During the Bush presidency White House irresolution (and there that was in abundance following the invasion of Iraq!) most publicly took the form of an administration divided, the president torn between options regarding the Iranian Bomb. One administration official, Cheney usually, would give Israel a “green light” to attack the homeland of the ayatollahs. That would quickly be followed by another official slamming on the brakes with a “red light.” Only to be followed again by another signaling “yellow”! As if Israel, and not the Bush Administration, had allowed the situation with Iran to get so far; as if Israel was responsible for going to war as defender of the region. As if the United States isn’t obligated by its regional Memoranda of Agreement to defend its interests and its allies and dependencies against threat.
And along came the promise of change, America’s first black president, Barak Obama. Finally the impulsivity of presidential decision-making would be replaced by a president of reason.
An article in Debka of 24 July described the reception Israel''s head of Military Intelligence recently received in Washington. With Syria and Egypt the agenda General Kochavi described the emerging threat of al-Quaida in both Syria and in the Sinai:
"As the mainstream Syrian rebel movement crumbles, al Qaeda is bolstered by an influx of fighters, weapons and funds from across the Muslim world, including the Persian Gulf. Over the past year, the IDF has had to reconfigure its deployment against Syria – first to contend with the potential of chemical weapons, then Iranian military involvement, followed by Hizballah’s advance towards the Israeli border and now al Qaeda’s inroads.
"Gen. Kochavi was not led to expect a sympathetic hearing in Washington for Israel’s concerns.
"For the fight, Israel is on its own."
A brief revue of Obama failures: with apparent cool calculation he chose to depose America’s closest and most important Arab leader, Hosni Mubarak, then supported the Muslim Brotherhood power grab. Obama managed to sidestep involvement in Syria for two years at the cost of 100,000 Syrian lives. Not that the president was unwilling to provide assistance: against Syrian Migs and Scud missiles he offered the opposition medical supplies. And when he for reasons unknown finally drew his lone “red line” ever in the region, threatened a military response should Assad use poison gas Assad calculated the threat hollow and today gas is apparently just another weapon in the arsenal of the Syrian military. About a month ago he finally promised the rebel Free Syrian Army weapons. But weapons too appear off the table to judge by General Dempsey’s appearance in Congress this week. Egypt: the military will receive the F-16 as promised… No, the president decided against.
The problem is not whether or not putting weapons in the hands of the opposition is wise or not. In the 1980’s the CIA armed and trained the Mujahedeen fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. Among its graduates was Osama bin-Laden, and those weapons eventually turned back against America. Lesson learned. No, the issue is not arms but policy drift, a lack of any apparent program. Under Obama America is predictably irresolute! And that leads to adventurism, as above with Assad and poison gas.
Bush may not have been the brightest president ever, was certainly not the bravest. But he did his best to hide weakness behind tough words and swagger, surrounded himself with tough-guy officials like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Bush was weak, but also bombastic. And that kept everybody wondering if the loose hand-grenade might in fact explode. So adversary and ally kept a respectful distance.
Obama makes no pretense of his weakness, makes it some kind of presidential virtue! And Russia, and Iran, and Assad and the Sunnis and Sh’ia and even, it appears, Israel understands that if opportunity appears Obama will find a way not to retreat, and America’s allies will be left to fend for themselves. On the single occasion he was forced to act, as in Libya by France and Britain, he did. But since Libya it appears not even gravitas and face prevail. Years of retreat negotiating with Iran; laying down “red lines” against Assad’s use of gas on his people, then failing to act; promising to provide arms to the FSA and backing off: In a region where “face” is all, Obama has none. And the result is that neither he not American “power” are taken seriously.
And that’s the problem. At some point America may be forced, against the president’s will, to act. And the result could be catastrophic, with “unanticipated consequences” far exceeding even those warned by the Bush/Obama dovish defense team, Gates/Mullen to excuse American inaction against Iran.
Someone recently suggested that his sources (undisclosed) indicate that Obama may have turned a corner in his second term, that he is now resolute, has firm policy objectives. By visible evidence (I put a lot of stock in such!) all I see is Iran continuing to progress towards the Bomb while distracting Obama and the EU in Syria. By visible evidence the Iranian mouse has the American eagle in retreat.