serious than even his critics had previously imagined.

Consider the following statement, which was lost in the controversy over his comments about negotiations: “Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don’t pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us. . . . Iran, they spend 1/100th of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Let’s dissect this comment. Obama is correct that the rogue states he names do not present the same magnitude of threat as that posed by the Soviet Union through the possibility of nuclear war. Fortunately for us all, general nuclear war never took place. Nonetheless, serious surrogate struggles between the superpowers abounded because the Soviet Union’s threat to the West was broader and more complex than simply the risk of nuclear war. Subversion, guerrilla warfare, sabotage and propaganda were several of the means by which this struggle was waged, and the stakes were high, even, or perhaps especially, in “tiny” countries.

In the Western Hemisphere, for example, the Soviets used Fidel Castro’s Cuba to assist revolutionary activities in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In Western Europe, vigorous Moscow-directed communist parties challenged the democracies on their home turfs. In Africa, numerous regimes depended on Soviet military assistance to stay in power, threaten their neighbors or resist anti-communist opposition groups.

Both sides in the Cold War were anxious to keep these surrogate struggles from going nuclear, so the stakes were never “civilizational.” But to say that these “asymmetric” threats were “tiny” would be news to those who struggled to maintain or extend freedom’s reach during the Cold War.

Had Italy, for example, gone communist during the 1950s or 1960s, it would have been an inconvenient defeat for the United States but a catastrophe for the people of Italy. An “asymmetric” threat to the U.S. often is an existential threat to its friends, which was something we never forgot during the Cold War. Obama plainly seems to have entirely missed this crucial point. Ironically, it is he who is advocating a unilateralist policy, ignoring the risks and challenges to U.S. allies when the direct threat to us is, in his view, “tiny.”

What is implicit in Obama’s reference to “tiny” threats is that they are sufficiently insignificant that negotiations alone can resolve them. Indeed, he has gone even further, arguing that the lack of negotiations with Iran caused the threats: “And the fact that we have not talked to them means that they have been developing nuclear weapons, funding Hamas, funding Hezbollah.”

This is perhaps the most breathtakingly naive statement of all, implying as it does that it is actually U.S. policy that motivates Iran rather than Iran’s own perceived ambitions and interests. That would be news to the mullahs in Tehran, not to mention the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah.

It is an article of faith for Obama, and many others on the left in the U.S. and abroad, that it is the United States that is mostly responsible for the world’s ills. In 1984, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick labeled people with these views the “San Francisco Democrats,” after the city where Walter Mondale was nominated for president.

Most famously, Kirkpatrick forever seared the San Francisco Democrats by saying that “they always blame America first” for the world’s problems. In so doing, she turned the name of the pre-World War II isolationist America First movement into a stigma the Democratic Party has never shaken.

This is yet another piece of history that Obama has ignored or never learned. There may be one more piece of history worthy of attention: In 1984, Mondale went down to one of the worst electoral defeats in American political history. We will now see whether Obama follows that path as well.

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