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?