Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In 2011 U.S. Primacy in the Middle East Died; In 2012 The Funeral Will Be Held

“This is the end…
Of our elaborate plans, the end,
Of everything that stands….
No safety or surprise….
There’s danger on the edge of town…. 
And all the children are insane….
The West is the best….
But you will never follow me.”
--“This is the End,” The Doors

By Barry Rubin

Here’s your basic problem for 2012-2013: In the Middle East, the vultures are coming home to roost.  Of course, the main cause of developments in the region is the long, failed legacy of radical Arab nationalism which is now being replaced by what we’ll be calling in 20 or 30 years the long failed legacy of revolutionary Islamism.

But the secondary cause is the mistaken policy of President Barack Obama. Let’s make a list of his costly errors .

--By putting the priority on Muslim identity, as he did in the Cairo speech and elsewhere, Obama helped empower Islamism over nationalism and democratic choices.

--By pressing for revolutionary change in Egypt, Obama helped bring a radical Islamist regime to Egypt, the Arab world’s most important country, leading it to break the alliance with the United States and move toward heightened belligerency—possibly war—with Israel.

--By pressing for revolutionary change in Egypt, Obama helped bring to power a regime allied to Hamas, providing that regime in the Gaza Strip with unlimited arms, money, and terrorist reinforcements and thus bringing renewed armed conflict with Israel.

Let me stop here a moment and respond to the claim that Obama couldn’t have done much on this issue. Of course, if we look at the demonstrations on the ground that seems a sensible argument. But the key pressure point was the U.S. ability to affect decisions taken by Egypt’s elite and military in January and early February 2011 to give up and even join the revolution.

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U.S. encouragement and pressure—as the State Department wanted to do at the time—would have allowed a post-Mubarak transition with some reforms rather than an all-out revolution.  There’s an interesting parallel to Iran in 1978, when almost year-long inaction by the Carter Administration helped create a situation producing the Islamic revolution there.

--By overthrowing the horrible Muammar Qadhafi, however much that can be justified by the evil nature of the old regime, Obama handed power over to radical forces, not consciously or intentionally but inevitably given the reality of that country.   We already see such signs as a refusal to cooperate with the Lockerbie bombing investigation and the destruction of Christian and Jewish graveyards.

--By failing to help the Iranian opposition, not taking a strong stance when the election was stolen, and doing nothing serious about Iran’s nuclear program for more than two years, the Obama Administration has helped create a situation in which either Israel will attack Iran or Iran will get nuclear weapons. Or both.

--By never criticizing or seriously pressuring the Palestinian Authority (as it sought unilateral independence at the UN, allied itself with Hamas, and refused to negotiate with Israel) the Obama Administration made the “peace process” absolutely, positively dead.

--By backing Islamist forces in the Syrian opposition instead of helping the democratic opposition, the Obama Administration is making most likely the worst possible outcome: either a continued pro-Iran, anti-American regime in Damascus or an Islamist takeover there.

--In failing to help U.S. allies, Obama has alienated the few remaining states that sought American protection against revolutionary Islamism to the point that they know they are on their own and must either retreat before the radicals, or make their own deals.

--In distancing itself from Israel, the Obama Administration has emboldened radicals to escalate operations against that country and persuaded the less radical to go along with them.

--By embracing an Islamist regime in Turkey, Obama has allowed that government to continue with its agenda of transforming Turkey while disproving the opposition’s argument that radical policies at home and abroad might damage the country’s standing in Washington.

--By showing so much weakness (which it portrays as friendliness, sympathy, multilateralism, and cultural sensitivity), the Obama Administration has convinced the radical, anti-American forces that the United States is weak and ripe for collapse. Listen to what the Islamists in the region actually say.
This is the government and this is the policy portrayed as successful merely because good intelligence officers located Usama bin Ladin and courageous Navy Seals killed him.

This is the government that portrays itself as the best friend of Israel even as it undermines Israel’s security because Obama keeps saying how much he supports Israel and “allows” continued congressionally mandated aid to go to that country. With best friends like this who needs enemies?

Nothing could be more ridiculous than these assurances of success while the Middle East burns, while U.S. standing and interests there are in sharp decline. The “funny” thing about all of this is that virtually everyone in the region itself knows that everything written above is true even as virtually everyone in the “mainstream” discussion in the United States denies it.

Any possibility that Obama’s policy might not bring disaster in the Middle East died in 2011. In 2012 we’re going to see the funeral.

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, 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.

This article was published in a different version in the Jerusalem Post. Please read and link to my version. 


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