Let’s for a moment assume that Barak Obama is not the naïve bumbler his Middle East “initiatives” to date suggest. That when he went to Cairo his first year in office and delivered his kumbaya speech to the Muslim world, then chose not in more than three years to visit Israel; for the moment let us assume that these choices do not reflect bias, but somehow fit a long-term, “nothing-personal-Israel” strategy. That when his vice president and pro-Israel advocate Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem to jump-start the president’s “peace initiative,” that the brouhaha from the White House Har Homa apartments (previously ceded to Israel by Abbas) was really not really meant as a personal attack on the state of the Jews but was indeed, and in collusion with Netanyahu, a step forward in promoting some presidential grand strategic international initiative still under wraps. That Obama transforming the “settlements” into a negotiations pre-condition that had not existed was some sort of feint intended to distract attention from that his “grand strategy.”
And stepping outside the Levant… Let’s assume that when our president sided with the students who comprised his famous Cairo speech audience and were now “occupying Tahrir,” that Mr. Obama forcing Mubarak, America’s long-time ally and anchor of Arab moderation regarding the US and Israel to vacate the presidency also, somehow, served that closely-guarded strategy; that Obama representing the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate political party supportive of liberal democracy for Egypt and peace with Israel in total disregard of the MB’s history of supporting terrorism, that this too fits Obama’s “plan.” As does alienating the Saudis by endorsing “democracy” for Bahrain’s Sh’ia population which, if achieved, would mean Iran would not only flank the Saudis along the Bush-provided Iraq border, but from that island to the south, a mere Saudi causeway from the mainland. And how does the fact that were the Sh’ia to gain power that the US Fifth Fleet would, if allowed to remain, share its strategic fleet headquarters with the Iranian navy! And that this also somehow serves America’s interests in the Obama “Grand Plan!”
And let us assume the obvious, that according to this “grand plan” that the Middle East already pushed to the brink of anarchy thanks in no small part to a pattern of otherwise inexplicable Obama initiatives over the past three years, that the made-in-Washington chaos now sweeping the region threatened by a nuclearizing Iran and leading to a very likely nuclear arms race, that this too serves Obama’s plan.
Now let us assume that that “Grand Plan” was revealed by the White House as the joint initiative disclosed by the president and his defense secretary on 5 January, 2012: The United States was in the process of focusing its military and diplomatic prowess on containing China, the emerging economic and military superpower for the 21st century. But since the American economy would not support the military initiative in its current weakness our president would achieve his containment plan simultaneously as the Pentagon cuts its budget by half a trillion dollars over ten years.
A smaller military, an ambitious Far East policy… something would have to give.
The US has been in retreat from the Middle East at least since the destruction of the regional balance brought on by Bush invading Iraq. When Obama chose to show muscle in Afghanistan, again assuming his “grand plan,” had the gambit proved successful America would have been positioned to threaten China from the west, as well as from bases in the Far East. This would have supported his announced “containment” strategy. But if that was indeed his intention then the president was, as Bush in Iraq, blind-sided: in both instances the wrong side won. Because as the US is preparing to follow Iraq with another withdrawal without success, who but the Chinese are partnering with Karzai to develop Afghanistan’s resources, to build its infrastructure.
So what does all this mean in terms of Israel and the Middle East?
It is certainly a stretch to try to tie all of the above into a credible long-range strategic plan unless we assume that our president is truly a 21st century Machiavellian genius of the first order. Ousting Mubarak, all but endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood as a force for democratic change, blaming Israel publicly as harmful to American regional interests, and an Iran policy unworthy even of the term, “policy”: How does promoting a nuclear-armed Iran serve any conceivable American interest? And if there is no “grand design,” what does this say about the results of three years of Obama Middle East and South Asia policy? And let me be clear: I voted for Obama.
Bush shoved the boulder that began the landslide of American retreat from the Middle East. We might have hoped his opposite in a more intelligent leadership would have at least have slowed the retreat. Instead yet another ideologue who instead set dynamite along the path to ensure the disaster.
Between the latest two presidents it is likely that the retreat from the region, and with it credibility as a “superpower,” are irreversible regardless who succeeds this president.
And by the way, Mr. President, while you are busily encircling China from the East, China appears better positioned to counter the threat from its developing relationship with Afghanistan. And, of course, China is already competing with us head-to-head in Africa. And oh yes, it appears China is also replacing Russia as Iran’s principal patron, therefore positioned to replace US hegemony in the Middle East, in control of that major source of the world’s oil.
I suspect, Mr. President, that THAT may be the only “Grand Strategy” in play. And as for 2012, I think I may just have to sit the next election out.