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Obama's idealism on world stage may prove costly

J.D. Gordon is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009

J.D. Gordon

is a retired Navy commander and former Pentagon spokesman who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2009

In July 2008, Sen. Barack Obama thrilled a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin with words about the burdens of global citizenship, a world without nuclear weapons, and a new dawn in the Middle East.

It electrified the war-weary masses on both sides of the Atlantic, drained by seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were launched in response to the 9/11 attacks. Against all odds, Obama's transformational worldview propelled him to victory over the Clinton machine in the presidential primary, then over the centrist war hero John McCain in the general election.

While President Obama's idealism was well-received within Western-style, mature democracies that actually do embrace the rule of law and international solutions, there's just one problem: It doesn't translate well with hard-line regimes in such places as Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela. Nor does it resonate with non-state terrorist networks such as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and more than a dozen radical Islamic affiliates around the globe.

Yet despite this inconvenient reality, five years later, Obama has made progress toward his vision of a new world order, a world less dominated by the United States. He's done so by weakening America's ties to long-standing allies, while encouraging or even emboldening long-standing adversaries along the way.

Iran's resolve to pursue a dual-use nuclear program that can be used for both peaceful energy production and the development of nuclear weapons has trumped a United Nations-led effort to stop it.

Though the Geneva II accord claims to have placed limits on Iran's uranium enrichment and to have increased verification measures, it doesn't stop Iran's "right to enrichment" - and thus is only as good as Tehran's promises.

Though economic sanctions have severely damaged Iran's economy over the last six years, it's simply not conceivable that the totalitarian, theocratic regime, which has demonized the United States and Israel and called for their demise for three decades, would simply change its mind one day and decide to live in harmony with its perceived archenemies.

Tehran's insistence that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons rings hollow when we consider the massive costs of its nuclear program: approximately $170 billion - the sanctions, worth $130 billion, dwarfing the actual investment of $40 billion in nuclear expenses.

The insistence of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the regime is merely interested in peaceful energy production evokes memories of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's declaration in September 2005 that Pyongyang would abandon its drive for nukes. Those who took Kim at his word were proven naively wrong when, 13 months later, an underground nuclear test rocked the mountainous Punggye-ri test facility.

Obama's support for a "new dawn" in the Middle East catalyzed populist movements that swept anti-American Islamists into power in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya. The weakness of Libya's new Islamist-friendly government directly resulted in the Benghazi tragedy.

In the struggle to protect Americans against mass-casualty terrorist attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Obama's curious priority has been to confer constitutional rights on terrorism suspects picked up on the battlefield. His singular obsession with closing Guantanamo could well enable some of the world's most lethal terrorists to kill again. Already, nearly 30 percent of those released have returned to terrorism.

In Latin America, Obama's vision has meant siding with communist Cuba's Castro brothers and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in regarding Honduras' effort to preserve democracy as a "coup" in 2009. Never mind that Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had attempted to subvert the constitution and abolish term limits, paving the way to his own presidency for life, as we have seen in anti-American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Meanwhile, long-term allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Colombia, and others are left scratching their heads and wondering whether the United States can be relied upon in a time of crisis. Will Obama have their backs? Or will he stab them in their backs as he did when the Arab Street toppled ally after ally in the Middle East?

Obama wants to go down in history as a visionary leader who ushered in a new era of world peace, but each day it seems more likely that he'll be remembered as a misguided ideologue who allowed Iran to go nuclear and al-Qaeda to hurt us through our own legal system.