Last week's hostage situation was, in retrospect, fairly easy.
Even though Captain Richard Phillips was in some immediate danger, the Somali pirates don't have much of a constituency. They have no allies around the world who are willing to come to their aid and denounce Western powers. So, there wasn't any risk in President Obama giving Navy snipers the go-ahead to take out three pirates when it looked like they were about to hurt Phillips.
Obama gave the order. The snipers did what they had to. The president looked like a good, tough leader.
What a difference a few days make!
Between releasing CIA torture memos (though deciding not to prosecute any Bush appointees who authored or approved of the memos), saying relatively nice things about Cuba and Los Hermanos Castros, and shaking hands with Venezuelan Castro-wannabe Hugo Chavez , this week has already given the Obama administration's foreign policy critics a big fat target.
It gets worse. America's favorite bete noir, Iran and its peripatetic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ended up offering a one-two punch Sunday that makes it very difficult for Obama to extend a hand of friendship: First, Iran convicted Iranian-American former Miss North Dakota Roxana Saberi of espionage on behalf of the US -- sentencing her to eight years in prison -- following a closed-door so-called "trial." Ahmadinejad sounded conciliatory and said that Saberi would be allowed her own lawyer for the appeals part of the process and that "her rights will not be violated" (thank goodness for small favors)!
Second, Ahmadinejad blasted Israel at the United Nations Conference on Racism in Geneva. The United States was already boycotting the proceedings at the so-called "Durban II" conference, precisely because of its perceived anti-Israel agenda. Ahmadinejad's comments calling the Holocaust a "pretext" to create Israel sparked a walkout of 40-some diplomats from Britain, France and other Western powers.
Well, the Iranian president has now given Obama two ticking grenades. An American citizen is a de facto hostage to Iranian "justice." Ahmadinejad has slurred one of America's strongest allies. And Iran is still pursuing a nuclear weapon.
Does the president still believe that he can talk with this man -- and this nation -- in completely good faith?
Taking out pirates was pretty easy. Trying to bargain for a former beauty princess with an unstable world leader bent on acquiring nukes is a much tougher operation.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.