BRIDGTON – Every successful foreign policy is a wise balance of national principles and foreign and domestic realities. Knowing what to do is hardly enough, however.

A wise national leadership must also possess the courage and will to make hard decisions. To succeed, that government must put itself on the line, risk defeat and possibly lose office.

The most successful American president in foreign affairs in recent years has been the much-maligned Jimmy Carter. His legacy includes the unpopular Panama Canal Treaty, the high-risk Camp David Accords and humiliation in the Iran hostage crisis (albeit without losing a single hostage’s life). Significantly, he was unafraid of challenges and, possibly as a result, a one-term president.

Unhappily, the Obama administration — rich in rhetorical skills and knowledge of international affairs — is poverty-stricken when it comes to gumption. It is sinfully risk-averse, addicted to dithering and meek compromise. Not just Republicans, but all manner of selfish interests stand up to it and too frequently prevail.

Take the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan, launched by the Bush administration, the former at the behest of neo-cons and the second in the emotion of the 9/11 aftermath. In neither instance was a thought given to what might happen a year after the attack or how the U.S. would end its engagement. Obama promised in his campaign to get us out of the “wrong war” in Iraq and — in order to show that he was no liberal sissy — shift resources to the right conflict in Afghanistan.

Neither move was well-conceived. Now corrective steps seem likely to bring incomplete withdrawal from both countries — and still there is no notion of what the realistic American goal is in either of them. The president, I fear, is afraid to stand up to those military and civilian hawks who think the U.S. needs forces to surround Iran — a much despised nation that hardly constitutes a real threat to the U.S.

Obama came to office offering to engage with Iran in order to defuse its alleged “nuclear threat.” He made a few feeble gestures, but quickly settled into the discredited Bush posture of demanding previously rejected concessions before beginning meaningful talks. He was reluctant to stand up to the Israel lobby, which demonstrates its power through virtually absolute control of Congress.

Now that same lobby is supporting Israel in its refusal to enter meaningful, conflict-ending negotiations with the Palestinians. In their frustration under occupation, seeing their illegally seized lands taken over by Israeli settlers, the Palestinian leadership is moving its case to the U.N.

In the coming weeks it will seek Security Council or General Assembly recognition as a state, with all the privileges and memberships that are implied.

Israel is adamantly opposed, but offers no alternative approach. The U.S., lacking the will to stand up to its almost totally dependent friend, appears ready to render lonely support.

An American veto or opposition to a Palestinian move will erase the last vestiges of popularity that Obama achieved in the Middle East when he first came to office. There is also the prospect that our vote will unleash violence against American interests across the region. It will be a train wreck of enormous dimensions and consequences.

Without doubt, the Obama administration can see disaster coming, but the president stands gutless, afflicted by a slumping economy and low standing in the polls.

He seems unwilling to confront Israel and its American supporters in steps toward reasonable Palestinian demands, and ultimately toward a final, much-promised lasting peace in the Middle East (which would benefit Israel as well.)

Stand by for crisp rhetoric and crumbling influence in a critical region.

– Special to the Press Herald