President Obama's "open hand" foreign policy came under a blistering assault Tuesday from Richard Perle, a neoconservative architect of the Iraq war.
"President Obama has made a fetish of a cliché and the cliché is engagement," Perle said during a symposium on the Obama Doctrine at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Watch the full discussion HERE.
During Tuesday's symposium, Perle was in full hawkish mode, arguing that President George W. Bush's technique of "fighting fire with fire" was appropriate even if one can argue about how those policies turned out.
"Sometimes fires are put out by setting a fire," said Perle.
Citing Obama's handling of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Raul Castro of Cuba, and Vladimir Putin of Russia, Perle said that Obama's efforts to reverse the "Bush psychology" have weakened the U.S. and its allies.
"That open hand has not been received by an open hand by our adversaries," said Perle.
Perle's specific gripe on Iran, which he discusses in the current issue of the American Interest journal, is that the Obama administration has been "practically begging the Iranians to talk while appeasing them with near indifference to the theft of an election, brutality against the regime's opponents and continuing support for terrorism."
Perle's criticism of Obama on Russia is that Moscow "gleefully accepted the abandonment of the Polish missile defense deployment and shortly thereafter conducted an in-your-face military exercise in which Russia 'invaded' Poland."
On Venezuela, Perle jabbed Obama for being "all smiles" with Chavez when the Venezuelan leader presented him with a "gift" which -- unbeknownst to Obama at the time -- turned out to be an "anti-American diatribe."
On Cuba, Perle noted that Obama was recently accused by the communist regime of "lying" despite taking steps earlier this year to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to the island nation.
Perle ended his assessment of Obama on a note of optimism, saying that the president's decision to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and his spirited defense of "just war" during a recent speech in Oslo were possible signs that he is learning that engagement is sometimes not feasible.
While accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama made it clear that the U.S. is willing to wage war, despite the fact that his heroes -- Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. – were believers in non-violence.
"We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes," said Obama. "There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naive -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King, but as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone.
"I face the world as it is and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people," Obama continued. "For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms."
Referring to Obama's embrace of armed might in the service of a "just war," Perle said: "If we see more of this, we'll be the better for it."
"I hope we find a Plan B because Plan A isn't working."
Perle's comments, which come at a time when the Republican critique of Obama has focused on his domestic policies, were a preview of what GOP primary voters are likely to hear more of as Republican presidential hopefuls seek to burnish their commander-in-chief credentials in advance of 2012 White House runs.
Mitt Romney, for example, is publishing a book on March 2 entitled, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who ran for the Republican nomination in 2008, is seen by many party insiders as a top contender in 2012. In a series of speeches, he has been outlining a foreign policy critique of Obama which is similar to the one sketched out by Perle.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's new book, "Going Rogue," is light on policy details but it, too, alleges that Obama has projected "weakness" to "terrorists and tyrants."
Perle, who chaired the Defense Policy Board from 2001 to 2003 under President Bush and who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, is currently a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an October 2006 interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Perle said that if he had it to do over, he would not have advocated an invasion of Iraq. Speaking to Vanity Fair during what was the worst month for U.S. casualties in Iraq in almost two years, Perle was described as no longer resembling the "confident hawk" who, as chair of the Defense Policy Board, had invited the exiled Iraqi dissident Ahmad Chalabi to its first meeting after 9/11.
Perle's sharp criticism of Obama stood in contrast to the perspective of G. John Ikenberry, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, who participated in the symposium by telephone.
Given the challenging circumstances in which Obama entered office, Ikenberry said the president, whom he described as a "moderate internationalist" with "liberal and realist sensibilities," has done a commendable job of articulating a new grand strategy for the United States.
"Faced with this quite . . . tumultuous international environment . . . the important question to ask is: 'Has the Obama administration articulated a grand strategy that is responsive to the challenges?' My answer is: I think so – yes. I think it has.
"Because in this sort of environment, the key task . . . is for the U.S. to put itself in the midst of building frameworks of sustained partnership and collective action on many, many fronts," said Ikenberry.
A third panel participant, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, said that Obama's key test in international affairs would be conducting a war in Afghanistan with "more Republican support than Democratic support."
Marshall, whose think tank was for many years associated with the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, said that Obama still has to prove to the public that Democrats "can govern."
"Afghanistan is his," said Marshall. "It now bears his imprimatur. He and his party will be judged on this. They can't afford to fail."