Jeff Jacoby writes The Ghost of Jimmy Carter
Like all presidents, Reagan got many things wrong. But one thing he got very right was that American weakness is provocative. A foreign-policy blueprint that emphasizes the need for American constraint, deference, and apology — what Obama’s advisers today call “leading from behind” — is a recipe for more global disorder, not less. Carter came to office scolding Americans for their “inordinate fear of communism;” he launched diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s dictatorship and welcomed the takeover of Nicaragua by a Marxist junta. Only when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 did Carter wake up to the dangers of appeasing communist totalitarianism. Moscow’s naked aggression, he confessed, had made a “dramatic change in my opinion of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are.”
Equally disastrous was Carter’s reaction to the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran following the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution. Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle East historians, writes that Carter’s meek response — from his letter appealing to Khomeini “as a believer to a man of God” to his abandonment of the overthrown Shah, a longtime US ally — helped convince dictators and fanatics across the Middle East “that it was safer and more profitable to be an enemy rather than a friend of the United States.”
Foreign affairs is the most difficult of the areas of the President. We need to maintain strained relationships in order to maintain basic intelligence resources. Isolation does not work, nor does naked aggression. What also does not work is confusing hope with reality, and trust with tolerance. What foreign affairs often requires is a patience that spans election cycles, and understanding that transcends academic credentialism. Strength is necessary, even essential, but without patience and understanding it alone will not advance the cause of peace.
Understanding entails being real in recognizing an enemy and ally.