The disease of a weak president

Ben Coes Contributor
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The attention of the world has been riveted to Israel, Palestine and Iran in light of the Palestinians’ decision to seek U.N. recognition and Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York City to once again rub America’s nose in his war-mongering, Holocaust denials and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s weakness in his response to Israel and Iran is a cause for real concern, not only for our Israeli allies, but for other American allies as well. A weak U.S. president emboldens our enemies. A good example of this is what happened the last time we had a weak president, namely Jimmy Carter.

The disease of a weak president usually begins with the Achilles’ heel all politicians are born with — the desire to be popular. It leads to pandering to different audiences, people and countries and creates a sloppy, incoherent set of policies. Ironically, it ultimately results in that very politician losing the trust and respect of friends and foes alike.

In the case of Israel, those of us who are strong supporters can at least take comfort in the knowledge that Tel Aviv will do whatever is necessary to protect itself from potential threats from its unfriendly neighbors. While it would be preferable for the Israelis to be able to count on the United States, in both word and deed, the fact is right now they stand alone. Obama and his foreign policy team have undercut the Israelis in a multitude of ways. Despite this, I wouldn’t bet against the soldiers of Shin Bet, Shayetet 13 and the Israeli Defense Forces.

But Obama’s weakness could — in other places — have implications far, far worse than anything that might ultimately occur in Israel. The triangular plot of land that connects Pakistan, India and China is held together with much more fragility and is built upon a truly foreboding foundation of religious hatreds, radicalism, resource envy and nuclear weapons.

If you can only worry about preventing one foreign policy disaster, worry about this one.

Here are a few unsettling facts to think about:

First, Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the British de-colonized and left the region in 1947. All three wars occurred before the two countries had nuclear weapons. Both countries now possess hundreds of nuclear weapons, enough to wipe each other off the map many times over.

Second, Pakistan is 97% Muslim. It is a question of when — not if — Pakistan elects a radical Islamist in the mold of Ayatollah Khomeini as its president. Make no mistake, it will happen, and when it does the world will have a far greater concern than Ali Khamenei or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a single nuclear device.

Third, China sits at the northern border of both India and Pakistan. China is strategically aligned with Pakistan. Most concerning, China covets India’s natural resources. Over the years, it has slowly inched its way into the northern tier of India-controlled Kashmir Territory, appropriating land and resources and drawing little notice from the outside world.

In my book, Coup D’Etat, I consider this tinderbox of colliding forces in Pakistan, India and China as a thriller writer. But thriller writers have the luxury of solving problems by imagining solutions on the page. In my book, when Pakistan elects a radical Islamist who then starts a war with India and introduces nuclear weapons to the theater, America steps in and removes the Pakistani leader through a coup d’état.

I wish it was that simple.

The more complicated and difficult truth is that we, as Americans, must take sides. We must be willing to be unpopular in certain places. Most important, we must be ready and willing to threaten our military might on behalf of our allies. And our allies are Israel and India.

There are many threats out there — Islamic radicalism, Chinese technology espionage, global debt and half a dozen other things that smarter people than me are no doubt worrying about. But the single greatest threat to America is none of these. The single greatest threat facing America and our allies is a weak U.S. president. It doesn’t have to be this way. President Obama could — if he chose — develop a backbone and lead. Alternatively, America could elect a new president. It has to be one or the other. The status quo is simply not an option.

Ben Coes, a former speechwriter in the George H.W. Bush administration, managed Mitt Romney’s successful campaign for Massachusetts Governor in 2002. His latest book, Coup D’Etat, has just been released.