As a candidate in 2008, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged that Ronald Reagan was a "transformative" president in a way that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were not. The Clintons -- then pushing Hillary's rival candidacy -- were red-faced in rage.
Mr. Obama's statement was fully understood by his ultra-liberal base, however. They wanted a man to win the White House who would not engage in "triangulation," but strangulation. They wanted to bury all of Reagan's achievements. They wanted a president right off the set of Hollywood's The West Wing. They wanted a progressive champion who could change the country, pushing it as far in their direction as they believe Ronald Reagan did in the opposite direction.
They're getting their wish. President Reagan sought "Peace through Strength." He rebuilt the U.S. military. He did not mind that he didn't meet with any Soviet dictator in his first term. Reagan even joked about the quick succession deaths of Leonid Brezhnev (1982), Yuri Andropov (1984) and Konstantin Chernenko (1985). The 74-year-old Reagan was hale and hearty, bouncing back even from a bullet near his heart. Still, he could say: "How can I meet with them when they keep dying on me?"
President Obama raced to embrace sometime Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, arguing that he was huddling with the leader, even as he dissed the real power in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin. That's like hugging the monkey and thumbing your nose at the organ grinder.
Mr. Obama's first-term National Security Adviser was retired Gen. Jim Jones. The Washington Post reported, breathlessly, how close the relationship between Gen. Jones and Russian foreign policy specialist Sergei Prikhodko was.
Before he can sleep, Jones also needs to talk to Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko, to help negotiate a tougher stance on Iran's nuclear program. The Situation Room officer who handles secure calls for the West Wing is trying to locate Prikhodko, who's traveling in Kiev.
Gen. Jones spoke to Prikhodko almost daily, the Post noted approvingly. All this chumminess was going to help the U.S. get more cooperation from the Russians. Russia was going to help us, of course, with a "tougher stance" toward Iran's nuclear program. That story by the Post ran on July 4, 2010. Three years later, Gen. Jones is long gone and the Iranian centrifuges are spinning dangerously toward a nuclear weapon.
Is Russia more cooperative? You decide. Putin has just effectively taken over the U.S. position in the Mideast, dealing with Syria's chemical weapons. Mr. Obama approvingly quoted Ronald Reagan's famous "Trust but Verify." He has given it his own spin, however. Now, his policy is "Trust the Russians to Verify."
Reagan responded to insistent press demands he meet with the new Soviet dictator, Mikhail Gorbachev. In behind-the-scenes staff meetings, the president's own advisers pressed him to shake hands and make nice with this very different Communist boss. "I know he's different from all the others," Reagan said with a grin, "he's the first Communist Party chief who weighs more than his wife!" Reagan used humor, once again, to tell his importunate staffers that he would set the time and the agenda for a summit meeting.
When he did meet with Gorbachev, he made a point of taking the names of jailed dissenters. His administration had already pressed for the release of Siberian Seven, Russian Pentecostals, who had sought refuge for years in the U.S. Embassy. Now, he would confront Gorbachev with the names of Jewish "refuseniks," like Anatoly Scharansky, and those of Christians like poet Irina Ratushinskaya, who was jailed by the KGB.
When President Obama met with then-President Medvedev in Seoul, South Korea in 2012, he promised the seat-warmer that he would be more "flexible" after his reelection. Reelected, Mr. Obama has outdone an India Rubber Man in flexibility.
Did he appeal to President Vladimir Putin to lift the ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans? Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, who is parent to two Russian adopted children, is circulating this delightful video of American kids adopted from Russia. She has shown more strength in confronting President Putin than this administration has.
We now know, after promising the Iranian mullahs "an open hand and not a clenched fist," that the rulers in Tehran have essentially brushed President Obama off. He held off commenting on their fraudulent elections in 2009 when hundreds of thousands of Iranians protested in the streets. Some were shot down by the regime's Islamic Republican Guards. Neda, an unarmed young woman, was allowed to bleed to death with no hope of help from the Obama administration. Even CNN showed more sympathy.
Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, is making the rounds, telling the UN General Assembly that he now recognizes the wrong in the Holocaust, and preaching "tolerance." President Obama says he's willing to let diplomacy take its chance to stop the Iranian nuclear program, as if he has not been extending olive branches for nearly five years. Only to have them slapped away.
Today, with Pastor Saeed Abedini languishing in Tehran's Evin Prison, it takes a 94-year-old evangelist, Billy Graham, to appeal to the conscience of the world and to demand the Christian's release. Pastor Abedini has just passed the one-year mark in that notorious dungeon. His crime? He preached the Gospel in Iran's Islamic Republic.
President Obama might have confronted Rouhani at the UN with the plight of Pastor Abedini. But the Iranian placeholder was too busy to meet with our twice-elected Nobel Peace Prize Winner. At least Billy Graham's strong voice will be heard around the world.
When President Reagan fired the PATCO workers in 1981, the whole world took note. "With Reagan," the KGB reported in Moscow, "words are deeds." When President Obama pledged to close Guantànamo Bay in just one year, the world again took note. Gitmo remains open.
He should never have issued Executive Order 0, but with Mr. Obama, words are just that, words. In that, as in so many ways, he is the anti-Reagan.