Monday, October 15, 2012

Obama's Biggest Middle East Policy Failure -- And Can Romney Do Better?

According to Jackson Diehl, the prime example of Obama's failed Middle East policy is not the disaster in Libya, but rather How Obama bungled the Syrian revolution:
The president’s handling of Syria, on the other hand, exemplifies every weakness in his foreign policy — from his excessive faith in “engaging” troublesome foreign leaders to his insistence on multilateralism as an end in itself to his self-defeating caution in asserting American power.
As a result of Obama's failed policy in Syria:

  • A civil war that is effecting both US allies in Turkey and Jordan, as well as countries such as Iraq and Lebanon.
  • Al-Qaeda has become much more active in Syria than in Libya
  • More liberal and secular forces is Syria resent the US failure to help them and have turned against the US
  • Over 30,000 people have been killed thus fare -- and the toll is increasing
Diehl points out Obama's decision to reverse Bush's policy of isolating Assad, choosing instead to reopen the US embassy there -- and who can forget Hillary Clinton's absurd claim about Assad that “many . . . believe he’s a reformer." That position stalled US action against the massacre by the Assad regime for months.

When the Obama administration finally did decide on doing something, it was decided to go through the UN, which set up a mission led by none other than Kofi Anaan -- a failed idea followed up by the suggestion that Putin could somehow be cajoled into applying Russian pressure to Assad to have him step down.

The US has been reduced to counting the bodies of the endless victims of the Assad regime. Instead of sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition, the US leaves that job to Saudi Arabia and Qatar while it provides support for their shipments of secondhand light weapons such as rifles and grenades into Syria. Reports indicate that much of these weapons end up in the hands of Islamists who do not see the US as allies.

And what about Romney -- Does he have any better idea of what to do about Syria?
The New York Times questions Romney's approach to Syria:
The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that rebel groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into rebel hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.

But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.
The question becomes to what degree it is possible to actually pinpoint those groups which it is in our interest to provide the arms necessary to defeat Assad.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center. He is an Israel who has twice gone into Syria to understand the situation first hand. Spyer says in an interview with Michael Totten that moderate Syria groups opposing Assad can -- and must -- be identified and provided arms:
My own view remains that the United States and its allies should engage closely with the rebels, identify deserving clients and begin to arm and support them. This has not yet happened to a significant degree and the result is the current stalemate. It’s understandable that many Westerners feel that given the rise of Sunni Islamism as a result of the downfall of secular Arab dictatorships over the last 18 months, the US interest is to stay out. Understandable, but wrong.

The US can either engage in the Middle East or disengage from it. The Obama administration appears to prefer the latter option. But disengagement doesn’t leave a vacuum. Rather, it leaves a space which is rapidly filled by advancing hostile interests – in the Syrian case Iran and Russia, with China as the silent additional partner.
An overview of Obama's term in office is a history of failing to see any situation that can be described as a "hostile interest" to the degree that it requires anything more than sitting and talking. It is an approach that he tried to impose on Israel in a lopsided and unilateral way that brought negotiations that continued under previous administrations to a screeching halt.

More importantly, Obama's disastrous foreign policy has not served US interests well and have given both encouragement and power to radical elements whose philosophy will not leave them content with staying in their own playground. Iran's ties with Venequela's Chavez and indications of Hezbollah in Mexico are reminders of that.

One more reason why it is time for a change.

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