What Presidents Read

Bookcases fascinate me. Not the wooden superstructures. The titles on the shelves. They reveal what a person feeds her mind, heart and soul. It’s comparable to peeking in people’s shopping carts at HEB. You learn a lot about people by what they ingest.

I’m particularly interested in what leaders read. What shapes their thinking, their decisions, their character.

Naturally, I was intrigued that in 2006 President Bush read 95 books including biographies on Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and LBJ, Philbrick’s “Mayflower” and Crichton’s “Next.” In 2007, his list included “Khrushchev’s Cold War,” a bio on Andrew Mellon and Nasr’s “The Shia Revival.” 

His last full year as president saw King’s “Vienna 1814,” Meacham’s “American Lion” and the Bible cover to cover, an annual ritual.

When I saw President Obama walking off Air Force One with a book in his hand, I strained to see that it was “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. The author claims that the book is not about America’s decline; it’s about everyone else’s rise. But I still can’t help but bounce the concept of post-American exceptionalism off the foreign policy we’ve seen from the Obama Administration.

Take Iran, for example, which last week signed an agreement with Brazil and Turkey to exchange uranium. Iran’s staunchly anti-American president stood arm-in-arm with the leaders of two of our most reliable allies in their respective parts of the world. 

The deal reflects America’s waning influence in the world. It makes a UN sanction of Iran less likely and a nuclear-armed Iran no less likely. Even the French acknowledged the agreement would not slow Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Obama remained silent last summer when pro-democracy protesters took to Iran’s streets to question the re-election of a radical regime. Prior to that, he spoke softly about his desire for conversations with Iran built on “mutual respect.” 

What has the silence and soft talk gotten us? An Iran just as committed to nuclear armament and the annihilation of Israel as ever.

The U.S. changed its tone on Iran and Iran has toned us out. Iran went from the axis of evil under Bush to the circle of reason under Obama. Subsequently, Brazil and Turkey have given it the legitimacy insinuated by the U.S. commander-in-chief.

As a result, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets his face splashed around the world like he’s any old head of state. In truth, he’s one of just a few crackheads of state.

And we want to meet him for coffee.

Examples of the ineffectiveness of Mr. Obama’s appeasement and silence abound: Russia, Syria, Honduras, Venezuela. As do examples of our undercutting friends: Czech Republic and Poland over missile defense, Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, Israel over using military force against Iran.

Few things promote internal unity like a strong external front. It makes the internecine debates less cataclysmic. Principled foreign policy can prevent the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “post-American world.”

It’s not rocket science. Punish bad behavior. Reward good. Support our allies. Thwart our enemies. Unfortunately, good and evil, friends and enemies seem to be relative terms for Mr. Obama.

His reality is post-almost-everything: post-modern, post-Christian, post-American. The only thing it’s post-not is malaise.

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