(Following this two-part discussion I will return to Paul next Friday. Current events are no less significant to the security of the Jewish People in dispersion and in Israel)
“He’s far too risk-averse a president,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East adviser to Republican and Democratic administrations. “And in a world where no one will lead except America, he has abdicated and surrendered much of the leadership.”
By now even the most zealous Bush supporter appreciates that the overthrow of Sadam Hussein was not just a military failure for American arms, but a strategic blunder of regional and, with the Great Depression, global consequences. I have discussed issues related to the Iraq misadventure since its inception and the reader interested in a decade and more of my writings on the subject may google David Turner and Iraq. The short of it is that Bush transformed a Sunni Arab barrier to Shiite Persian Iran into a Shiite portal for Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula and throughout the Arab world. Iran, for all intents and purposes, through its surrogates in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria today borders Israel.
But more important for Israel and America’s former Arab allies is the is that two failed American regional wars following Viet Nam has left not only American politicians, but also the US military averse to conflict. This too has been a subject I have described over the past. When Bush replaced Rumsfeld with Gates/Mullen US defense policy was clear since both the new defense secretary and Chief of the Joint Chiefs were both doves in hawks feathers. Throughout their tenure they repeatedly warned of “unforeseen consequences,” never defined, should America’s surrogate Israel be allowed to attack Iran’s atom bomb project. In the end America passively provided Ahmadinejad license to press forward Iran’s nuclear weapons/ballistic missile programs.
The comparison of Obama with Chamberlain is not unique with me. The new president ran on a platform of “peace in our time” to the grassroots applause of the world. But as actual “superpower” policy what was the lesson from the Chamberlain with Hitler? After six years of conciliatory “negotiating” Iran out of her nuclear weapons program, what difference between Bush and Obama with the mullahs? Both demonstrated weakness and weakness in diplomacy or, to use a more appropriate term, appeasement of a weaker adversary as with Hitler at Munich only encourages that which it sought to avoid.
From appeasement to isolationism: Does Bush (soon after declaring “victory”) and Obama in their demonstrated “risk aversion” represent a strategic retreat into isolationism? I suppose that is a matter of semantics. Since writing this article nearly a week ago I came across a description of a speech the president is scheduled to deliver shortly in which he will discuss US policy going forward. According to a White House official quoted in Obama to outline case for limited foreign policy the president,
“will argue that his foreign policy philosophy is not isolationist, but rather “interventionist and internationalist.”
Even the White House accepts its policy appearance of “isolationism” if only by need to distinguish itself from the appearance. But beyond Wonderland semantics self-perception and appearance on the world stage carry consequences: “superpower status” does not make a threat of “all cards are on the table,” particularly as an oft-repeated threat minus action. And the more ground the US gave behind that “threat” the weaker appeared the American “superpower” to the roaring Iranian mouse, and before the world.
I could provide a dozen recent examples of America backing down rather that demonstrating resolve to protect its interests. In December, 2012 the president,
“recalled the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group with its 2500 marines in order to “quiet tensions in Syria” (the Russians had just reinforced its naval presence off the Syrian coast!) it was clear Obama had turned a corner either ignoring or ignorant of the implications of “retreat” in the face of Russia’s challenge; [he] was not only eager to exit the troubled region, but uncaring or unaware that this involved abandoning also Europe to the Russians!”
In February, 2011 he ordered a US armada to the southern mouth of the Suez Canal instructing it to board and inspect two Iranian warships assumed carry arms for Hamas. At the last moment the “armada” was ordered to stand down and the Iranians passed unchallenged.
And, most recently, after decisively laying down his “red line” to Assad over chemical weapons Obama again changed his mind at the last moment. And even more evidence of naïveté turned to a willing Russia to intervene on his behalf to achieve a fig leaf for the retreating “superpower.” As if Putin needs Obama’s assistance replacing the US in the Middle East!
Such caution and obvious avoidance of military threat is not lost on Iran or Russia. Putin’s adventures in former buffer states, most recently Ukraine, are a direct result of US irresolution, challenge to the “superpower.” And in the Middle East both the Saudis and Egypt are negotiating arms deals with Putin even as the Saudis earlier purchased nuclear weapons from Pakistan to counter the Iranian threat. President Obama entered office promising to end nuclear proliferation. Instead his legacy will be that his diplomacy of aversion created a regional and perhaps global nuclear arms race which, eventually will trickle down to non-state terrorism, a real and significant threat to American national security. With instability and war the likely outcome pacifism as diplomacy will, in the end, lead to the war it seeks to avoid.
No doubt Israel is no less aware than Egypt and the Saudis (and Iran and Syria) of America’s disengagement, its weakness in the region and around the world. So what are Israel’s options regarding Iran, Syria in the obvious uncertainty of American reliability? During the previous administration Bush did a pantomime, a sort of dance in which the administration would “threaten” Iran’s nuclear program with an Israeli (not American!) attack. Cheney or Rumsfeld would publicly announce a “green” or “yellow” or “red” light (well, not “green”) as threat and, in the end, would “restrain” Israel. Obama, of course, never made secret his intention to keep Israel on a short leash which was abundantly clear at the press conference following his May, 2009 White House meeting with Netanyahu. And likely Israel would have been cast off as easily as Mubarak except that the Jewish state continues to serve as important rearguard for America in retreat. But the message could not be more clear: the US will no longer be a strategic partner to the region: oil shale today is abundant world-wide. And the Suez Canal… well, America’s most important trading partners are across oceans, not through the Mediterranean. And as for the Iranian bomb, the administration has for two years been explaining to the Gulf states that “all things are on the table” in the end means a commitment to “containment.” Which to all involved reinforces the impression that Obama is, put most gently, naïve. American emissaries are nearly person non grata in the House of Saud. And having turned to Pakistan for its anti-Iran bomb, to Russia for next-generation weapons America’s excuse for withdrawal, its “pivot to the East” is today an increasing embarrassment as the emperor stands naked before the world.
I have long considered the consequences of America replaced by Russia as regional hegemon, one article being, Russia replace America in the Middle East? What would be the costs to the United States and Israel in that event? For the US to leave the region to Russia (the very likely successor) then the US will sooner rather than later find itself replaced by Putin in the Mediterranean. And while dumping the Middle East mess in the lap of arch-rival Russia may feel satisfying, what of America’s erstwhile allies in Europe. Russia inheriting the Middle East also means Russia dominates the Mediterranean which leaves Europe flanked by the Russian navy to the south, and army to the north. Europe is already dependent on Russia to heat its homes in winter and fuel its factories year-round.
America’s retreat from reality, its fantasy of imagined bliss of pre-WWI isolationism, will likely be delivered in spades. Isolated and without reliable global alliances; vulnerable facing the continuing threat of terrorism now supported by its own creation, Iran armed with nuclear weapons and a ballistic missile delivery capability...
Postscript: On 22 May I read that the US is conducting a joint military exercise with Israel and Jordan involving "13,000 US servicemen." Described as "significant" based on American regional engagement over the past decade the "13,000" are likely to represent yet another gesture. If the US failed to stand behind its implicit "red line" in South Suez, its explicit "red line" regarding Syria''s chemical weapons; If America withdrew in face of Putin''s sending his own warships to Syria: Israel and Jordan and more importantly Iran and syria have long known America''s commitment not to get involved in yet another regional conflict. Which leaves the question of Israel''s options in face of America''s retreat into isolationism while still holding tight the leash on Israel''s independence of action.