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Soft foreign policy hurts the U.S.

Bush's wishful thinking now coddles rogues abroad.

By Claudia Rosett

is a journalist-in-residence

at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

If American diplomacy were delivering on its promises, we'd be heading into boom times for peace and security. Instead, the new year begins with Washington foreign policy increasingly cocooned in a cloud of "soft power," trying to deflect threats through the wiles of diplomacy, the art of the deal. Welcome to the world of wishful thinking.

The irony is that with the gains in Iraq of the 2007 surge, the much-criticized toppling of Saddam Hussein is looking more and more like the signal success of Bush foreign policy.

It is on the rest of the chessboard, where America has been trying to go along to get along, that the real failures are now in the making. One by one, military options have been swept aside, and step by step, the quest for United Nations-style "consensus" has replaced U.S. leadership.

In 2002, President Bush described the regimes of Iran and North Korea as members of an axis of evil, their totalitarian ideologies destined for "history's unmarked graveyard of discarded lies." Today, with Hussein having in effect taken one for the team, the regimes of Iran and North Korea are just as evil, but appear destined to do pretty much what they want, as long as Washington can bottle and sell the product as diplomacy-in-progress.

Take North Korea's failure to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to come clean on the full extent of its nuclear programs. "Unfortunate" was the bland term with which State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey acknowledged this failure - as if it were an accident of fate, not a deliberate dodge by Pyongyang. Casey added, "The important thing is not whether we have the declaration by today," but that whenever it finally appears, it is "full and complete."

Actually, in the wheeling and dealing with Pyongyang, it matters quite a lot whether Kim Jong Il's regime makes the deadlines. North Korea has long experience making deals in which it promises better behavior in exchange for aid, then takes the largesse and cheats on the deal. That's exactly how the 1994 nuclear freeze deal went down the tubes during President Bill Clinton's second term: Kim raked in tribute from the West, and fed and fueled his military while an estimated one million to two million North Koreans starved to death. Now, following a North Korean nuclear test, the Bush administration is going down the same road. With every missed deadline shrugged off as "unfortunate," Washington sends the signal that we are not serious in our demands.

That message gets heard way beyond North Korea - which brings us to Iran, where U.S. policy has now entered the era of what might be called wishful estimating.

Following the release last month of an absurdly flawed and bizarrely worded National Intelligence Estimate downplaying Iran's interest in getting the nuclear bomb, Iran has been de facto downgraded as a threat. On the slim chance that, despite its rhetoric and obsessive focus on nuclear energy, Tehran actually had abandoned the bomb program the mullahs had been pursuing since the late 1980s, there could be no better opening for Iran to go full speed ahead on producing those bombs. Washington is taking a break.

Then there's nuclear-armed Pakistan, where Washington's wishful thinking last fall anointed Benazir Bhutto as the face of democracy and urged her return in the name of saving her country (and enhancing American security). This required wishful ignoring not only of the threats that on Dec. 27 cost Bhutto her life, but of her own record of failure and corruption scandals during two previous stints as prime minister - as well as her complicity during the 1990s in the clandestine program with which Pakistan acquired its nuclear bombs and missiles in the first place.

And of course there's the endless Palestinian "peace process," to which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has succumbed with a vengeance. Wishful diplomacy on that front has produced a Gaza Strip controlled by the terrorists of Hamas, and plans to pour billions more in aid into a Palestinian Authority that can guarantee nothing.

This may be the usual way of things during the final year of any lame-duck presidency. But this was the road to Sept. 11, and it is an approach that right now we can ill afford.

America doesn't have to wage war on every enemy on the planet, but appeasement and denial do not buy peace.