U.S. President Barack Obama’s initiated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Monday in the aftermath of their speeches at the UN General Assembly in New York was an admission of his failure on two fronts. It testifies to his failure to destroy the Islamic State (a.k.a. Daesh in Arabic, ISIS and ISIL) as he promised on several occasions, including last year during the 15-minute address from the White House (September 10, 2014) when he said, “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIS in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” Obama added, “America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat. Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIS through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”
Army General Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. headquarters overseeing the war against the Islamic State, admitted in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services committee (September 16, 2015) that the effort to train 5,400 Syrian fighters has so far resulted in “four or five” Syrian fighters who still remain on the ground and are active in combat.
Obama’s second failure was to isolate Putin politically and economically as a result of Russia’s military involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict. The Europeans did not have much taste for the sanctions against Putin’s Russia and switched to Putin’s side, leaving Obama to “eat crow.” Obama now has been forced to leave the Syrian field to Putin’s Russia.
In his General Assembly speech, Obama (September 28, 2015) declared: “We continue to press for this crisis (in the Ukraine-JP) to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory.” For Putin, Obama’s words, lacking meaningful action, simply amounts to laughable rhetoric. And now with the Europeans largely ignoring the sanctions on Russia and his Syrian initiative in shambles, Obama has come to Putin to ask for cooperation. The U.S. departure from its policy that sought the removal of the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and its mere lip service given to the democratically elected government in the Ukraine exposed the weakness of the liberal democracies led by the U.S.
The perceived weakness of the Obama administration on the world stage has brought into sharp focus Francis Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History” (National Interest, 1989). According to Fukuyama, the western style liberal democracy is a universal political system that has prevailed over all other ideological challenges, and has become the single political hope for mankind. Fukuyama wrote his essay during the demise of the Soviet Union. In the last six years however, non-democratic Russia has asserted itself on the world stage, seeking to reclaim its superpower status, while the ineffective pushback from the Obama administration and its western allies displayed the absence of resolve to fight for principles. Communist China, with its market economy, has also elevated its status on the world stage due to the weakness of the west. As a result, the triumph of liberal democracy may indeed be inevitable, but not anytime soon.
In the Middle East, the “Arab Spring” gave rise to Islamic theocracy or Islamism, which has turned the region into an inferno. Adding to its domestic repression, Iran’s theocratic regime is now capable of increasing global terror, thanks to the generosity of the western powers including the U.S. Iran is unlikely to become a liberal democracy any time soon, but one can be quite certain that it will become a nuclear power courtesy of the Obama administration. In Turkey, President Erdogan has risen to become a repressive dictator. Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship in Egypt has been replaced by the more benign Military authoritarian regime of al-Sisi. Obama however, sided with the repressive regime of the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi, who was rejected by the Egyptian people. Tunisia, where the “Arab Spring” began, may, in the end, hold the only hope for a real democratic change in the Arab Middle East.
Obama’s flowery speech at the General Assembly last week invoked some of Fukuyama’s theory regarding the “emergence of democracy” stating that, “Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war—by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.” The reality on the ground is much different. Obama’s words about “forging alliances with old adversaries,” have not advanced democracy or peace, particularly in the Middle East.
In practice moreover, the world resembles Samuel Huntington’s theory expressed in his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “The Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington argued that the Cold War will be replaced by a clash between cultures or civilizations, the Islamic civilization in particular. Although most of the world’s population today seeks to live in liberal democracies, in the Middle East, Huntington’s prediction of the Islamists clash with the West and the U.S. constitutes a visible reality. Unfortunately for America, President Obama is among the few who won’t openly admit it.
Huntington wrote that, “The major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures… Islamic culture explains in large part the failure of democracy to emerge in much of the Muslim world.” Huntington added, “Those (societies) with Western Christian heritage are making progress toward economic development and democratic politics; the prospects for economic development in the orthodox (Christian) countries are uncertain; the prospects in the Muslim republics is bleak.”
Fukuyama failed to see the emergence of a strong anti-western and anti-liberal democracy elements that rose in the Middle East following the demise of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The spread of the Shiite Crescent led by the fanatical Ayatollahs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has now incorporated Shiite ruled Iraq into its sphere, has spawned the rise of the Islamic State Caliphate. Obama’s abandonment of Iraq without leaving U.S. forces on the ground enabled the IS (Daesh) to expand into vast territories in Iraq and Syria. The nuclear deal with Iran empowered the anti-democratic and anti-western forces in the Middle East and beyond. The Obama administration and the European Union pressuring Israel to make concessions to the anti-western and anti-democratic Palestinian leadership, whether Hamas or Fatah, could weaken Israel, which is the only western liberal democracy in the Middle East.
Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in December, 2009, President Barack Obama declared before 1,000 guests at the Oslo City Hall, “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving peace.”
Regrettably, President Obama has not heeded his own advice in dealing with Iran and the Islamic State. As a consequence, Putin’s non-democratic Russia, not the U.S. and the liberal democracies, will gain the upper-hand in the Middle East and the Ukraine.