By Barry Rubin
Over and over again I’ve written about what President Barack Obama should do. Now the voters have given him a whole new chance. He could take it and change his policy. I don’t believe he will do that but let me lay out both what he’s been wrong and what he should do, just in case Obama is seeking a different approach.
What he did in the first and will do in the second term: Foster revolutionary Islamism in Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.
What he should have done and should do now: Do what Franklin Rooosevelt did in 1941 and Harry Truman in 1947 and George Bush in 1990. Lead an international coalition that will systematically fight against a totalitarian enemy. Today, that means revolutionary Islamism. The loose coalition should include Europe, anti-Islamist Arab regimes (Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Arab states) and pro-democratic opposition movements (Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria).
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What he did….: Support Islamist opposition groups
What he should have done….: Support anti-Islamist and moderate opposition groups
What he did….: Pressed Israel to reduce pressure on the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip and helped bring an Egyptian regime that backed Hamas.
What he should have done….: Supported a reformed—not overthrown—Egyptian regime and Israel in opposing Hamas and subverting its rule.
What he did….: Gave support and aid to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt despite lip service to defending women’s and Christian rights and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
What he should have done….: Clearly condition aid on Egypt to protecting women, Christians, and moderates; take a strong stand on the regime’s permitting cross-border attacks on Israel and gutting the peace treaty. The Obama Administration has, and will have, no credibility with an anti-American extremist and antisemitic Egyptian government.
What he did: Celebrate the Turkish regime as a great example of democracy and moderate Islam. Did nothing as that regime went into a non-shooting war with Israel, backing Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran; rewarded Ankara with special treatment, including letting it organize the Syrian opposition.
What he should have done….: Without provoking a conflict, use U.S. leverage to press Turkey’s rulers to change their policies. No rewards without their help in promoting U.S. goals. Be suspicious of the regime’s intentions and note its suppression of democracy within Turkey.
What he did….: Accepted the Lebanese government dominated by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Syria.
What he should have done….: Back the moderate Lebanese opposition that opposed the regime in order to combat the Iran-Syria bloc.
What he did….: Backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria’s civil war and did not interfere with weapons going to Salafist groups as long as they were not al-Qaida affiliates.
What he should have done….Support moderates and anti-Islamists in Syria against both the Islamists and the regime.
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What he did….: Acted as if all of Libya’s problems had been solved; tried to please the regime and show his niceness by not intervening to save Americans in the September 11 Benghazi attacks.
What he should have done: Know that the US is involved in an ongoing conflict in Libya and there will be more attacks in future.
What he did: Nothing.
What he should have done: Investigate the Benghazi incident seriously and honestly (his choice for chief investigator, former State Department hack Thomas Pickering, is an opportunist who will write whatever the White House wants), get those responsible and make sure that nothing like that has ever happened again. Perhaps an apology to the families of those killed would be in order.
What he did….: Pushed the “peace process” for two years though then he did get the idea it wouldn’t work. He also opposed, albeit starting far too late, Palestinian Authority (PA) unilateral statehood bids. But will he continue that revised policy into a second term?
What he should have done: Realize the peace process isn’t going anywhere and understand that’s because PA intransigence and the Hamas challenge that is radicalizing even further Palestinian policy. When the PA subverts U.S. policies be willing to pressure and criticize it.
What he did….: Said he supported the rights of Christians and women from (Islamist) repression. But he never did anything about it, zero. Cozied up to Syria and Iran at the very moment they were violently suppressing dissidents at home and opponents abroad.
What he should have done: Genuinely work to protect the rights of Christians and women as well as the lives of moderates by using leverage.
What he did….: Said that al-Qaida was defeated.
What he should have done: Understand that al-Qaida is not finished by any means. And its partner the Taliban is still going strong. But this issue made less difference since U.S. policy did fight al-Qaida any way.
What he did….: Continued the withdrawal from Afghanistan and tried to cut a deal with the Taliban.
What he should have done: Continued the withdrawal from Afghanistan but follow a realpolitik policy and set into place a strong set of patron-client relationships with those willing—albeit for their own interests—to keep the Taliban from taking power. The problem is that once U.S. forces are out the regime is likely to collapse and possibly give way to a revolutionary Islamist, anti-American government.
What he did….: Although the U.S. government conducted drone strikes and the killing of Usama bin Ladin, unilaterally, it generally continued to pour money into Pakistan despite its lack of cooperation, activity as a major sponsor of terrorism, and institutionalized anti-Americanism, persecution of Christians, and the spread of radical Islamist ideology.
What he should have done: Move away from Pakistan and rebuild relations with India.
What he did….: Forbade an honest discussion of the enemy and threat in the U.S. military; minimized or denied attacks like the one at Fort Hood were terrorist.
What he should have done: Let the U.S. military educate its people to the actual threat instead of forcing them to pretend otherwise.
What he did….: Put tough international sanctions and on Iran and keep the possibility of an attack against nuclear institutions on the table. He will try to make a deal with Tehran letting it do limited enrichment and drop sanctions in exchange for promises not to develop nuclear weapons. The choice is up to Tehran as to whether to negotiate a deal or simply use talks as one more stalling technique while continuing to hurry toward getting deliverable nuclear weapons. When Iran does get nuclear weapons he won’t do anything, including never supporting an Israeli attack.
What he should do: If he wants to negotiate, first gain credibility in Tehran by being tough on Iranian interests everywhere in the region—he’s doing this in Syria–and bargain toughly rather than do anything to get a deal. When Iran does get nuclear weapons put in place a really tough containment system that would counter Iran’s subversion and terrorism, give strong backing to the internal opposition, and squeeze Iran to the maximum extent. If an honest assessment shows an Iranian plan to attack Israel or if Tehran seems likely to give nuclear bombs to terrorists, the U.S. government should support an Israeli attack. By not being credible, Obama makes more likely Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons and that outcome leading to war.
Shall we go on? Well, the U.S. government will go on doing these things for the next four years.
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 latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent 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 and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.