Misguided optimism

The Islamification of Middle Eastern governments was helped along by the White House and the State Department, writes Ruthie Blum.

Egyptian elections 521 (photo credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
Egyptian elections 521
(photo credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
On the night of April 24, 1980, American special forces gathered in the cold desert of Iran waiting to be joined by other American forces that were being helicoptered in. A combination of bad luck and complicated planning led to technical malfunctions and a couple of the helicopters turning back. Another helicopter slammed into one of the C-130 transport planes waiting on the ground. The resultant explosion and deaths of eight American servicemen led to a military debacle and the scuttling of the mission that had been intended to free the 53 American hostages in Tehran.
It was a defining moment of the Carter presidency, one that helped cement the perception that Jimmy Carter was a president prone to failure. As Ruthie Blum describes the period in To Hell in a Handbasket, Carter was the president who ushered in years of problems for America in the Middle East by ditching a staunch ally, the Shah of Iran, and who “opened the door to this radicalism” that is currently sweeping the region.
The author’s message in this concise and well-conceived book is that there is a direct connection between Carter and current US president Barack Obama. “It is the story of how a US president with a dim view of American power and exceptionalism abandoned a staunch ally in favor of a sworn enemy about whom little was known and even less studied,” she writes.
Blum, a former Jerusalem Post columnist, sees lessons for today’s America in the way Carter failed to see what would become of Iran. The crux of her history lesson is that Americans should go to the polls in November aware that Obama is single-handedly dismantling US goals in the area.
“One by one, every country in the Middle East has fallen or is about to fall to the radical Islamists, thanks to a lot of help from their friends in the White House and State Department,” she writes.
Some will object to laying this strident blame for what is taking place in the Middle East at the feet of two American presidents. Carter’s handling of Iran seems to mirror the problems that Obama has faced. For instance, he endlessly negotiated with the ayatollah and sent signals of peace, trying not the provoke the Iranians to harm the hostages.
However, to go so far as to claim that the State Department and White House “help” create Islamist regimes places the onus in the wrong place.
The US is not responsible for the rise of Islamism, either because of its policies or the lack of policy. It is a common canard that hatred of America in the region is the fault of America. It is also a canard to say that simply because Carter bungled on Iran or didn’t stand by the Shah that he helped the Iranian revolution.
Blum’s book is divided between two narratives: the well-constructed story of the hostage crisis and the story of the Arab Spring. It focuses on the wasteful and worthless actions of two US presidents.
Her main focus is on how misguided liberalism tends to make naïve leaders accept the “moderate” Islamist revolutionaries at face value. For instance, “according to this logic, once those regimes are replaced, the people, among them women, can get down to the business of building more egalitarian societies... [however] women are a prime group who never have, and never will, benefit from such thinking and policies.”
The author skewers Obama’s Cairo speech, noting how he waxed “poetic about Islam’s having been responsible for much of the world’s mathematical, architectural and other innovations or cultural and scientific significance.”
One wonders: if that were true, why isn’t the Islamic world the center of scientific and technological discovery and progress? Why, as Blum points out, did Obama inform NASA “that one of its top priorities must be to make Muslims feel good about themselves and their contributions to science and math”? After all, since Islamic countries innovated so much in science, should not NASA have been centered in Tehran or Riyadh, rather than Cape Canaveral? This book is a good primer for understanding how American weakness has forsaken traditional allies and unwittingly aided religious chauvinists in the Middle East. It turns out that under the Obama administration terrorism has been redefined as “man-caused” disasters by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Blum might have elaborated that the US administration has continually downplayed and refused to acknowledge that Major Nidal Hassan’s mass murder of US soldiers at Fort Hood was an act of terrorism. The current administration seems to believe, 1984-like, that if you stop using the word “terrorism,” terrorism will no longer exist.
One problem with the timing of the publication is that the second section on the Arab Spring has been completed without knowing what the coming years will hold. Coming to press while Syria is still in the midst of civil strife, it is not clear if the “spring” will bring more Islamic regimes in its wake. More analysis and synthesis could have been included.
Nevertheless, this remains a hard-hitting read that pounds home the message of what Obama’s misguided optimism has wrought in the region.