Obama's Foreign Policy Vision Not So New Age

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President Obama's speeches often claim the time has come for something, or the days of this or that are over. It's as if his presidency has introduced a new epoch.

I used to think that invoking the vision of a new age was merely a rhetorical device to distinguish him from George W. Bush. Now I think it is something more - a way to make a very old philosophy sound new and failed policies of the past seem fresh and exciting.

The trope was in full view last week when the president spoke before the U.N. General Assembly. The time has come to realize that the old habits, old arguments, are irrelevant to the changes faced by our people, he intoned. But when he got around to presenting his new arguments and ideas, they sounded rather familiar.

Every policy and theme outlined in the president's speech has been tried; most have failed. They only appear fresh because their failure happened so long ago that some of us have forgotten and others who don't know history think them untried.

Take Mr. Obama's comprehensive agenda to rid the world of nuclear weapons. This dream is as old as the first atomic bomb explosion. Arms control agreements have failed so many times, it's hard to keep track of the failures. Despite all these agreements, North Korea and Pakistan managed to get their own nuclear weapons, and Iran is close behind.

Mr. Obama would have us believe that nukes have proliferated due to (a) a lack of good faith gestures by America (i.e., unilateral disarmament) and (b) a need for new agreements. But the problem with North Korea and Iran, who are merely the worst proliferators, is not the lack of agreements but their failure to live up to those they've signed.

Don't get me wrong. When arms control negotiators are hard-headed, as Ronald Reagan was, agreements can be beneficial. The trouble starts when you can't tell friend from foe, and you assume America is as much a part of the problem as, say, North Korea. In this version of blame America, Mr. Obama's arms control approach is a throwback to the days of Jimmy Carter's failed Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and Bertrand Russell's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) of the 1950s. The real disarmament target of the CND was not rogue states but the United States and Western powers.

Another already-tried idea of the president's is engagement, which appears in many forms. It was particularly prominent in the U. …