Obama's Middle East Failure

Will he chart a new course?

The results of the mid-term elections were widely considered to be a rebuke of President Barack Obama’s policies, specifically against his domestic agenda. His foreign policy failures, however, have not been scrutinized as closely.  Yet, the ramifications of his failed policies, particularly in the Middle East, reverberate daily.

The Obama administration’s withdrawal of 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq, in the absence of a government able to provide security for the people of Iraq, has contributed to renewed sectarian violence, especially against the shrinking Christian community.  Fr. Ladimer Alkhaseh, pastor of the Assyrian Evangelical Church in San Jose, CA, reacted to the massacre of more than 50 Christian worshipers in a Baghdad church on October 31, 2010, by saying, “The Obama administration needs to do more to help the Christians." He added, “We want President Obama to intervene and basically stop the massacre of Christians in the Middle East.”

Obama, however, continues to appease the Muslim world.  The remarks he made during his visit to Jakarta, Indonesia were in keeping with what he said in his June 2009 Cairo speech; a speech which did little to stem the jihadist slaughter of Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Middle East.  The perceived weakness and indecisiveness of Obama’s U.S. has given a back wind to Islamists everywhere -- from Iran to Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

In the meantime, irrespective of construction in Jerusalem, a new development in the Middle East is likely to derail Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plans.  According to a September 28, 2010 posting on the YaLibana website, reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas are building steam.  The report indicated that the “Fatah representative in Damascus Azzam al-Ahmad said that most of the issues have been agreed on with Hamas…Leaders of the two rival Palestinian movements, Fatah and Hamas, held reconciliation talks[.]”

Azzam Al-Ahmad revealed that the White House has pressured Abu Mazen and the Fatah leadership to refrain from signing a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has labeled as a terrorist organization. If these two factions joined forces, their combined strength would have a direct and destructive impact on peace talks with Israel.

According to Al-Ahmad (in an interview with the Palestinian media) the Palestinians (Fatah) promptly rejected the U.S. request, and have gone forward with an agreement with Hamas despite existing differences.  Al-Ahmad expects that within the next two-weeks, an agreement with Hamas will be signed in Cairo.

Hamas officials stated that they were encouraged by Al-Ahmad’s responsible statements, and that they hoped that the language of reconciliation would be translated into action on the ground and result in the Palestinian Authority (PA) ending its security coordination with Israel.  Hamas is particularly interested in reconciliation because that would enable it to free its operatives from PA prisons and facilitate the rebuilding of its civilian and terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank – thus effecting a takeover of the area, just as Hamas did in Gaza.

It is increasingly evident that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and not Israel’s Netanyahu, walked out of the peace talks and imposed conditions on the continuation of any talks.  While President Obama has, once again, chosen to criticize Israel – this time on construction in Jerusalem -- he has yet to show similar toughness with the Palestinians.  This underscores the fact that Obama does not understand the manipulative nature of Hamas and Fatah, and also demonstrates Obama's unwillingness to confront these groups.

There is no disputing the fact that Obama’s perceived weakness and his appeasement of Iran and Syria have boosted the power of the radical anti-American and anti-peace coalition: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.  As the Lebanese Forces website pointed out in its September 30, 2010 issue:

As the West, led by the Obama administration, has warmed to an unreformed Assad and downgraded its support of Lebanon’s moderates; Hariri has gradually toned down his antagonism to Syria.  His first visit to Syria came in 2009, and since then he has become a frequent caller in Damascus, each time leaving a little more of Lebanon’s independence at Bashar’s feet.

The report added:

Just as the success of the Cedar Revolution was not all the Bush administration’s doing, the loss of Lebanon did not result in its entirety from the Obama administration’s actions.  But there is little question that policy shifts in Washington changed the regional realities to the point where Saad Hariri (Sunni-Muslim Prime Minister of Lebanon-JP) now feels he has no choice but to side with Syria if he hopes, quite literally, to survive.

Egypt, in whose capital city Obama addressed the Muslim world and exalted the virtues of Islam, is now reaching a decisive turning point.  Will Jamal Mubarak, the son of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, succeed his father or will there be elections?  If not rigged, elections are likely to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.  And, just as with Hamas’s 2006 victory in Palestinian elections -- which turned out to be a “one time election”-- Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would similarly win power by the ballot-box, and then put and end to all elections.

Obama's Cairo speech focused almost exclusively on building bridges with leaders and governments.  Yet, in both Egypt and Iran, a gulf has opened between the government and the citizenry.  While Obama has strengthened ties with the aging Mubarak, he has ignored concerns over Egypt’s increasingly restive population.  Democratic activists in Egypt are uncertain they count for anything in the U.S.'s relationship with Egypt.

The Iranian opposition was duly despondent over Obama passivity in the wake of the regime’s stolen elections in June 2009. One can still recall the young protesters chant: “Obama, Obama -- you are either with us or with them [the Islamist regime of Ahmadinejad].”  The Obama administration’s refusal to invoke the military option against Iran, coupled with years of appeasing the tyrannical regime, has encouraged the radical-Shiite republic to forge ahead in its quest for nuclear weapons.  The indecisiveness of the Obama administration has shifted the balance of power in the Gulf.  Iran is now calling the shots in Iraq, and the Arab Gulf states are leery of depending on the U.S. for protection, and thus seek accommodation with Iran.

Ankara, Turkey, Obama’s destination for his first speech to the world as U.S. president in April 2009 (where he called the host country “a critical ally”) has now cemented its alliance with Iran and Syria.  Erdogan’s Turkey has also attempted to foil the Obama administration’s efforts to put stronger sanctions on Iran.  Moreover, the Obama administration, intimidated by Russia, has chosen to deploy elements of the ballistic-missile defense shield originally intended for Poland and the Czech Republic, to Turkey.

The question now is whether President Obama will focus on repairing the damage of his appeasement toward Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians, and take a more decisive stance against these radical and destabilizing forces. Or will he continue with his failed policies?