By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:
Why Obama's 'extended hand' is counter-productive
In the 19th century, U.S. abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison astutely observed, “With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.”
Garrison recognized something in the psyche of tyrants that withstands the test of time.
In the last century, Western leaders failed to heed Garrison’s advice and, as a result, opened the flood-gates of two of the greatest tragedies in modern history -- fascism and communism -- at tremendous human cost and suffering:
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany in hopes of appeasing Adolf Hitler’s aggression. Then in 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chamberlain’s successor, Winston Churchill, conceded to a Soviet Union sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe believing Joseph Stalin could be reasoned with.
At the time Churchill even remarked, "Poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong, but I don't think I'm wrong about Stalin." He lived to regret his serious miscalculation.
Unfortunately, U.S. President Barack Obama began his 21st Century presidency, also failing to heed Garrison’s advice, offering an “extended hand” to the rogue regimes of our time. During his inaugural speech in 2009, Obama famously stated, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
The results have been counter-productive; the more so because the president prematurely “extends his hand” before tyrants give the slightest indication of “unclenching their fists.”
In Iran, Obama ignored the calls for freedom by the Green Movement in 2009, when thousands risked (and many lost) their lives to protest that country’s brutal regime, and sent a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seeking to improve relations. The result has been a more belligerent Iran – one intent on fomenting terrorism and building nuclear weapons.
In Syria, the president bet that tyrant Bashar al-Assad was something of a “reformer.” In 2011, as Syrians in their quest for freedom took to street demonstrations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton doubled down on Obama’s bet apparently thinking we could reason with Assad. The result has been 50,000 civilian deaths and a threat to unleash chemical weapons on his own people and, perhaps, even his neighbors.
In Cuba, Obama eased travel and remittance sanctions almost immediately upon taking office as a “good-faith gesture”. The response has been the taking of an American hostage, Alan P. Gross, who recently began his fourth year in one of Castro’s prisons, and the sharpest spike in repression since the 1960’s. Last year alone there were over 6,250 documented political arrests by the Castro regime against peaceful democracy activists.
Finally, in North Korea, Obama continued the path of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in seeking fruitless aid-for-moratorium deals, with the boyish new dictator Kim Jong Un. These were answered with two dangerous rocket launches in 2012 -- a failed one in April and a successful one in December.
Obama is now trying to correct his positions issuing stronger sanctions toward Iran, granting diplomatic recognition of Assad’s opposition and warning North Korea of serious "consequences" if it fires another missile. Not as regards Cuba. Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, Ben Rhodes, reiterated again this month that Obama is still willing to “extend a hand” to Castro’s brutal regime.
That’s not very strategic.
Why is Obama’s “extended hand” so counter-productive in dealing with these tyrants? Advocates for “normalizing relations” with these regimes can't deny these policies fail, instead they say brutal regimes need an “enemy abroad” to blame for their failures. It is a pompous rationale, which assumes residents of these countries are ignorant or impervious to who is beating, torturing, imprisoning and executing them.
Hint: It is not the United States.
The reason why the “extended hand” policy is so counter-productive is -- as Garrison warned long ago -- tyrants are not reasonable and view an “extended hand” as a sign of weakness and, seeing no risk of consequences, ratchet up their criminal behavior.
Obama understands this in dealing with Al Qaeda, which happens to be his greatest foreign policy success. The President should apply a similar rationale to dealing with the Ahmadinejads, Assads, Castros and Kims of the world.
Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.
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