Friday, August 30, 2013

Obama and the Middle East

President's Obama has no unified foreign policy for the Middle East. Instead he has a piecemeal approach that is not working.

Let's start with Israel. Like most liberals, Obama and current Secretary of State, Kerry think that most of the violence in the Middle East is caused by frustration at the plight of the Palestinians and that the only obstacle to peace is for Israel to stop its settlements. I could go on at length about these beliefs but the short version is that he is completely wrong on both counts.

Obama's Egypt policy appears to be to support whoever is in charge regardless of what they do right up until they are about to fall. He supported Mubarak at first. When The Muslim Brotherhood took over, he supported them which would have been fine if he had tempered his support. Yes, they were duly elected but they did not respect human rights and had no economic plan. Instead they spent their time consolidating power and trying to assure that there would be no further elections. Obama was silent about all of this until the military staged a coup. Then the administration threw its support behind the military and turned a blind eye to the fact that a coup had happened.

How can we explain this? One possibility is that Obama is too lazy to do more. He has never been very interested in foreign policy and it's hard to knock off work and have dinner with the family at 6 when you have to meet with foreign policy experts.

Another possibility is the one from last year about Obama and anti-colonialism. Obama spent some of his formative years overseas at a time when anti-colonialism was a major theme. The anti-colonialists believe that any outside action by the western powers is likely to be worse than no action at all. This theory at least puts Obama in a better light. The trouble is that the Egyptians don't believe it. Both sides expect more from the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize than a hands-off approach.

Obama's policy for the rest of the Middle East has consisted mainly of drone strikes. No question of his being engaged there. He is supposed to be personally involved in picking targets, putting almost as much effort into it as he spent drawing up the basketball teams for his 50th birthday celebration. Areas where there are no drone strikes he ignores. That includes Iran's nuclear ambitions and the growing unrest in Iraq.

Syria has become the one place that he cannot ignore. When the civil war began he distanced himself from it, essentially saying that the government could kill as many rebels as it wanted as long as it used conventional weapons.

At various times Obama has called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a reformer, then said that he had to go, then implied that he could continue to rule part of a divided state. When the body count rose, he promised small arms but so far has failed to deliver.

But Syria crossed the red line that Obama drew and used WMDs. There are reports that they have been using poison gas on rebels on a small scale for months but this time it made the news.

So, Obama is obligated to act but has failed to outline what his intentions are. Will he launch a limited, symbolic missile strike? Will he engage in a lengthy air war? Does he intent to leave Basar al-Assad in office? Over a week later and he says that he is still unsure if he even will attack to say nothing of what his objectives are?

The country is split over this but on unusual lines. Many, mainly on the right, believe that the US needs to follow up on Obama's red line in order to establish US credibility. They reason that allowing Syria to use WMDs will tell the rest of the world that they are free to ignore Obama. With Iran likely to have nuclear weapons in the near future, that is a bad precedent. The remainder of the right and most of the left is tired of war and wants Obama to make his case to the country before moving ahead.

At this rate, Obama might have to be late to dinner a few times.


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