Seventeen years ago, Charles Lane wrote A Man of Good Intentions about then Secretary of State Warren Christopher being kept waiting by Hafez al-Assad, father of the current Syrian President:
And Assad went out of his way to humiliate Christopher, the American messenger of land-for-peace, when he flew to the region to broker a cease-fire. The Syrian dictator forced Christopher to wait two hours while he met the Russian foreign minister, then stood him up completely for another appointment. Was this all the diplomatic capital the Clinton administration’s most skilled negotiator had earned in two dozen missions to Damascus, the capital of a state designated by the U.S. as a sponsor of international terrorism?
A month ago Secretary of State John Kerry experienced similar treatment at the hands of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps because the atmospherics of Kerry’s recent visit to Moscow were meant to show that his hosts were under no illusions as to who was the more desperate and bowed party. First, Kerry’s motorcade sat in Moscow traffic for a half hour because of a military parade rehearsal for Victory Day, which celebrates the Soviet defeat of the Nazis in World War II. Then Russian President Vladimir Putin kept Kerry waiting for three hours before granting him an audience, upon which he fiddled with his pen and more resembled a man indulging a long-ago scheduled visit from the cultural attaché of Papua New Guinea than participating in an urgent summit with America’s top diplomat.
When you show such deference to thugs, it doesn’t earn you anything. These are the wages of a foreign policy defined by “apology tours.”
Furthermore, as Charles Krauthammer points out today in Message from the ruins of Qusayr, not many look to a weakling for support.
Just to make sure Kerry understood his place, Putin kept him waiting outside his office for three hours. The Russians know how to send messages. And the one from Qusair is this. You’re fighting for your life. You have your choice of allies: Obama bearing “international legitimacy” and a risible White House statement that “Hezbollah and Iran should immediately withdraw their fighters from Syria” or Putin bearing Russian naval protection, Iranian arms shipments and thousands of Hezbollah fighters. Which do you choose?
But the American foreign policy problems are more problematic than just projecting weakness. They are also based in a failure to identify who are friends are. Barry Rubin writes:
American interests are with the rebels of Turkey and Iran; the moderate Muslim-Christian opposition in Lebanon, with Israel and the Kurds; with the real moderates in Egypt; with Jordan’s kingdom which small amounts of money would help enormously; and, yes, often even with the Gulf Arab states (except Qatar) if only given the American leadership they are begging for.
Western and American interests are not with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria; not with the stealth Islamist regime in Turkey for which the Obama Administration just renewed a waiver on sanctions against Iran (!); not with the rejectionist Palestinian Authority, not with some “moderate Islamist” faction of the Iranian regime.
It is past time that this be recognized. But it is a task requiring a Churchill, not the churlish.
Needless to say, President Obama’s latest foreign policy team gives no confidence that this reality will be recognized. The foreign policy disasters of this administration are arguably more damaging long-term than its unwarranted domestic power grabs. But for anything to change, it will require a harder look at the consequences of Obama’s failed foreign policy.