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Berlin is an ideal place for an American president, even a would-be president, to speak to the world about freedom and shared values. Barack Obama's recent visit evoked the famous speeches of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that defended the U.S. stance against the Soviet Union and tyranny in Eastern Europe. Both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are now gone, but dangerous, nuclear-armed dictatorships are not. Sadly, Mr. Obama declined to mention this in Berlin.
The stage for his disappointing performance was set several weeks ago, when the Illinois senator rejected John McCain's proposal to eject Russia and exclude China from the Group of Eight (G-8). Mr. Obama's response during a July 13 interview on CNN -- "We have to engage and get them involved" -- suggests that it is impossible to work with Russia and China on economic and nuclear nonproliferation issues while also standing up for democracy and human rights.
It has repeatedly been shown that the exact opposite is true.
The U.S. does not cede leverage with authoritarian governments when it confronts them about their crimes. Instead, the U.S. increases its credibility and influence with foes and friends alike. Placating regimes like those in Russia and China today only entrenches hostile, antidemocratic forces.
Commercial agreements, arms control and other mutually beneficial projects can be pursued without endorsing dictatorship. During the same interview, Sen. Obama spoke of enlisting China to help write the "international rules of the road." This is the same logic that led the United Nations to place China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia on its current Human Rights Council. Do we really want to live under rules created with the approval of such regimes?
While Mr. Obama talked about the importance of receiving Russia's help in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported that Tehran is acquiring advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles from the Kremlin. This is the cooperation the West has earned by including Russia in the G-8.
In Berlin, Mr. Obama repeatedly mentioned the 1948 Berlin airlift. On CNN, he said he would like to "bring back the kind of foreign policy that characterized the Truman administration with Marshall and Acheson and Kennan." A strange statement, since President Harry Truman fought against giving up an inch to the communists on any front around the world. Not only did Truman save West Berlin; South Korea, Taiwan and Western Europe also have much to thank him for. By contrast, in their July 9 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Obama advisers Madeleine Albright and William Perry, secretaries of state and defense under Bill Clinton, criticized Sen. McCain's proposal to respond to major powers' human-rights abuses with more than lip service.
Mr. Obama also asked if the West would stand up for "the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe."