Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Mideast Media Sampler 10/1/13: Pundits and Allies Reject Obama’s Foreign Policies

by David Gerstman, contributing blogger at Legal Insurrection

In a remarkable op-ed last week, Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post excoriated Obama’s Myopic Worldview.

After noting that the President claimed in his U.N. speech, “The world is more stable than it was five years ago,” Diehl responded:
So: Why, according to Obama, is the world better off than in 2008? Well, the global economic crisis has abated. But that’s not all: “We’ve also worked to end a decade of war,” the president said, by withdrawing U.S. and NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and “shifting away from a perpetual war footing.” Here’s where you could almost hear the head-scratching in the Iraqi and Afghan delegations: Violence in both of those countries is considerably worse than it was five years ago, in part because of the U.S. withdrawals.

Also, as Obama half-acknowledged, al-Qaeda is more of a threat in more places — Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Syria — than it was in 2008. And then there is the region stretching from Morocco to Iran, which is experiencing not stability but an epochal upheaval, one that has brought civil war or anarchy to a half-dozen countries and spawned the greatest crimes against humanity since the turn of the 21st century.

It’s easy to dismiss Obama’s claim on factual grounds. More interesting is to see what prompted it: a soda-straw view of the world in which only the president’s inauguration-day priorities are visible. His aim then was to bring home U.S. troops, end the “endless war” of George W. Bush, defend the homeland from al-Qaeda and step back from the quagmire of the Arab Middle East. He did all that; ergo, the world is more stable — and from the attenuated perspective of an American who mainly wishes the world would go away, perhaps it is.
Obama: “The world is more stable than it was five years ago" --
from where he's sitting. Credit: Tiffany/Divas and Dorks

Unlike Diehl, I didn’t find President Obama’s speech to be that surprising. There wasn’t much new in it. President Obama doesn’t believe in letting troops fight to win a war but to bring them home and end it. He’s said that in slightly different words throughout his presidency.

What’s remarkable about Diehl’s column is that Diehl and the Washington Post’s editorial board twice endorsed Barack Obama for President despite his myopic worldview. This is as thorough a verbal repudiation of the president as any I’ve seen.

But it isn’t just pundits who reject President Obama’s foreign policies; it’s allies too. A few weeks ago Walter Russell Mead wrote in The Failed Grand Strategy in the Middle East:

The next problem is that the Obama administration misread the impact that its chosen strategies would have on relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia—and underestimated just how miserable those two countries can make America’s life in the Middle East if they are sufficiently annoyed.
The situations with Israel and Saudi Arabia have gotten worse since then. The most recent reason is President Obama’s outreach to Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported U.S. Moves on Syria, Iran Anger Saudi Arabia:
Saudi Arabia, for example, long held off on supplying Stinger-style missiles to Syrian rebels because of U.S. worries the missiles could be used against Western targets, security analysts briefed by Saudi officials say. Saudi Arabia increased pressure on the U.S. to allow arming the rebels with antiaircraft weapons this summer, as larger numbers of Hezbollah fighters entered the conflict on the side of Mr. Assad’s regime.

Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst with the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

“They are going to be upset—we can live with that,” Mr. Alani said Sunday of the Obama administration. “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”

The New York Times added Israel to the allies who are concerned with President Obama’s outreach. Jodi Rudoren reported in Israel and Others in Mideast View Overtures of U.S. and Iran With Suspicion (There was no reason to single Israel out in the headline.):
Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated gulf countries share a concern about a shift in the balance of power toward Iran’s Shiite-led government and its allies. For Israel, Iran remains the sponsor of global terrorism and of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, both avowed enemies of Israel’s existence.
This paragraph is largely accurate though it’s written in Timespeak so as to make it seem that only the Gulf States would be concerned with the first problem and only Israel need be concerned with the second. But like the Wall Street Journal, this one too has a memorable quote:
“Obama is interested in showing foreign policy success because he hasn’t had too many of them,” said Emily Landau, an Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I’m afraid that for the sake of that he might be willing to compromise on the nuclear issue in a manner that I think is detrimental to U.S. national security interests, leave aside Israel.”
Landau is correct. Iran’s aggressiveness isn’t just a threat to Israel. She’s also correct that for President Obama making an agreement is a success in its own right regardless of the consequences. (Although, Obama would dispute Landau’s assertion that he has had few foreign policy successes. Bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, are successes in his book.)

Once allies no longer trust you, then someone else will step in. The Washington Post reports Russia seeks to fill vacuum in the Middle East:
Russian intentions in the region are rooted in many concerns, but foremost among them is Moscow’s determination “to emphasize Russia’s role in the world as an indispensable nation, especially vis-a-vis American helplessness to settle problems,” he said.

The intent is being felt. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who became premier three years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, has made two trips to Moscow in the past year and none to Washington. His talks were focused on a $4 billion defense deal under which Russia will supply Iraq with a range of armaments, including fighter jets, which are expected to be delivered soon. …

Meanwhile, strains between Egypt’s new military-backed rulers and Washington have led Egyptian leaders to encourage Russian advances. A Russian tourism delegation came to the country to explore ways of expanding visits by Russians at a time when most Westerners have been staying away, and interim Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, a former ambassador to Washington, chose Moscow for his first visit beyond the region in his new job.
This isn’t just a negative effect of Obama’s outreach to Iran, but of his myopic worldview, in which he sees no need to cultivate alliances.

Ironically the failures of President Obama’s foreign policy won’t get a lot of attention right now because of the government shutdown. Obama would reach out to an acknowledged and active enemy of the United States (and the West generally) but steadfastly refused to negotiate with political opponents. The contrast between how President Obama treated Hassan Rouhani and how he treats John Boehner speaks volumes about the his priorities.

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