Justice Holmes taught that, in understanding complex problems, “[a] page of history is worth a volume of logic.” In early 1979, President Jimmy Carter facilitated the overthrow of Iran’s shah by Islamic radicals. The shah was no Thomas Jefferson, but in the Middle East, non-authoritarian leaders are torn to shreds. And yet the shah was our ally.
The radicals, for their part, were not won over by Carter’s actions; rather, they despised our stupidity in helping their rise to power. On February 14, 1979, the American ambassador in neighboring Afghanistan was killed by Islamic radicals. On September 4, 1979, the American embassy in Tehran was invaded and our diplomats taken hostage by a mob shouting “Death to America.” The hostages were released on January 20, 1981, the date of Reagan’s inauguration.
Is It Fair to Compare Obama with Carter?
Obama’s pilgrimage to Cairo in June 2009 was a signature event at the advent of his presidency. Obama used the occasion to apologize for American actions before a large crowd at the Islamic Al Azhar University. Obama saw to it that Egyptian President Mubarak was not invited, but he insisted that ten representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood attend. The Brotherhood had been outlawed in Egypt for reasons including its calls to violence, Islamic fanaticism, and anti-Americanism.
Mubarak, like the shah, was no Thomas Jefferson, as I observed in two meetings at his Presidential Palace. He was a military martinet who saw terrorism and fanaticism as betrayals of Islam. Mubarak had kept peace in the region, acted as a faithful American ally, and upheld secular order in the face of calls to jihad. Obama urged transition to democracy. He did not comprehend that democracy is not yet compatible with the values of most Middle Eastern countries.
When demonstrations erupted across North Africa in 2011 — leading to the grotesquely misnamed Arab Spring — Obama immediately said that Mubarak must step down. The record is devoid of any serious analysis by the administration — or our supine mainstream media — of the likely consequences of discarding Mubarak. Governmental power in Egypt was not assumed by the liberal social media protesters whom our media naively lionized as harbingers of democracy. Every observer with a modicum of knowledge understood that the only group organized to assume power was the fanatic Brotherhood. So the administration and the media spoon-fed us more lies — i.e., that the Brotherhood was in large part “secular.” If you read even one page of the Brotherhood’s manifestoes, you will realize how monstrous is the lie that the Brotherhood is in any way “secular.”
The Specific Consequences of Obama’s Policies
This month’s escalating attacks on American diplomats and facilities in the Middle East can fairly be understood as proximate consequences of Obama’s Middle East policies for reasons including the following:
1. Betrayal of Our Allies. America will not stand by its friends in moments of crisis, as shown by our instant discarding of the shah and Mubarak. Saudi King Abdullah, a key U.S. ally, was deeply angered by our betrayal of Mubarak because it cast doubt on whether the U.S. would stand by him during a crisis. I came to appreciate the king’s tough shrewdness when I was twice hosted at his palace.
A vivid example of Obama’s ignoring the interests of our allies is his refusal to declare the red lines he supposedly will not allow Iran to cross in developing nuclear weapons. Admittedly, this is a complex subject deserving a separate column. Obama has preserved Israel’s strategic edge, but who will trust Obama when he distances himself as Israel faces an existential threat from an enemy promising “annihilation”? (See Krauthammer, “The Abandonment.”)
2. Indications of Withdrawal from Region. The U.S. shows evidence of withdrawing from the region. Announcement of our 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, coupled with turning over 3,000 jailed murderers to Afghani authorities, has caused an open season in which Afghan trainees are killing scores of NATO soldiers. Concerning Iraq, Obama was dead wrong as a senator to oppose the Surge, which won the war, and equally wrong in failing to keep residual forces in the country. The result is escalating sectarian violence, including a death sentence imposed by the Shia government on the Sunni vice president, as well as Baghdad’s gravitating toward Iran.
American inaction in the face of slaughter of 20,000 Syrians by their own government likewise calls into question America’s long-term presence, and all the more so because overthrow of Assad would severely weaken Iran. Who wants to ally with a power that appears to withdrawing from force projection in the region? Perceptions of American weakness are heightened by belief that Obama hopes to shrink our military through sequestration.
3. Obama’s Demonstrated Ignorance of Middle East Reality. Obama sycophants believe in his sublime intelligence. At a 2011 meeting in the White House, I heard Obama say that establishment of a Palestinian state would lead to resolution of most problems in the region. There is no way to describe such an observation as other than appallingly ignorant. Similar was Obama’s unprecedented demand that Israel agree to a “settlement freeze.” This demand demolished Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Obama had no foreign policy experience when he became president. Thus, it is comical to hear his sycophants decry Gov. Romney’s knowledge of foreign affairs. Exacerbating this ignorance is Obama’s absenting himself from Intel briefings. Can anyone convincingly explain why security was not heightened in Egypt and Libya on the anniversary of 9/11? The current horrors inform us that though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is very much alive. Someone should tell Joe Biden.
If it sounds harsh to call Obama ignorant (lèse majesté is not yet a crime in this country), I refer you to the bestselling book The Amateur by Ed Klein, former New York Times Magazine editor. (Disclosure: I am listed as a source in this book, but not for anything regarding Clinton.) Klein quotes Clinton as calling Obama an “amateur” and “incompetent.” I will not conjecture about whether Clinton lied when he called Obama an “amateur” or whether he lied at the recent Dem convention. The evidence of Obama’s mistakes is before us.
4. Obama’s Apologia Motif. The notion that the U.S. owes apologies to Muslims was central in Obama’s Cairo speech. The extent of American blood and treasure poured into the Middle East will convince many that apologies should run in favor of the U.S.
This motif has been reiterated by the administration. As attackers shouting “Death to America” gathered — on the same day our ambassador was murdered in Libya — our Cairo embassy tweeted: “We condemn the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.” This apology was based on stories of an obscure Coptic Christian in California, whose
movie deriding Mohamed was posted on YouTube.
The embassy’s apology sounded as if it had come verbatim from the Obama playbook. Romney correctly criticized the official U.S. tweet as inappropriate. After many hours, Obama ordered the tweet removed, apparently agreeing with Romney that irresponsible utilization of the First Amendment is not government business. Nonetheless, Obama and mainstream media went viral in blasting Romney for criticizing the tweet. Constant American apologies give credence to the notion that Jihadis are justified in attacking us.
Why has Obama not strongly addressed the responsibility of Arab nations to protect our diplomats as we protect theirs? Even Hitler and Stalin respected diplomatic immunity.
5. Distinguishing Friends from Enemies. Jimmy Carter had many failings, which he continues to exhibit — among them inability to distinguish friends from enemies. Obama could not control Egypt’s election, but he assured us that the new government would be our friends. Slowness to assemble forces to protect our embassy and delay in apologizing by President Morsi (Christian Science Monitor headlined: “Post-embassy attack, Egyptian President’s Silence Deafening“) raise legitimate questions about Egypt’s friendship. So do Morsi’s attendance at the non-aligned summit in Tehran, insistence that 9/11 was not the work of Muslims, talk of his buying Iranian oil, and demands to free the Blind Sheikh. On September 12, Obama said that Egypt was neither our enemy nor our ally (Telemundo/NBC News). The State Department immediately tried to walk back this comment (Foreign Policy‘s “The Cable,” 9/13/12). Mainstream media showed no interest in the disconnect between Obama and State.
And more trouble is brewing as this article is submitted for publication. Congress must look carefully at whether Egypt deserves our aid in the sum of two billion dollars, as well as whether Libya deserves its two hundred million dollars.
The Collapse of Obama’s Policy
Escalating violence against American officials in the Arab world, one fears, is only beginning. “Death to America” remains the chant of the radicals. Al-Qaeda is back. We do not know all the facts about the attacks, nor how Arab authorities will protect our diplomats.
The evidence summarized above suggests that Obama’s soft-power outreach to the Arab world has collapsed in failure. Formerly adoring Europeans ssee Obama in a differnet light. As Germany’s Die Welt said this week, “Obama’s Middle East policy is in ruins[.] … Anti-Americanism in the Arab world has increased to levels greater than in the Bush era. It’s a bitter outcome for Obama” (Der Spiegel Online, 09/14/12, 01:41 PM, “The World from Berlin”).
American voters are focused on our dismal economy. In September 1980, Carter was four points ahead of Reagan in the polls. American voters came to realize that Carter’s foreign policies gravely weakened our country. They chose to replace Carter with Reagan.
The issue is not what Romney said, but what Obama did. I am too modest to prognosticate. But I do urge voters to scrutinize whether Obama’s policies in the Middle East have weakened our country.