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Led by a Follower: The Danger of a Weak President

Remember when U.S. presidents were regarded as the “leader of the free world”? They earned that moniker. FDR spoke of a day of infamy and rallied our nation to fight the Nazi threat to global freedom. JFK stood strong in the face of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Ronald Reagan recognized the strength of America and stood up to one of the most deadly totalitarian regimes in human history.

Now we have President Obama.

He’s the one — we were told — who would restore our credibility in capitals around the globe. He was to reassert our moral authority: the nation that stands for basic human rights and the dignity of the individual. We were told that his intellect alone could bring tyrants to heel — Obama infamously expressed a desire to meet with dictators, never minding that such meetings would elevate despotic regimes by offering the prestige of the American presidency.

As has come to pass: emboldened by a weak or non-existent foreign policy, buoyed by the confidence that Obama’s White House is unwilling to act, and inspired by strongmen that openly defy the president’s wishes, thugs of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of brutality are challenging the United States.

Those challenges are met with silence, when condemnation is required. They are greeted with ambivalence, when the world cries for decisiveness. The world begs the U.S. to lead, and the “leader of the free world” is content to go with the flow.

Vice President Joe Biden said Obama would be tested, and he has been tested several times over. Each instance seemed a surprise, a distraction to the president. He appeared bothered that each crisis took him away from his stated goal of remaking America. Unfortunately, the rogue elements of the world were not inclined to give the president time to learn on the job. They, unlike Mr. Obama’s devout followers, were not fainting in the aisles after his inauguration. In fact, the despots felt just the opposite: they were reinvigorated. They smelled blood in the water.

In May of 2009, the dictator of North Korea tested a nuclear weapon that was rumored to have been as powerful as the device used over Hiroshima. The nuclear test was a clear violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and international agreements. President Obama’s response was less than inspirational: he declared that North Korea’s actions were “directly and recklessly challenging the international community,” and that “such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation.” Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., reinforced the president’s stance, saying Pyongyang will “pay a price for the path that they’re on if they don’t reverse.” To date, nothing of substance has been done, and this lack of American leadership may have emboldened the communist nation. North Korea has since attacked and sunk a South Korean ship, killing 34 people, and the North launched a deadly shelling on South Korea in November 2010. Obama’s White House called for an end to the North’s “belligerent action.”

The weakness projected by President Obama on North Korea is bad enough. But the president’s timidity elsewhere on the world stage has led to far greater consequences and loss of life.

In the summer of 2009, Iranian citizens took to the streets of Tehran to protest “questionable” election results. The bloodshed that followed was horrific. The Iranian theocracy clamped down on freedom seekers with iron-fisted ruthlessness. The Telegraph, hardly conservative, summed up the White House response as “cowardly, lily-livered and wrong.” That was one of the more flattering accounts of the president’s policy toward Iran, or lack thereof.

It’s not like we weren’t warned of Mr. Obama’s predilections towards appeasement. All of his opponents in the 2008 election cycle, including his current secretary of state, warned that Mr. Obama’s desire to “sit down” with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions would lead to disaster. It was Mr. Obama’s naive notion of talking with such a morally bankrupt regime that, many speculated, led to days of terror for the Iranian people with no opposition from the so-called “leader of the free world.”

In the beginning days of the protest, the administration — through VP Biden and Secretary Clinton — conveyed President Obama’s position: “We’re going to withhold comment…. I mean we’re just waiting to see,” Biden said. Clinton declared in a statement: “The United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran.”

Is that leadership?

Only after nearly two weeks of criticism from the international community and conservatives at home did President Obama abandon his “engagement” policy with the thugs in Iran and strongly condemn the regime’s actions. Again, Mr. Obama had to be led before standing for American ideals. Yet a few months later Obama made his first speech before the UN General Assembly, where he called for a “new era of engagement with the world” – he was still leaving the door open to rogue regimes.

Obama’s lack of leadership in standing up to tyranny again evidenced itself a little over a year later.

The Middle East has exploded in protests. Countries that have been ruled by strongmen for decades are seeing a popular uprising of epic proportions. And once again the American administration was caught unaware. Once again the Obama administration was caught flat-footed, as Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow dictator and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak. Egypt, being a U.S. ally, must have enabled the Obama administration to come out early and call for Mubarak to step down.

It’s well-documented how this administration treats traditional U.S. allies: the return of the bust of Winston Churchill and the gift of Obama speeches on an iPod for the queen, his treatment of Israel, his lackluster support for South Korea, his policy toward trade with democratic Colombia. All the while, Obama treats tyrants and dictators, self-declared enemies of the U.S., with kid gloves.

What else explains the timidity shown in the face of Libyan uprisings, and murders in the streets? When Obama finally got around to commenting on the hundreds of Libyan citizens dead, he couldn’t even bring himself to mention dictator Muammar Gaddafi by name or call for him to step down. He eventually got around to it after a fresh round of shame from his political opposition. As the situation worsened, nations from around the world evacuated their citizens from Libya. Did President Obama send one of our carrier groups to evacuate and guard our citizens? No, he … charted a ferry. We wouldn’t want to project American power and stability in the region, would we? A move like that might have sent an unmistakable message to Gaddafi and other tyrants in the Middle East that the mass murder of their citizens would not be tolerated by the United States. It might have made other despots think twice before ordering their air forces to fire on protesters if they knew American air power was minutes away. I’m sure the calculus was made in the White House: a carrier group would have negated all the good will America has enjoyed since Mr. Obama’s American apology tour early in his presidency. There has been no show of strength or stability in the Middle East. Instead, Mr. Obama has turned once again to the UN to tame Libya’s mad-dog dictator.

Mr. Obama is a weak president. This isn’t my calculation. It’s the consensus of every thug and dictator around the world. Has there been any evidence to the contrary? The world’s despots seem reasonably assured that the most negative consequence for their mayhem is a severe tongue-lashing. And the world is now a much more dangerous place because of Mr. Obama’s lack of experience, his lack of an American-centered resolve, and his pattern of embracing America’s enemies and alienating our friends.

Instead of leading the world as the head of the nation that stands for freedom and liberty, Mr. Obama abdicates that responsibility to the United Nations. We no longer have the “leader of the free world” in the White House. We have “the follower of the oppressed world.” And as long as he occupies that office, America stands to lose its influence around the globe. It’s an influence that, before Obama, made America a beacon of light for human freedom and dignity. That light is growing ever dimmer, allowing the world’s anti-American tyrants to thrive, and leaving our friends and those yearning to breathe free with no guide out of the increasing darkness.