Drawing insults, not fear, from our foes [Commentary]

Some of you tend to suffer MEGO ("my eyes glaze over") syndrome when the topic turns to foreign affairs.

But you should do all you can to resist the temptation. The world remains too dangerous a place for America to divert its attention.


Today, two significant foreign policy challenges confront us: one, Radical Islam and its many iterations; and two, a resurgent Russia led by our favorite former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin.

I was reminded of the former during a recent trip to Europe. A shoeless one hour wait at the security checkpoint at Heathrow Airport was a not-so-subtle reminder about the importance of continued vigilance. And, of course, there are the daily reports of terror attacks around the world — almost always with plenty of dead and injured. Seems there are simply never enough casualties for these cold blooded killers. Here's hoping President Obama's targeted drone campaign continues to hit the mark(s).


As for the latter, it's been difficult to get Mr. Putin off the front page for the better part of the last two years. One problem, though: Much of the Russian President's activities have centered around poking a very sharp stick in America's eye — an activity that seems to bring him a great deal of satisfaction. The latest insult: "Tweets" from Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin: "Comrade @BarackObama, what should do those who have neither accounts nor property abroad? Or U didn't think about it?" and "I think some prankster prepared the draft of this Act of the US President." Late night talk show hosts have had a field day with the parodies. It would be funny if it weren't at the expense and peril of America's strength, reputation and global stature.

So much for the short lived, wildly unsuccessful Obama/Hillary Clinton "reset" with the former Soviet Union. For that matter, so much for President Bush's mistaken observation that he could "look Vladimir in the eye" in order to conduct business.

America (and the West) is paying a steep price for these miscalculations. Russia has repeatedly violated the "Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," per a January Barack Obama memo to NATO. There was no quid-pro-quo from Russia after we double-crossed Poland and the Czech Republic out of promised defensive missiles. Russian money and material continue to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria and the ayatollahs in Iran. Edward Snowden is living (what passes for) the good life in Moscow. And for good measure, Putin has taken to mocking U.S. foreign policy on the pages of the New York Times and now on social media. This is not what the president had in mind when he famously (not realizing his microphone was live) promised former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more "flexibility" after his re-election.

But mocking insults are only a consequence of a larger problem. Such behavior occurs because our enemies do not fear us. They don't fear American boots on the ground, or our leadership.

Indeed, it was fear of our military might and willingness to lead that convinced Saddam Hussein to refrain from using his WMD in the first Gulf War, got Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to give up his nukes in 2004 and convinced the Iranian ayatollahs to free 52 American hostages in 1979. Yes, such leadership can make even real bad guys think twice about provoking America.

Today, bad guys with evil intent follow the daily news. Here, they read of disappearing "red lines," historic defense cutbacks, a Secretary of State who promises "unbelievably small, limited" military responses, and an American public grown weary of costly foreign wars. In a word, they know the sheriff is tired and planning to leave the premises. They also understand political vacuums tend to get filled rather quickly.

The public surely soured on bloody, expensive, and seemingly endless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, they chose the anti-war candidate determined to charm even rogue regimes with his cult of personality.

But the world is proving to be far more difficult than the telegenic Barack Obama wishes it to be. This part of "hope" and "change" isn't working out so well. In fact, it's looking more like Jimmy Carter redux all the time.


Where's our Reagan?

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is

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