We came to Washington in 1977, and Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated. So I well remember the years of malaise and humiliation, the stagflation, chilly offices in the winter, the rapidly expanding power of the Soviet Union, the appeasement campaign from Europe and from a clear majority of American intellectuals, the hostage seizure in Tehran, the awful realization that we might lose the Cold War after all. And in the midst of it all, the emergence of Ronald Reagan, his surprising electoral victory, and the amazing recovery of American will and American energy.
There was a lot to worry about, as there is today. But I haven’t seen anyone openly worrying about my greatest concern, which tormented me in Carter’s last two years, and has returned to torment me again now. He was so devoted to peace, that he risked a big war.
Carter’s paralysis as Soviet power expanded from Somalia to Ethiopia, and then to Afghanistan, his feckless make-nice attempt to cajole the West Europeans to respond to Soviet missile deployments, his abandonment of the shah and subsequent appeasement of Khomeini (his ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, described the Iranian fascist leader as “some kind of saint”), greatly encouraged our enemies, all over the world. After a while, public opinion began to turn against Carter, who responded by expanding the defense budget (for which Reagan would be most grateful), but nothing “on the ground.”
As we got into the election season, I began to worry that Carter would be so concerned about his “wimp” image that he would overreact to some crisis or other, in order to demonstrate his virility. As a former defense secretary remarked a few years ago, weakness is tempting. The more our enemies believe we are feckless, the more likely they are to come after us. I think that al Qaeda and its many sponsors thought that 9/11 would take us down, at least for a long count, and perhaps for good. And I worry that the current rampage of appeasement of our enemies will produce the same result.
We are certainly tempting them. Who are our major enemies in the Middle East? Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. What are we doing about it? We are making nice, we are unilaterally and preemptively granting them all manner of concessions, from lifting arms embargoes to Syria and Iran, to sending high-level envoys to talk to the Syrian dictator and (in the case of the unfortunate Kerry, who appears to be competing with Hillary, Mitchell and Holbrooke for the Neville Chamberlain award of 2009) hand carrying love notes from Hamas to President Obama. Who are our allies? Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq. What are we doing for them? Talking tough about Israel, threatening a yet-to-be-formed government with God-knows-what if it doesn’t make nice to its enemies, speeding up our withdrawal from Iraq, and openly dithering about the definition of our mission in Afghanistan.
If this continues, it is only a matter of time before the attacks against us and our friends and allies increase. You don’t need classified intelligence estimates to know this (and if Chas Freeman remains as head of the National Intelligence Council, the classified estimates will most likely blame the Israelis, the Jews and democratic dissidents everywhere for causing whatever troubles we face); it’s in the nature of man and beast. And then what?
And then we get the Sarkozy option on a global scale. The Sarkazy option (“Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran”) is limited to one country, and if we have to face it, it means we–not just Obama, but a long series of presidents–have failed to properly protect our national interests. It would not surprise me, in such circumstances, whether in response to an Iranian nuclear test, or a big terrorist attack on Washington, or London, or Rome, or Paris, to see an administration like this one respond massively. Just to demonstrate that we’re not wimps, that we won’t take it. And that this president is worthy of reelection.
Thankfully we never found out what Carter would have done. I hope we don’t find out what Obama would do, either. But he’s certainly stacking the deck.