Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.
Aside from the carnage in Benghazi, the most enduring image from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as US secretary of state was the fake remote control she brought with her to Moscow in 2009 with the word “Reset” in misspelled Russian embossed on it.
Clinton’s gimmick was meant to show that under President Barack Obama, American foreign policy would be fundamentally transformed. Since Obama and Clinton blamed much of the world’s troubles on the misdeeds of their country, under their stewardship of US foreign policy, the US would reset everything.
Around the globe, all bets were off.
Five years later we realize that Clinton’s embarrassing gesture was not a gimmick, but a dead serious pledge. Throughout the world, the Obama administration has radically altered America’s policies.
And disaster has followed. Never since America’s establishment has the US appeared so untrustworthy, destructive, irrelevant and impotent.
Consider Syria. Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of Obama’s pledge that the US would seek the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime if Assad used chemical weapons against his opponents.
On Wednesday, Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against civilians around Damascus. According to opposition forces, well over a thousand people were murdered.
Out of habit, the eyes of the world turned to Washington. But Obama has no policy to offer. Obama’s America can do nothing.
America’s powerlessness in Syria is largely Obama’s fault. At the outset of the Syrian civil war two-and-a-half years ago, Obama outsourced the development of Syria’s opposition forces to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. He had other options. A consortium of Syrian Kurds, moderate Sunnis, Christians and others came to Washington and begged for US assistance. But they were ignored.
Obama’s decision to outsource the US’s Syria policy owed to his twin goals of demonstrating that the US would no longer try to dictate international outcomes, and of allying the US with Islamic fundamentalists.
Both of these goals are transformative.
In the first instance, Obama believes that anti-Americanism stems from America’s actions. By accepting the mantel of global leadership, Obama believes the US insulted other nations. To mitigate their anger, the US should abdicate leadership.
As for courting Islamic fundamentalists, from his earliest days in office Obama insisted that since radical Islam is the most popular movement in the Islamic world, radical Islam is good. Radical Muslims are America’s friends.
Obama embraced Erdogan, an Islamic fascist who has won elections, as his closest ally and most trusted adviser in the Muslim world.
And so, with the full support of the US government, Erdogan stacked Syria’s opposition forces with radical Muslims like himself. Within months the Muslim Brotherhood comprised the majority in Syria’s US-sponsored opposition.
The Muslim Brotherhood has no problem collaborating with al-Qaida, because the latter was formed by Muslim Brothers.
It shares the Brotherhood’s basic ideology.
Since al-Qaida has the most experienced fighters, its rise to leadership and domination of the Syrian opposition was a natural progression.
In other words, Obama’s decision to have Turkey form the Syrian opposition led inevitably to the current situation in which the Iranian- and Russian-backed Syrian regime is fighting an opposition dominated by al-Qaida.
At this point, short of an Iraq-style US invasion of Syria and toppling of the regime, almost any move the US takes to overthrow the government will strengthen al-Qaida. So after a reported 1,300 people were killed by chemical weapons launched by the regime on Wednesday, the US has no constructive options for improving the situation.
A distressing aspect of Obama’s embrace of Erdogan is that Erdogan has not tried to hide the fact that he seeks dictatorial powers and rejects the most basic norms of liberal democracy and civil rights.
Under the façade of democracy, Erdogan has transformed Turkey into one of the most repressive countries in the world. Leading businessmen, generals, journalists, parliamentarians and regular citizens have been systematically rounded up and accused of treason for their “crime” of opposing Turkey’s transformation into an Islamic state. Young protesters demanding civil rights and an end to governmental corruption are beaten and arrested by police, and demonized by Erdogan. Following the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt last month, Erdogan has openly admitted that he and his party are part and parcel of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama’s approach to world affairs was doubtlessly shaped during his long sojourn in America’s elite universities.
Using the same elitist sensibilities that cause him to blame American “arrogance” for the world’s troubles, and embrace radical Islam as a positive force, Obama has applied conflict resolution techniques developed by professors in ivory towers to real world conflicts that cannot be resolved peacefully.
Obama believed he could use the US’s close relationships with Israel and Turkey to bring about a rapprochement between the former allies. But he was wrong. The Turkish-Israeli alliance ended because Erdogan is a virulent Jew-hater who seeks Israel’s destruction, not because of a misunderstanding.
Obama forced Israel to apologize for defending itself against Turkish aggression, believing that Erdogan would then reinstate full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Instead, Erdogan continued his assault on Israel, most recently accusing it of organizing the military coup in Egypt and the anti- Erdogan street protests in Turkey.
As for Egypt, as with Syria, Obama’s foreign policy vision for the US has left Washington with no options for improving the situation on the ground or for securing its own strategic interests. To advance his goal of empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama pushed the Egyptian military to overthrow the regime of US ally Hosni Mubarak and so paved the way for elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power.
Today he opposes the military coup that ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government.
The US claims that it opposes the coup because the military has trampled democracy and human rights. But it is all but silent in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood’s own trampling of the human rights of Egypt’s Christian minority.
Obama ignores the fact that Mohamed Morsi governed as a tyrant far worse than Mubarak.
Ignoring the fact that neither side can share power with the other, the US insists the Brotherhood and the military negotiate an agreement to do just that. And so both sides hate and distrust the US.
Wresting an Israeli apology to Turkey was Obama’s only accomplishment during his trip to Israel in March. Secretary of State John Kerry’s one accomplishment since entering office was to restart negotiations between Israel and the PLO. Just as the consequence of Israel’s apology to Turkey was an escalation of Turkey’s anti- Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, so the consequence of Kerry’s “accomplishment” will be the escalation of Palestinian terrorism and political warfare against Israel.
As Jonathan Tobin noted Wednesday in Commentary, to secure Palestinian agreement to reinstate negotiations, not only did Kerry force Israel to agree to release more than a thousand Palestinian terrorists from prison. He put the US on record supporting the Palestinians’ territorial demands. In so doing, Kerry locked the US into a position of blaming Israel once the talks fail. When the Palestinians escalate their political and terrorist campaign against Israel, they will use Kerry’s pledges as a means of justifying their actions.
The current round of talks will fail of course because like the Turks, the Syrians and the Egyptians, the Palestinians are not interested in resolving their conflict.
They are interested in winning it. They do not want a state. They want to supplant Israel.
Clinton’s Reset button was played up as a gimmick. But it was a solemn oath. And it was fulfilled. And as a result, the world is a much more violent and dangerous place. The US and its allies are more threatened. The US’s enemies from Moscow to Tehran to Venezuela are emboldened.
The time has come to develop the basis for a future US policy that would represent a reset of Obama’s catastrophic actions and attitudes. Given the damage US power and prestige has already suffered, and given that Obama is unlikely to change course in his remaining three years in power, it is clear that reverting to George W. Bush’s foreign policy of sometimes fighting a war on nebulous “terrorists” and sometimes appeasing them will not be sufficient to repair the damage.
The US must not exchange strategic insanity with strategic inconsistency.
Instead, a careful, limited policy based on no-risk and low-risk moves that send clear messages and secure clear interests is in order.
The most obvious no-risk move would be to embrace Israel as America’s most vital and only trustworthy ally in the region. By fully supporting Israel not only would the US strengthen its own position by strengthening the position of the only state in the Middle East that shares its enemies, its interests and its values.
Washington would send a strong signal to states throughout the region and the world that the US can again be trusted.
This support would also secure clear US strategic interests by providing Israel with the political backing it requires to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Moreover, it would bring coherence to the US’s counter-terror strategy by ending US support for Palestinian statehood. Instead, the US would support the institution of the rule of law and liberal norms of government in Palestinian society by supporting the application of Israel’s liberal legal code over Judea and Samaria.
Another no-risk move is to support former Soviet satellite states that are now members of NATO. Here, too, the US would be taking an action that is clear and involves no risk. Russia would have few options for opposing such a move. And the US could go a long way toward rebuilding its tattered reputation.
Low risk moves include supporting minorities that do not have a history of violent anti-Americanism and are, in general, opposed to Islamic fascism.
Such groups include the Kurds. In Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, the Kurds represent a national group that has proven its ability to self-govern and to oppose tyranny. With certain, easily identified exceptions, the stronger the Kurds are, the weaker anti-American forces become.
Then there are the Christians. The plight of the Christians in the Islamic world is one of the most depressing chapters in the recent history of the region. In country after country, previously large and relatively peaceful, if discriminated against, Christian minorities are being slaughtered and forced to flee.
The US has done next to nothing to defend them.
Strong, forthright statements of support for Christian communities and condemnations of persecution, including rape, forced conversions, massacre, extortion and destruction of church and private Christian-owned property from Egypt to Indonesia to Pakistan to the Palestinian Authority would make a difference in the lives of millions of people.
It would also go some way toward rehabilitating the US’s reputation as a champion of human rights, after Obama’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Under Obama, America has made itself worse than irrelevant. In country after country, it has become dangerous to be a US ally. The world as a whole is a much more dangerous place as a consequence.
Nothing short of a fundamental transformation of US foreign policy will suffice to begin to repair the damage.
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