“Neither Israel, nor any of the mainstream Arab governments accept the Obama-Panetta proposition that time will magically temper the extremism of the Islamist regimes.”
Whenever US Middle East policy fails the administration in power turns on Israel as ready scapegoat. This occurred in the 1980’s when Irangate, the Reagan administration criminal involvement in drug trafficking, gun-running and money laundering began appearing in the press. And if the president eventually apologized to the Jewish state, in the end his administration deftly redirected attention away from their criminality to Israel and her spy Jonathan Pollard. And when Bush’s confident victory proclamation proved premature administration insiders sought to shift blame for the war onto Israel (actually Israel, Egypt and the Saudis strongly advised against the war!).
Enter my vote for America’s alternative to dirty and confused politics, Barak Obama. In style and apparent philosophy Obama appeared and may well be the opposite of his predecessor. But if the recent resignations of his two key Middle East advisers George Mitchell and Dennis Ross are an indication such qualities can also produce ideological rigidity, an inability to recognize and respond to situations that may not fit preconceptions. And that certainly seems to explain President Obama’s inability to grasp the complexities of the Middle East over the past two-plus years in office. And Obama, like earlier administrations: when failure looms, blame Israel.
Although Obama cannot be personally blamed for the regional disaster represented by the invasion and withdrawal from Iraq (Bush decisions set both in motion) Obama has followed Bush in shying away from directly confronting the consequences of the invasion. Having deposed the Sunni Baath regime and replaced it with one headed by Iraq’s Shiites Bush redefined the balance of power in the region from the Arabs to the Persians. Shiite Iraq was transformed from bitter enemy to potential ally and satellite of Iran
Saddam Hussein being pulled from his hideaway in Operation Red Dawn, 13 December 2003, (Wikipedia).
Bush replaced Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as secretary of defense. An outspoken opponent of even the threat of force against Iran, if Bush wanted to avoid confronting Iran he could have chosen no better replacement. When Obama succeeded Bush he retained Gates at defense, a clear statement of his own intentions regarding the Islamic Republic. And when Gates retired Obama replaced him with his apparent clone, Leon Panetta. Both defense secretaries and their chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs strongly supported the Bush/Obama policy of Appeasement (what better descriptive of Obama’s carrot-stick-retreat approach to Iran’s nuclear weapons program?). Obama became Ahmadinejad’s unwitting “straight-man,” something of a joke on the Arab street, and the US was losing face and credibility at an accelerating pace with regional friend and foe alike.
While Obama inherited the chronic failure of an elusive and unlikely Arab-Israel peace from a long line of predecessors; while he inherited Iraq and even the policy of Iranian Appeasement from George W. Bush, when it comes to Egypt and Libya and the much Obama-vaunted “Arab Spring” it takes little special insight or knowledge to appreciate that these are Obama’s contribution to an ongoing American retreat not only from Iraq, but as regional hegemon and protector of Middle Eastern oil.
Obama’s commitment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians was laudable, but even here his rigid “idealism” resulted only in an even deeper chasm between the sides. Obama’s idealistic commitment to regional “democracy” is again worth as an ideal, but as policy a disaster. His decision to back the Tahrir Square demonstrators and force Mubarak from office is, as a regional misstep, on par with Bush’s invasion of Iraq in terms of impact on America’s credibility in the region. And when, days before Egyptian elections and the expected landslide victory of Egypt’s Islamists Obama told the military the time arrived to turn over governance to “civilian rule.”
Mubarak on trial, (Reuters).
Iran has always represented the primary threat to America’s regional interests. The Iranian threat also represents a rare common concern uniting Israel and the Arab states. Following Obama’s actions in deposing Mubarak the Saudis were so incensed as to refuse even to take Obama’s phone calls. The refused even to allow visits from high level US diplomats. So mistrustful of their previous protector they entered into a secret agreement to purchase and house nuclear weapons in Pakistan, announced their intention to build their own atom bomb. None of these outcomes would have resulted had US policy makers been objective in viewing events on the ground, of setting ideology aside as determinant of America’s foreign policy objectives.
Three days ago, and for the second time in just over a week, Obama’s military spokesman Panetta, disowning the devastation of a US policy gone wild and following a well-established precedent laid responsibility for American failure on its always available patsy, Israel.
“Unfortunately,” said Panetta, “over the past year, we’ve seen Israel’s isolation from its traditional security partners in the region grow, and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold.” The “traditional partners” referred to are Turkey and Egypt, but Turkey’s regional realignment was itself a much earlier result of US weakness regarding Iran, and began long before the provocation of Mavi Marmara. And as for Egypt, the current state of relations between the two countries is again the direct outcome of misguided US policy, in this instance Obama’s decision to promote Egyptian Islamists over America’s reliable and long-time ally, President Mubarak. US policy towards Libya, Yemen, Bahrain…, all consistent with an ideology of Democracy. In an ironic twist of “the War against Islamist Terrorism” America now promotes Islamist rule from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. In fact American aid to the Islamists has a long history, the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden, and the 1979 Khomeini revolution in Iran.
“Neither Israel, nor any of the mainstream Arab governments accept the Obama-Panetta proposition that time will magically temper the extremism of the Islamist regimes [those beneficiaries of America’s dedication to “democracy”] They have before them the example of a former Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, who made the same argument 32 years ago for the West to dump the shah and welcome Khomeini''s ayatollah regime.”
Had America, starting with Bush in 2003, dedicated a fraction of its military expenditure on wars in Iraq and Libya on America’s principal adversary, Russia-sponsored Iran, had Bush taken seriously the combined advice of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Saudis regarding Iran the region might be less “democratic today. But hundreds of thousands of Arabs who died in those adventures would be alive today; tens of thousands of US servicemen would not have lost life or limb lives in a failed Iraqi vanity conflict; more than a trillion dollars (the actual cost of borrowed money needed to fund the Iraq war) would not today be hanging over the US economy as debt and interest. And certainly the price of oil would be a fraction of its present cost, and if the global recession were not averted at least it would have been minimized. But most importantly for the future of the region and a West threatened by Islamist terrorism, had the US taken on Iran before the costs of such an operation spiraled out of control the threat of a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile places on the planet would have been averted.And Israel today would not find herself threatened both by America-created instability in Arab states near and far, and by her policy-challenged senior partner in their “special relationship,” the true creator of Israel’s isolation.