[This article was originally published as the cover story from the June 20 issue of Human Events newspaper.]
President Obama this month opened the White House and, with it, the stature of a presidential photo-op to one of the worst dictators in Africa: Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba.
The Bongo family (his father ruled the oil-rich nation for over 40 years) has stolen a big chunk of the impoverished nation’s gross domestic product, press reports say. The riches have allowed the Bongos to live a life of ostentatious luxury. They buy million-dollar homes in Hollywood and France and spend gobs of money on around-the-world shopping trips.
Even the mainstream media noted the oddity of an American President on June 9 putting down the red carpet for such an unsavory despot.
“The family that has ruled the African nation of Gabon for decades has been accused of taking bribes, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars and presiding over a system rife with corruption, but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from inviting President Ali Bongo of Gabon to the White House Thursday,” said ABC’s Brian Ross.
One dictator on one day at the White House might be excused as playing diplomacy with the hand you’re dealt.
But there seems to be a pattern with this President of reaching out to the worst, while snubbing the best.
A year before Bongo came to town, the leader of a staunch ally visited the White House. There was no red carpet. No photo-op. No dinner. Obama treated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu like a troublesome kid he had to scare straight.
Netanyahu was shuffled off to an office where the President abruptly left the meeting with the words “let me know if there is anything new,” according to The Times of London, after he failed to get the prime minister to give in to the Palestinians.
When Netanyahu returned this spring, he did get a photo-op. But Obama dissed him once again. He laid the framework for the visit by delivering a speech that said Israel had to shrink its borders, putting Netanyahu in the awkward position of having to publicly reject the suicidal plan.
Obama’s tortured outreach to the Muslim world has found Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referring to Syrian henchmen Bashar Assad as a “reformer.”
When they met, Obama bowed before the Saudi Arabian king. That country’s money and ideology have done more to fuel radical Islam than any other’s.
Obama often criticizes Jerusalem, but rarely mentions Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that vows to destroy Israel.
It was Obama’s outreach to the renegade regime in Iran that started his troublesome tilt away from Israel. Obama believed the magic of his presence would convince Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the one fueling deadly insurgents in Iraq and a nuclear weapons program at home, to sit down and talk.
One of his first acts as President in 2009 was to send a personal letter to Iran’s ultimate leader, Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, seeking a discussion on issues of mutual interest, such as Tehran’s determination to build nukes and destroy Israel.
He also cut a video to the Iranian people, calling Iran one of the world’s “great civilizations.”
“We have serious differences that have grown over time,” Obama said. “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community.”
When Ahmadinejad brutally put down a rebellion after he won what the regime calls an election later that year, the White House was mostly silent.
Two years later, what some view as a show of weakness has gotten the U.S. no where. Iran is still trying to kill U.S. troops and make nukes.
Ahmadinejad proclaimed this week he is forming an anti-West axis of Iran, Russia and China to make life even more difficult for America.
At the same time the White House was talking nice to despots in Iran, it was planning to pull the rug out from under two loyal European allies.
The increasingly authoritarian regime in Moscow did not like George W. Bush’s deal to place missile interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic to protect Europe from Iran’s gathering storm. Hillary Clinton wanted to “reset” relations with Russia. So the Obama people would move closer to one-party rulers in Russia and move away from newly democratic Eastern Europe.
Obama dumped the missile defense deals to make Vladimir Putin happy. It highly embarrassed Poland and the Czech Republic, who had invested much political capital to win over opponents. Just last week, the Czech defense minister announced he was pulling out of the minor missile defense role the White House offered in place of the Bush plan to host a far-looking tracking radar.
The White House was busy in 2009 offending old friends, too. And there is no better old friend than Great Britain. After the 9-11 attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair rushed to Washington in a show of solidarity in a war still being fought 10 years later.
He loaned as a symbol of this alliance a bust of Sir Winston Churchill. In an earlier era, with the world at war, Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt formed a special alliance to defeat another fanatical enemy.
Britain wanted to extend the bust loan during Obama’s time. But the president sent it packing—literally.
There is no more anti-American, anti-democratic leader in this hemisphere than Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Chavez denounces the U.S.A. regularly as he forges closer economic and military ties with Iran and other Socialist rebels in South America.
When Obama and Chavez met for the first time in 2009 at the Summit of the Americas, the two smiled warmly and exchanged a power hand shake.
Obama initiated the meeting. He always does with these kinds of people. There is no indication he in any way protested Chavez’s Cuba-like crack-down that sees a free press, free enterprise and free speech disappearing.
“Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and meeting with the President as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he’s acceptable,“ Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker, told NBC’s “Today“ show.
Like Israel in the Middle East, there is no better friend to the U.S. in South America than Colombia. It is fighting drug-smuggling Marxist guerrillas cheered on by Hugo Chavez from over the border.
Yet whom did candidate Obama single out for criticism in South America. Who else? Colombia.
“I’m concerned frankly about the reports there of the involvement of the Colombian administration with human rights violations and the suppression of workers,” he said in a raw attempt to win labor support by opposing a free trade treaty with Bogota.
Obama has stopped his overt outreach to Iran. Perhaps reality has checked his belief he can sweet-talk fanatics. Now, let’s end talk of a “reformer” running Syria and a “reset” for Moscow authoritarians, and a photographed power handshake with the man who threatens to stop South America’s remarkable climb to free markets and democracies.