Another Tack: What’s in a name?

Such simplistic, one-dimensional explanations typify his neophyte missteps on the treacherous turfs of foreign policy.

US President Barack Obama at NATO conference 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
US President Barack Obama at NATO conference 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young)
Word is that US President Barrack Obama, remarkably free from introspection and unencumbered by healthy hints of self-doubt, assiduously attributes Israeli mistrust of him to his eminently Muslim middle name. For him that encapsulates it all.
Such simplistic one-dimensional explanations typify his neophyte missteps on the treacherous turfs of foreign-policy. Obama botches things up because of his predilection for facile grand gestures, which, alas, can’t alter intricate realities. He hasn’t got an elementary handle on our Israeli outlook and is likewise unable to navigate the tempestuous Islamic sea that swirls ominously around us.
He doesn’t get us and he doesn’t get them.
Obama’s oversimplified presumptions about our perceived antipathy toward him (without stopping to consider his undisguised cold-shoulder to us), are matched by oversimplified expectations that the Muslim/Arab world should cheer him. These too hinge on that eminently Muslim middle name. Being called Hussein should, in and of itself, create an affinity, make Muslims trust him and accept him as a kindred spirit.
This, of course, is every bit as simplistic as the notion that Israelis should harbor misgivings because of his name.
In both cases there’s more than latent condescension in the notion that simpleton natives can be attracted or repelled with trivial outward accoutrements. Obama, the sophisticated enchanter, can manipulate them. Whether he captivates or chides them, they, like impressionable children, will play out his expectations, complying with considerations as silly as those encapsulated in a name.
The name accounts for everything. It explains away resentment of his policies as betokening prejudice against his extraction. It claims a special position vis-à-vis the Third World by boasting about connections unprecedented for an American leader. Obama banked on being recognized as a quasi-native son of non-western cultures, who, with no other attributes than his African absentee father’s distant heritage and his Asian stepfather’s upbringing, could forge bonds unlike any previous White House tenant.
All this doesn’t just convey unwarranted hubris, it also –and foremost so-- causes misrepresentation, misconception and distortion. It presents things as they definitely are not and it triggers dismal consequences.
By not giving Israelis and the enemies who surround them more credit, Obama does what few before him had managed as incompetently. He alienates America’s one committed comrade while earning the disrespect of all those he set out to endear with just his name and fawning flattery. Few had succeeded in doing as badly in as short a time.
The final fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, sent for whatever time he has left to durance vile, underscores the Obamaesque folly more than the other Mideastern upheavals and sectarian conflicts falsely parading as democratic stirrings. Obama never came close to criticizing Mubarak as a tyrant while Mubarak held the reins of power. Indeed as regional despots go, Mubarak didn’t come close to being the quintessential ogre. His harshest measures were expended on plugging the bottle in which he contained the Muslim Brotherhood genie.
Mubarak was savable but Obama released the zealous Muslim genie with gaucheness even exceeding that of Jimmy Carter (his rival for the most-bungling-president distinction). Mubarak wasn’t Israel’s chum but he was a dependable keeper of the frigid peace. However, beyond that, he was the most pro-western leader produced by modern Egypt to date.
With all of Egypt’s diverse endemic and inbuilt woes, he was the leader who gave his impoverished country its greatest economic lift ever, garnished with diplomatic gravitas. Ironically, the brand of progress and westernization Mubarak introduced and furthered, admittedly imperfect as it was, became his undoing.
It wasn’t that the masses demanded more westernization, as Obama disingenuously later sought to present it, with his equally disconnected secretary of state Hillary Clinton surreally chiming in. In actual fact, the rioters agitated precisely against Mubarak’s westernization.
Obama’s belated spin either testified to his being dangerously out-of-the-loop or to lack of elementary intellectual candor. Were Obama a tad more clued in or a tad more truthful, he’d acknowledge that Mubarak was in trouble because his adversaries didn’t want anything resembling western democracy rather than the other way around.
That doesn’t only apply to the Muslim brotherhood’s blinkered preachers of regression but also to many Egyptian secularists. The latter don’t necessarily hanker after liberality, freethinking and multicultural pluralism. Their hero is none other than Gamal Abdel Nasser, despite his repeated battlefield humiliations. Bizarrely because of his defeats, Nasser is regarded as a proud pan-Arab stalwart who confronted the West (never mind the unkind outcome).
A more forward-looking Egypt, still the Arab world’s primary power but with a stronger economy and flourishing tourism, may have had its perks but it didn’t instantly cure its population’s festering afflictions and it certainly displeased the bearded fanatics. Mubarak was hard pressed from all sides. He had to be callous and pugnacious in order not to end up assassinated like his predecessor Anwar Sadat.
Therefore, Mubarak had compelling reasons for foreboding when Obama dashed to Cairo in June 2009, hot upon his electoral victory, to suck up to unspecified Islamists. Mubarak was undermined already in Obama’s debut act of appealing with superficial naiveté to Muslim xenophobes and elevating their intransigence to undeserved equality with the west’s carte blanche tolerance. The horror show elements of Obama’s extravaganza were detected by a mere handful, Mubarak astutely among them.
At that pivotal point it should have been clear that the end is near for whatever remnants of delicate equilibrium still endured in this region. Obama ushered in chaos via what he hyped as a trailblazing new departure by a surprise soul mate with an unexpected middle name. Mubarak significantly absented himself from the milestone sham. He was not in the audience as Obama extolled the virtues of Islam. He could sense the ill-winds blowing.
But that was only the beginning of a tortuous path on which Obama seemed incapable of dodging any pitfalls. In the real world it’s prudent to look out for long-term interests which include reliance, where expedient, on the lesser of given evils in the absence of ideal alternatives. Mubarak was never the worst of options. Yet whereas Obama betrayed allies and quasi-tolerable hangers-on, he was incredibly hands-off toward the true villains of the Mideast piece –like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and, at least initially (and crucially), Syria.
For example, in 2009, following Iran’s rigged election, thousands took to the streets in defiance of the theocracy that Carter pathetically enabled 30 years earlier. As pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in Tehran and as its ayatollahs furthered their designs to arm themselves with nukes, the current leader of the free world spared no effort to stress the need to downplay the fuss.
Obama gave his own people a lesson in moral relativism: "It's important to understand that, although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmedinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great advertised.”  Not unpredictably, Obama informed the unenlightened masses that he won’t take sides:”I take a wait-and-see approach…It’s not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections."
Given this, and given the irrefutable reality that colossal differences exist between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, one must wonder why Obama’s administration couldn’t wait before it took sides – this time against the ruling government.
Equally as unforgettable was Secretary Clinton’s characterization (certainly with Obama’s blessing) of Bashar Assad as “a reformer.” This was when Assad’s henchmen started slaughtering the junta’s opposition.
With brash non-intervention in one instance and impetuous intervention in another, it appears that no principle or pattern guide Obama’s responses. But on closer inspection, it’s impossible not to conclude that Obama wasn’t interested in destabilizing the anti-Western ayatollahs while he didn’t mind destabilizing the pro-western Mubarak.
In other words, painful as the bottom line is, Obama showed no loyalty to the West’s allies – either on the streets of Tehran or in Cairo’s presidential palace. If anything, his proclivities are anti-Western.
There’s no chance that any Mideastern players would overlook this, much as Obama and his supporters may deny his apparent inclinations. All moralizing mantras about human liberty ring hollow as Obama is seen keeping his hands off the most rogue of Mideast autocracies while selling out professed teammates or opportunistic non-opponents.
If anything can conceivably discourage vulnerable local potentates (like the Saudis, the Gulf princes or Jordan’s King Abdullah) from staking their futures on American promises, it’s the evidence of their own eyes. Right now, all America’s allies –Israelis among them-- look like suckers liable to be left high and dry.
The ayatollahs, who were helped by Carter and not hindered by Obama, must be rubbing their hands in glee.
The circle is closed for us too. Carter was the one who twisted Menachem Begin’s arms to cede the Sinai and contract the frosty peace with Egypt. We struck a risky bargain with a here-today-gone-sometimes-tomorrow regime. All Egyptian undertakings might disintegrate into the desert sands, leaving us on the precipice of a strategic calamity.
The word to the wise is to cut our losses and -no matter how hard Obama twists our arms-- refrain from neurotically duplicating the same inordinate gullibility on our long tortuous eastern flank, where Mahmoud Abbas is more of a hollow-reed staff than any of our Egyptian interlocutors ever were.
Such wariness on our part has nothing to do with leeriness of Obama’s middle name. It has everything to do with the recklessness spawned by his own exploitation of that name.
This is true both for Israel -America’s one leftover genuine friend in this erratic region- as well as for Israel’s inimical neighbors, whose innate acumen mustn’t be underestimated.
They may be trapped in their own circuitous reasoning but their honed intuitions discern that precisely those in their midst -like Mubarak-- who dared depart from nationalistic extremism or insular Islam are those whom America’s president with the Muslim name let fall.