By Barry Rubin
Think of how outrageous my headline is:
Destroying Western Interests in the Middle East, Helping Destabilize the Region, and Putting Millions of Lives in Jeopardy
Do you think that’s extremist, crazy, can’t be true because you’re not seeing that stuff in the New York Times? You must be a right-wing Republican, you say?
No, just a serious Middle East analyst.
The tenth anniversary of September 11, almost three years after Obama’s election, is a suitable time to confront this issue honestly and fully. So consider fairly and honestly the list of points below.
Egypt: Obama supported a revolution overthrowing a U.S. ally — rather than a smooth transition replacing the dictator and instituting some reform without dropping the entire regime — disregarding State Department advice and not even consulting with Jordan, Israel, or Saudi Arabia! He also unilaterally announced his readiness to see the Muslim Brotherhood in power. His analysts denied that the Brotherhood is a radical, anti-American Islamist organization that supports terrorism. The resulting dangerous crisis, including Egypt becoming a new type of Iran, is now clear to all.
Israel-Palestinian Peace Process: By distancing himself from Israel, removing all pressure from the Palestinians, unilaterally proposing a freeze of Israeli construction on settlements, and repeatedly messing up the effort to restart negotiations, Obama made the peace process situation worse. His failure to handle properly the Palestinian UN unilateral independence bid has put U.S. policy in a terrible mess, with an American veto leading to large-scale anti-Americanism and probable violence both by Palestinians against Israel and by Muslims against the United States.
Israel: The damage the Obama Administration did to Israel was not in bilateral relations or even in the “peace process” but by its role in the deterioration of the regional situation to a dangerous extent. As a result, the two most powerful regional powers that had decent relations with Israel — Egypt and Turkey — turned around 180 degrees; Hamas rule was entrenched in the Gaza Strip; Hizballah’s rule in Lebanon. That’s four of Israel’s “neighbors” that became effectively hostile while the Obama Administration didn’t even notice. As the level of threat rose, U.S. political-diplomatic support for Israel declined.
Turkey: As Turkey continued to move toward being a repressive Islamist state allied with revolutionary Islamism, the U.S. government didn’t notice. Farcically, it promoted the ”Turkish model” and made Turkey its mediator over Syria’s future!
Lebanon: As Lebanon fell under Syria-Iran-Hizballah control, the Obama Administration did nothing. It failed to support the moderates and so they surrendered.
Syria: The Administration pursued the factually ridiculous effort to pull Syria away from Iran and engaged it even as Damascus escalated its support for terrorism, aggression toward Lebanon, killing Americans in Iraq, and then repressing its own people.
Gaza: The Administration gave Hamas indirect aid, made no serious effort to overthrow a radical, anti-American, genocidal-oriented regime, and pressed Israel to reduce sanctions to a minimum. This ensured the survival and strengthening of a pro-terrorist revolutionary Islamist state on the Mediterranean.
Saudi Arabia: Repeated slaps in the face and failure to confront advances by revolutionary Islamists — especially Iran and Syria, as well as abandonment of Mubarak — disgusted this ally. Seeing U.S. weakness, it concluded it has to take care of itself
Iran: After wasting a long time in engagement, the administration finally (at the slowest possible speed) did push sanctions. Yet it still has no strategy for opposing Iran’s non-nuclear methods of subverting neighbors and expanding its influence.
Danger: Obama failed to realize it or to define properly friends and enemies.
Leadership: Despite being begged by different allies, the Obama Administration failed to demonstrate leadership.
Empowering Islamism: In his Cairo speech and thereafter, Obama emphasized the Muslim identity of Middle Easterners thus undermining Arab identity and nationalism.
Endangering the lives of American soldiers and civilians: By refusing to allow a proper analysis of Islamism and terrorism. Consider, for example, the Fort Hood attack in which Americans were killed because military officers feared to do their job lest it hurt their promotions.
Libya: Obama entered a war without any strategy for what would happen after Qadhafi fell or any knowledge of who he was helping to promote as the new leadership.
Rejection of basic diplomatic principles: Supporting friends and punishing enemies; credibility; deterrence; coherent strategy.
What’s important is the result, not whether you think this has been caused by incompetence; arrogance; a thirst for popularity over responsibility; ideology; a personal antipathy toward Israel (it shouldn’t be exaggerated but it’s there); lack of experience; choosing advisors badly; or ignorance among them. I don’t think it’s been deliberate but what’s shocking is to have a policy so bad that many do.
There is nothing inevitably Democratic or liberal about these failings. No previous president or administration — even that of Jimmy Carter — comes close to having so many dangerous failures. Nor is it inevitably a product of Washington, as the State and Defense departments gave him some good intelligence and advice which, if followed, would have greatly reduced the extent of the problems.
You can cheer Obama’s continued strategic cooperation with Israel, sanctions on Iran, and engagement in Libya. You can place blame on Obama’s predecessor or chant, “Obama killed Osama” and not tireless American intelligence operatives or courageous Navy SEALs. But after all the rationalizations won’t you admit that the situation is still truly shocking?
The American people, Middle East allies, US. interests, and the world generally cannot afford another four years of misjudgment and reckless endangerment. Can Obama be trusted to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran; a radical Egypt supporting Hamas; a Turkish regime screaming about fighting Israel, a Palestinian movement that has thrown away any diplomatic alternative?
I leave jobs and the economy, medical care, and such to others. On Middle East issues, however, Obama has failed dangerously and badly. He has ignored chances to learn from experience. American national interests require that he be defeated in the next election.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com