When President Obama enters the gates of the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald on June 5, he will be sharply reminded of the evils of totalitarianism. Over 50,000 Jews and political dissidents perished at the camp before it was liberated by American troops in April 1945. For Obama himself, the visit will be especially poignant -- his great uncle Charlie's 89th Infantry Division took part in the liberation of the sub camp at Ohrdruf.
The Buchenwald visit is part of a broader trip this week by the president to Europe and the Middle East, beginning with meetings in Saudi Arabia and a major policy address in Egypt, and ending with Obama's participation in ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
The tour is wrapped in symbolism, as the president pays tribute to the huge sacrifice of American troops in World War Two and recalls the enormity of the Holocaust, the darkest episode in modern European history, which claimed six million lives.
Significantly, President Obama is visiting a Nazi death camp at a time when the free world is facing a growing threat from a Hitler-like demagogue who is building a nuclear weapons program while threatening to wipe out an entire nation. Iran's president , Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is deadly serious when he warns that Israel "will soon disappear off the geographical scene" and rails against Jews in almost every speech he makes.
Ahmadinejad and his acolytes speak the language of Himmler and Goebbels, and such warnings are ignored at great peril.
The recent missile test by Iran of the Sejil-2 surface to surface missile with a range of 1,200 miles, capable of striking targets across Israel, the Middle East and southern Europe, further underscores both the conventional and nuclear threat that Iranian aggression presents. There is no sign whatsoever that Tehran is backing down from its ambition of dominating the region, or that the Obama administration's leisurely approach is reaping dividends.
The horrors of Buchenwald are an important reminder of the failure of the appeasement polices of the 1930s, and the danger of failing to take genocidal threats seriously. Millions were murdered in Europe at the hands of the Third Reich after the world declined to take early action against a tyrant who later acted upon his menacing words. The president's visit to the camp as well as his discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel must reinforce the message that evil must be confronted and defeated.
When he travels to Germany, President Obama has a major opportunity to declare that his administration will under no circumstances accept a nuclear-armed Iran, a regime with clearly genocidal intentions. He should make it clear that Tehran will face a dramatic escalation of international economic and political sanctions, the complete isolation of the Iranian government, and possible military action unless it immediately halts its nuclear programme. The president must also press forward with the deployment of a global missile defence system, including installations in eastern and central Europe.
Obama should urge his German counterpart, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to end her country's massive economic investment in Iran when the two leaders meet in Dresden. German money is shamefully playing a key role in sustaining a brutal, Holocaust-denying regime that oppresses its own people and poses the biggest state-based threat to global security of this generation. Through its investments in Iran, Germany is also helping finance the world's biggest sponsor of international terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
Germany remains Europe's biggest exporter to Iran, with nearly 4 billion euros worth of exports in 2008, a third higher than its exports to Israel. Last year, German trade and investment with Tehran actually increased 10 percent to record levels, with several thousand German companies still conducting business with the rogue state. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been at the forefront of lobbying efforts to advance Iranian-German trade ties, as the honorary chairman of the German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV).
This is a time for robust U.S. leadership in the face of a grave threat, not the adoption of the European Union's failed policy of endless negotiation. It is also a moment for Barack Obama to rethink his flawed strategy of reaching out to dictatorial regimes in the name of "engagement", whether in the form of Iranian Islamist fundamentalists or North Korean Stalinists.
The Obama administration's foreign policy doctrine is fraught with risk. As Jimmy Carter discovered to his cost, a United States that looks like a soft touch will swiftly lose the respect of its allies and be outmaneuvered by its foes and rivals. Obama's application of "smart power" is looking increasingly like the appeasement of America's enemies, and on the Iranian nuclear question his administration has projected weakness and confusion.
There are striking parallels between the world's initial failure to stand up to Nazi Germany over 70 years ago and the West's inaction today in the face of Iranian aggression. Tehran's drive towards nuclear might can and must be stopped, but only if the United States and its key allies across the Atlantic are willing to do what is necessary.
Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared in Human Events