'Hope and Change?' Not for tyrants

Fallout continues from Barack Obama's interview with Arab TV with many objecting to the apologetic tone while others worried that the American president wasn't assertive enough.

One of the latter is Middle East scholar Fuoad Adjami who has a thoughtful piece in today's Wall Street Journal correctly pointing out that the thugs and tyrants of the world - especially in the middle east - can breathe a sigh of relief now that Obama is in charge of American foreign policy:

The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways. Thus the "parochial" man takes abroad a message that Muslims and Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA, and the man with Muslim and Kenyan and Indonesian fragments in his very life and identity is signaling an acceptance of the established order. Mr. Obama could still acknowledge the revolutionary impact of his predecessor's diplomacy, but so far he has chosen not to do so.

The brief reference to Iraq in the inaugural could not have been icier or more clipped. "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people," Mr. Obama said. Granted, Iraq was not his cause, but a project that has taken so much American toil and sacrifice, that has laid the foundations of a binational (Arab and Kurdish) state in the very heart of an Arab world otherwise given to a despotic political tradition, surely could have elicited a word or two of praise. In his desire to be the "un-Bush," the new president fell back on an austere view of freedom's possibilities. The foreign world would be kept at an emotional and cultural distance. Even Afghanistan -- the good war that the new administration has accepted as its burden -- evoked no soaring poetry, just the promise of forging "a hard-earned peace." The nation had cast a vote for a new way, and had gotten the foreign policy of Brent Scowcroft.

Where Mr. Bush had seen the connection between the autocratic ways in Muslim lands and the culture of terror that infected the young foot soldiers of radicalism, Mr. Obama seems ready to split the difference with their rulers. His embrace of the "peace process" is a return to the sterile diplomacy of the Clinton years, with its belief that the terror is rooted in the grievances of the Palestinians. Mr. Obama and his advisers have refrained from asserting that terrorism has passed from the scene, but there is an unmistakable message conveyed by them that we can return to our own affairs, that Wall Street is more deadly and dangerous than that fabled "Arab-Muslim Street."

As if to validate this view, President Obama has determined that it's time to get Robert Mugabe out of office. But the old dictator has proven immune to entreaties from the world community and his African neighbors have proved too timid to act.

So what is Obama's grand strategy?

President Obama wants a fresh approach to toppling Robert Mugabe and is discussing with aides an unprecedented, US-led diplomatic push to get tough new UN sanctions imposed against the Zimbabwe regime, The Times has learned.

During talks Mr Obama has had with his top Africa advisers in recent weeks, the central idea they focused on was taking the issue of Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council, but for the first time to combine such a move with an intense diplomatic effort to persuade Russia and China not to block the initiative.

According to a senior aide present at the discussions, the goal of taking the issue of Zimbabwe to the Security Council would be to pass a series of "strong" sanctions, including a ban on arms sales and foreign investment. They also want to expand significantly the number of ruling Zanu-PF party officials subject to sanctions.

Last July, after Mr Mugabe was accused of rigging the elections to stay in power, China and Russia, who have significant financial interests in Zimbabwe, vetoed moves to impose UN sanctions. Mr Obama and his aides believe that, with the growing international outcry over conditions there and the devastating loss of life from the cholera outbreak, Beijing and Moscow can now be persuaded at the very least to abstain when the issue of sanctions comes to another vote.

Why should Russia and China do us any favors? The last time they cared about people's suffering was never. The Security Council - even if it acts - will not remove Mr. Mugabe from power. That would set a precedent no member nation at the UN wants. For proof, see their reaction to our removing Saddam.

All this churning of diplomatic activity will matter for little in the end. Someone is going to have to go in there and forcibly remove him. Better the Africans themselves do it rather than Great Britain or us. But the thugs and tyrants of the world got where they are because they are ruthless and care little about international opinion.

And they care less when certain American presidents initiate futile gestures to unseat them.

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