Say what you will about Bill Clinton’s foreign policy shortcomings, but for the most part he had the good sense not to squander Ronald Reagan’s legacy of peace through strength.

By contrast, Barack Obama’s foreign policy seems to be predicated on a boundless faith in his own persuasive powers and the naïve notion that our international antagonists are merely misunderstood. Not since Jimmy Carter has American foreign policy been so obsequious or short-sighted.

Rather than isolate Venezuelan menace Hugo Chavez, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have managed the remarkable feat of backing Chavez’s acolyte in Honduras, ousted president Manuel Zelaya, while still eliciting ridicule from Latin America’s most notorious thug.

Zelaya, who sought to defy Honduras’ constitutional prohibition against a president seeking multiple terms, was duly prosecuted by his country’s attorney general, removed from office by its supreme court, lawfully replaced by a president from his own political party, and finally deported when his supporters threatened national insurrection.

Obama and Secretary Clinton — standing alongside Chavez, Cuba’s Castro brothers, and the Organization of American States — want to restore Zelaya to power and chastise the Honduran government for adhering to the rule of law.

Apparently Obama longs for the bad ol’ days when the Castro boys and their Soviet Russian patrons established communist dictatorships in Central America.

Or perhaps he believes that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin is just a harmless fuzzball, rather than an erstwhile KGB officer who laments the fall of the Iron Curtain.  That would explain why last year, as a candidate, Obama’s initial reaction to the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia was to urge both sides to “show restraint.”

Worse still as president Obama courts Russia’s cooperation by abruptly canceling plans to deploy anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.  He didn’t revoke these promises in exchange for Russian cooperation.  He simply did it and hoped that Russia would cooperate — just as his climate change policy is to disembowel America’s economy and hope China, India and others do the same to theirs.

The Poles and Czechs endured decades of Russian Soviet oppression.  We should help empower them to defend themselves.  Instead Obama’s policy is a slap in the face — no matter how his administration spins it.  To the Russians and the Iranians, against whose developing ballistic missile program the defenses offered protection, Obama’s pusillanimous maneuver further demonstrates weakness.

Russian president Dmitri Medvedev applauded Obama’s decision, just as a shrewd negotiator insincerely compliments the strength of an adversary he recognizes to be weak.  The Kiev Post explained, “Russian diplomacy is largely a zero-sum game and relies on projecting hard power to force gains.”

That is, Russia plays hardball and plays for keeps.

In his speech to the U.N., Obama tossed about platitudes: “the yearning for peace is universal” and “the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings.”  But “yearning for peace” is not universal — certainly not among governing authorities in places like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea who routinely trample “the hope of human beings” in their own country and in others.

“Two great threats facing the survival of the modern liberal West,” cautions Lee Harris in The Suicide of Reason, are “exaggerated confidence in the power of reason” and “profound underestimation of the forces of fanaticism.”

Because most western nations haven’t faced a direct threat to their placid existence in more than a generation, we too readily forget that the majority of the world’s inhabitants live their entire lives governed not by reason and rule of law but by the law of the jungle and the iron fist of an oppressive government.

Reagan understood that regimes that threaten, attack and oppress peaceful neighbors are indeed “evil” and that they can be deterred only by strength and determination.  Much of the world criticized him when he stood up to “the evil empire,” when he walked away from arms deals that would have weakened us and strengthened our adversaries, and most notably when he exhorted Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Today we know that Reagan’s critics cowered because they lacked his vision.

History is replete with leaders like Obama whose sincere desire for peace blinded them to devious designs of others.  Seeking peace is laudable, but lasting peace is rarely attained by those who appear desperate for it.