Bret Stephens writes an unusually elegant takedown of Obama’s foreign policy

I always like the way Bret Stephens thinks, but I’ve seldom even noticed how he writes.  He’s a great writer — clear and concise — but he’s never struck me as a particular luminous writer.  I think he must have been inspired when he wrote about the rebirth of the neocon movement, in large part because the bad guys are still here, but Obama is remarkably feckless when it comes to dealing with them.  How else to account for the lovely prose and imagery I quote below:

My answer [to a French journalist asking about the rebirth of neoconservatism] was that the neocons are back because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin never went away. A star may have shone in the east the day Barack Obama became president. But these three kings, at least, have yet to proffer the usual gifts of gold and incense and myrrh.


As for Russia, its ambassador to the U.N. last week bellyached that the U.S. “continues to be a rather difficult negotiating partner”—and that was after Mr. Obama cancelled the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Thus does the politics of concession meet with the logic of contempt.

All this must, at some level, come as a surprise to an administration so deeply in love with itself. “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world,” Mr. Obama told the U.N.’s General Assembly last week with his usual modesty. He added that those expectations were “rooted in hope—the hope that real change is possible, and the hope that America will be a leader in bringing about such change.”

Yet what sounds like “hope” in, say, Toronto or Barcelona tends to come across as fecklessness in Warsaw and Jerusalem. In Moscow and Tehran, it reads like credulity—and an opportunity to exploit the U.S. at a moment of economic weakness and political self-infatuation.


Where neocons do put their faith is in American power, not just military or economic power but also as an instrument of moral and political suasion. Disarmament? The last dictator to relinquish his nuclear program voluntarily was Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, who did so immediately following Saddam Hussein’s capture. Democratization? Contrary to current conventional wisdom, democracy is often imposed, or at least facilitated, by U.S. pressure—in the Philippines, in the Balkans and, yes, in Iraq. Human rights? Anwar Ibrahim, the beleaguered Malaysian opposition leader, told me last week that “the only country that can stand up” to abusive regimes is the United States. “If they know the administration is taking a soft stance [on human rights], they will go on a rampage.”

Treat yourself well and read the whole thing.

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  • Ymarsakar

    They have erred also in overestimating the willingness of other people to fight for themselves, or for their freedom.

    That’s like saying I underestimate the willingness of a paraplegic to walk again just because he hasn’t been able to do so recently.

  • Cathy

    I absolutely LOVE Bret Stephens – I never miss him in the print WSJ but I missed this one. It must have been in the online Journal only, so a big THANK YOU, Book, for linking to it! (I’ve actually written him a couple of “fan” emails at the WSJ).

    He’s an elegant writer, in my opinion also. And if you’re not getting to see the Journal Editorial Report (FOX News on Saturdays), on which he appears almost every week, you are missing the best news/discussion program on television. It’s hosted by Paul Gigot, the Editor of the editorial page.