President Obama’s final stretch in office — filled, as he promised, with “interesting stuff” — has become an extravaganza of “historic” foreign-policy deals, most of them distinguished for making common cause with despotic regimes that are less than friendly toward the United States:
— The embrace of Cuba.
— The Iran nuclear deal.
— The Paris climate agreement.
— And, enshrined just this past Friday as United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, a grand plan in which, under the United Nations umbrella, the U.S., Russia, Iran and sundry others will all come together to produce peace and democracy by June, 2017, in Syria.
On Friday. Obama congratulated himself for such feats, telling reporters at his end-of-year press conference: “We have shown what is possible when America leads.”
OK, but where is this going? What, precisely, does this brand of leadership make possible?
If we measure success by such UN standards as how many nations have agreed to these deals, Obama can congratulate himself (as he has been doing) on capping his tenure with a bonanza of foreign-policy achievements. Last December, scrapping decades of U.S. policy, he buddied up with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, which got him a historic handshake. This summer, via the long palaver of the P5+1 nuclear talks, he clinched the nuclear deal he had fervently sought with Iran; at U.S. behest this deal was adopted pronto — and unanimously — by the 15-member UN Security Council. On December 12, he got his long-pursued climate deal, the Paris Agreement, passed unanimously by more than 190 states. And in the name of ending the havoc in Syria, last Friday he got a UN Security Council resolution which passed — you guessed it — unanimously, decreeing “free and fair elections” in Syria within the next 18 months.
But what did it take to produce this festival of unanimity? How does an American president arrive at all these deals, in grand concert with the regimes of Cuba, Iran, China, Russia, or, in the climate case, virtually every polity on the planet?
The answer is simple. You trade away U.S. interests at bargain-sale prices. You hold a fire sale on real U.S. global leadership. You squander U.S. credibility and security, offering concessions at such deep discounts that even Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Khamenei cannot resist. You dismantle the principles and strategies that have long protected America and its allies, and you toss whatever remains into a global bargain bin. Deals for all!
In these deals you either impose no serious conditions, or you demand no real compliance with those you impose. You sweeten the pot with diplomatic concessions and with money — in some cases, lots of money. You gloss over dangerous realities. You ignore transgressions. You promise truckloads of pie-in-the-sky — leaving it to your successor to cope with the grim or even catastrophic realities that are compounding with no remedy in sight.
In sum, on the way out of the White House, you hold a fire sale, cashing in whatever remains of U.S. credibility and might for a farewell binge of international agreements. And as hostile regimes queue to get a piece of this action, you publicly celebrate the accomplishment of bringing the world together “as one.”
The Cuba deal has done nothing to reform the Castro regime, which carries on crushing its own people and hobnobbing right off America’s shores with the likes of Russia and North Korea. The Iran nuclear deal leaves Iran richer and freer to continue pursuing the bomb — a gift that Iran has recently celebrated by conducting two sanctions-violating ballistic missile tests, with no penalty, and for no evident purpose except to develop nuclear missiles.
The climate deal is non-binding, ergo a free ride for countries that choose to ignore it. Except that Obama, with his pen, phone and the regulation-emitting Environmental Protection Agency, is seeking to make it effectively binding at home, entailing massive costs and yet more regulations for Americans. (Let’s set aside for the moment the conspicuous question of whether a scheme for global central planning to mitigate “climate change” makes about as much sense as the Salem Witch Trials). And the UN resolution on Syria is, as a Wall Street Journal editorial accurately describes it, both a gift to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, and “another triumph of wishes over facts.”
Real American leadership does not consist of discounting America’s interests so deeply that a deal can be struck with almost anyone, on almost anything. But that’s the tenor of U.S. foreign policy right now. And this fire sale may be far from over. What’s next? To unanimous applause from Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, the giveaway of Guantanamo Bay to Cuba? Another “historic” nuclear deal with North Korea? When it comes to international agreements, unanimity is not always good. More is not necessarily better.