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The Vultures Circle By: Ralph Peters
New York Post | Tuesday, November 11, 2008


THE American people have spoken, and whatever our personal preferences, our duty as citizens is to support our next president. And he's going to need support: The international vultures are already circling.

Immediately upon his inauguration, President Obama will have to demonstrate to allies and enemies alike that he won't be a pushover. Justified or not, the international perception of Obama is that he'll be both passive and a pacifist.

He's going to have to show some Southside Chicago street grit. Fast.

Our enemies haven't wasted any time. The day after our election, President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, speaking for Vladimir Putin, gave a Gucci-loafer version of Premier Nikita Krushchev's shoe-heel-on-the-podium rant of a half-century ago.

In a direct challenge to our president-elect, Medvedev announced that Russia would deploy its latest-generation battlefield missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave between Lithuania and Poland. The Russian president made it clear that the target would be the US ballistic-missile interceptors to be based on Polish soil.

Medvedev's speech then elaborated on the Putin Doctrine: Russia will do what it wants, when it wants, where it wants in the territories that once belonged to the czars.

A day later, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran played good cop to the Russian bad cop, inviting the new US administration to enter direct talks with Tehran. Now, negotiations can be useful - but only when conducted from a position of strength. Unfortunately, the Iranians view our election results as reflecting a greatly weakened American will.

They assess Obama as the perfect patsy, a man who believes in his own powers of persuasion. Drawing out fruitless talks year after year has been Iran's primary technique to protect its pursuit of nukes. Persians are brilliant negotiators. Their position is always, "Well, we might sleep with you . . . next time . . . if you just give us one more present . . ."

And we rush off to Tiffany & Co.

Only the Chinese come close to the Iranian genius for castrating opponents under the negotiating table. Of course, our European allies show up already missing key parts.

By the end of last week, even the Iraqis had swooped down for a bite of roadkill. Brushing President Bush aside (as the Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans and others already have done), Iraqi representatives working on the status-of-forces agreement for our troop presence balked at the previously agreed terms, expecting a better deal from an Obama administration.

One key demand of radical Iraqis is the right to try our troops in Iraqi courts for alleged crimes. Given the present politicized state of the Iraqi legal system, accepting such terms would betray our soldiers.

As a candidate, Obama praised our troops. Will he stand up for them now? Or was his praise pure hypocrisy?

There's much more to come. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and the Castro regime in Cuba have welcomed the election results, anticipating an American retreat from the fight for freedom. As president, it will be Obama's duty to disappoint them. China is facing a serious internal crisis, while terror-tormented Pakistan is broke and begging. A bumper crop of crises is sprouting on every side.

At home, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - a magnificent public servant - has tried to sound the warning that our nuclear arsenal, the ultimate backbone of our national security, has deteriorated badly and must be renewed (not expanded, just updated).

May we hope that the Obama administration, indebted to an extreme left-wing base, will have the audacity to do what is necessary and upgrade our nuclear weapons so that our deterrent remains dependable? The grim paradox of the last 60 years is that humankind's worst weapons were all that prevented another world war.

Today, with faith-drunk fanatics pursuing nukes and old adversaries resharpening their atomic swords, we had best remember that peace is only preserved through evident strength.

President Obama isn't going to enjoy a honeymoon with terrorists, rogue states or opportunistic vultures around the globe. He'll have to establish his leadership credentials immediately, to make it clear that he's America's president, not our liquidator-in-chief.

What could he do to help himself? Three things:

* First, make it clear to all that while America is willing to talk with serious counterparts, we'll expect results, not endless obfuscation.

* Second, beg Secretary Gates to stay on at the Pentagon for at least the first year of transition.

* Third, Obama should nominate that brilliant thug, Richard Holbrooke, as secretary of State. Holbrooke may be the most arrogant man ever to serve in our diplomatic corps (where arrogance has long substituted for competence). But he's also tough, superbly capable and the savviest star in the Democratic constellation when it comes to global affairs.

If Obama wants to project an idealist's image to the world, he's going to need a realist at Foggy Bottom. And someone's going to have to clean up Vice President Joe Biden's inevitable messes. The next four years are going to be interesting.


Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."


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