Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Bush and Obama, Both Wrong About the Middle East
President Obama has managed to match President Bush’s “Mission accomplished” assertion with “The tide has turned” in his recent visit to Kabul, Afghanistan. Predicting the end of armed conflict in the Middle East is a fool’s game because the horizon keeps receding in a region that is more famed for warfare and revolution than anything else.
World leaders have always tried to influence events and trends with rhetoric. It rarely works. Recall, Chamberlain’s return from the 1938 Munich conference that gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler, proclaiming he had achieved “Peace in our time.” Trying to make deals with despots is always a losing proposition and the Middle East is chockablock with despots.
Obama’s claim that the killing of Osama bin Laden diminished al Qaeda’s power in the Middle East is one of those fantasies that will lead to more bloodshed. As Seth Jones, a Rand Corporation analyst noted in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion, “”With a number of regimes teetering from the Arab Spring, al Qaeda is pushing into the vacuum and riding a resurgent wave as its affiliates engage in a violent campaign of attacks across the Middle East and Africa.”
This capacity for self-delusion is seen in the U.S. State Department’s assertion that the war on terror is over as it shifts its attention to Asia. This is the same administration that renamed the war on terror an “overseas contingency operation.”
The American public is not deceived. On April 30, Rasmussen Reports noted that “Only 11% Think War on Terror is Over”, citing a poll in which seventy-nine (79%) said that the war, declared after 9/11, is not over. The eleven percent (11%) “are undecided.” And willfully ignorant.
While all the nations in the Middle East and across the Maghreb region of northern Africa bear watching, aside from the hot spots of Afghanistan and Iraq, both in flux, the two nations of grave concern are Iran and Syria for now.
As former Ambassador John Bolton pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion, “Mr. Obama knows that if he confronts Iran directly in Syria, any chance will disappear for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons,” adding that he should have known that “diplomacy will never persuade Iran to renounce its objective of becoming a nuclear power…the president cannot bring himself to admit his Iran policy’s failure.”
Obama’s foreign policy regarding the Middle East has been a failure, but his reluctance to escalate U.S. military involvement there has merit.
As James Lewis recently wrote in American Thinker.com, “No Arab regime in history has been peaceful for long, because Islam means holy war.” Obama has been extremely adverse to military action, unlike the turbulent post-9/11 years of the Bush administration. Bush’s error, in retrospect, was to leave troops in place after chasing al Qaeda out of the former and after deposing Saddam Hussein in the latter. Predictably, Americans grew weary of the long conflicts in both nations.
This may explain why Obama’s policy has evolved into a series of targeted assassinations, using drones in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s like flicking flies off the back of an elephant.
As for despots, the worst of the lot presently is Syria’s Bashar Assad. For an excellent series examining how Russia and Iran had propping up his murderous regime, read Sophia Albertina’s series on the current slaughter in Syria. It is a repeat of his father, Hafez Assad’s in 1982 when he killed thousands in Homa to put down an insurrection, except that Bashar has killed even more Syrians.
Gary C. Gambrill, the former editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin and Middle East Bulletin, counsels that the current status quo “is untenable because the other Arab countries, including those that have urged Washington to confront Iran, and even Turkey, will not allow continued instability and bloodshed on their borders.”
“Any confrontation between Tehran and the Arab states,” counsels Gambrill, “should be allowed to run its course. If Assad is fated for defeat, and his fall would remove Iran from ‘Syria’s orbit’, there is no rationale for U.S. intervention.”
The U.S. has tried diplomacy and it has failed. It has tried military intervention and it has failed. To the degree that President Obama has opted to get out, it looks like the right policy for now and the future. To the degree that he has weakened the U.S. military, it is the worst possible choice he has made.
© Alan Caruba, 2012