The Region: In 2011, US primacy in the Middle East died

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

By BARRY RUBIN
March 18, 2012 22:09
4 minute read.
Hamas policeman near exploded motorcycle in Gaza

Hamas policeman near exploded motorcycle in Gaza_370. (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

‘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

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.

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But the secondary cause is the mistaken policy of President Barack Obama.

Firstly, Obama helped empower Islamism over nationalism and democratic choices by putting a priority on Muslim identity, in his Cairo speech and elsewhere. He then helped bring a radical Islamist regime to power in Egypt, the Arab world’s most important country, by pressing for revolutionary change there. The new regime promptly broke the alliance with the United States and moved toward heightened belligerency – possibly war – with Israel.

Moreover, by doing so Obama also helped provide Hamas in the Gaza Strip with unlimited arms, money and reinforcements, thus bringing about renewed armed conflict with Israel. At the same time, by not 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 sure the “peace process” was absolutely, positively dead.

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 US 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.

US encouragement and pressure – which the State Department wanted to apply 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.

In failing to help the Iranian opposition, by not taking a strong stance when the election was stolen and doing nothing serious about Iran’s nuclear program for over 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 overthrowing the horrible Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, however justified that was, 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 backing Islamist forces in the Syrian opposition, and not helping the opposition generally, the Obama administration is making most likely the worst two options: the continued pro-Iran, anti-American regime in Damascus or an Islamist takeover.

Moreover, in failing to help US 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, retreat before the radicals, or make their own deals.

The Obama administration has also distanced itself from Israel, emboldening radicals to escalate operations against that country and persuaded the less radical to go along with them.

It has embraced an Islamist regime in Turkey, allowing 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.

The Obama administration has displayed so much weakness (which it portrays as friendliness, sympathy, multilateralism and cultural sensitivity), it has convinced the radical, anti-American forces that the United States is 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 Osama bin Laden 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” 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 US standing and interests there are in sharp decline. The “funny” thing about all of this is that virtually everyone in the region knows all this 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.


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