Op-Ed: Will Obama’s Fiddling Cause the Middle East to Burn?

The United States has had no coherent policy during Obama's presidency, and the Mideast has become more dangerous as a result.
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 12:12 AM



Mr. Obama has carefully avoided validating Jewish historical claims.
The United Nations recently announced the results of an investigation regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  Though no one disputes that Bashar al-Assad used poison gas against rebel forces, the U.N. also found that poison gas was used against government soldiers two times and against civilians and troops on another occasion. 

Barack Obama’s international credibility – already tenuous – was tarnished further when he ignored his own redline and refused to act after the use of chemical weapons was first reported, although he did authorize the CIA last April to arm rebels before deferring to Russia’s plan for resolving the weapons impasse. 

The recent revelations concerning the apparent use of gas by Syrian rebels, however, raises questions regarding the broader implications of the administration’s muddle in Syria, and whether its repeated missteps reflect a lack of coherent strategic vision, misguided policy values or something more fundamentally disturbing.

The Obama administration’s policy on Syria has been confused from the start, having been formulated by politicians – including John Kerry, Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, and Mr. Obama himself – who opposed President George W. Bush’s call for action against Bashar al-Assad when they were Senators serving on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.  They ignored Assad’s bad acts at the time because they opposed President Bush. 

After Mr. Obama became president, Kerry visited Damascus several times and spoke of Assad’s supposed moderation.  Hillary Clinton suggested publicly thereafter that there was no need for American intervention because the Syrian dictator was considered a reformer by Kerry and other Congressmen who had accompanied him on his junkets.

Since that time, Mr. Obama’s positions have flip-flopped; particularly after reports regarding poison gas first surfaced.  It seems puzzling, though, that it took chemical weapons to draw his administration’s attention to the humanitarian crisis when it did not express the same level of concern as more than 100,000 Syrians were being killed by more conventional means.  The administration became indignant only after 1,400 civilians were killed with gas, and thereafter seemed to regard the rebels favorably – even though many were Islamists with links to al-Qaeda. 

The President and his advisers never seemed clear about which faction represented what ideology.  Nevertheless, the rebels were touted as possible beacons of democracy compared to Assad.  Their democratic potential, however, was a strategic fiction echoed by a mainstream media that failed to grasp the complexities of the conflict, particularly when they reflected poorly on the administration.

President Obama’s fumbling in Syria is part of a larger, more systemic failure to understand Mideast history and politics, and of his administration’s record of enabling Islamists, appeasing mullahs, and sacrificing the strategic interests of American allies in the region. 

The administration’s skewed vision permeates its efforts to force Israel into a two-state solution along the lines of the Saudi initiative – a plan that was never intended to promote genuine peace with a Jewish State, but rather to weaken that state and hasten its demise. 

The White House’s folly reflects a progressive worldview that has little basis in reality, and which refuses to acknowledge the inflexible doctrine that dictates Muslim relations with the non-Muslim world.  Moreover, it is enabled by a complicit media that fails time and again to challenge Mr. Obama’s core assumptions.   

Since the so-called Arab Spring, media coverage has ignored clear signs of Islamist influence when treating rebels and protestors as champions of democracy.  This trend has been consistent since 2008, when Mr. Obama set out to transform the image of the Muslim Brotherhood into that of a moderate political organization. 

The subsequent overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt was condemned by the progressive media as anti-democratic, as reflected in a headline in The Guardian last summer proclaiming that: “[t]he military has not just ousted Morsi. It has ousted democracy.”  Such hyperbole may be consistent with support for a president whose policies facilitated the Brotherhood’s rise to power, but it ignores the organization’s suppression of dissent, repudiation of western values, and unwavering belief in jihad.  

The false narrative of the “Arab Spring” as a liberal democratic revolution persists more than two years after Tahrir Square, despite the undeniable Islamist influence at its center. 

Though public attention has since been diverted by events in Syria and Iran, and by Obama’s and Kerry’s obsession with Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the Egyptian revolution stands out as the precursor of all subsequent regional policy failures.  The meltdown in Cairo a year after Morsi’s election hinted at the inadequacy of the administration’s policies and its inability to learn from its mistakes. 

In light of the Egyptian crisis (which continues to flare up today), no one should have been surprised by the President’s subsequent blunders in Syria, his appeasement of Iran, or his efforts to force Israel back to 1949 armistice lines known as the “Auschwitz Borders.”   

The administration’s regional strategies are counterintuitive and reflect the President’s belief in several fundamental foreign policy myths. 

First, he embraces the discredited theory of “linkage,” a sacred cow of the anti-Israel left that relates the Arab-Israeli conflict to all other strife in the region.  This was apparent in his State Department speech of May 2011. 

Second, he assumes that Islamism can be controlled despite its commitment to jihad and its doctrinal opposition to genuine peace with subjugated peoples – particularly the Jews.  This is reflected by his efforts to portray Islamists as moderates. 

Third, he regards the Palestinians as an aboriginal people whose land was appropriated by the creation of Israel, which he ascribes to European guilt over the Holocaust.  In contrast, he assiduously avoids legitimizing historical Jewish claims, though they predate Palestinian claims by thousands of years and are objectively verifiable. 

Consistent with these premises, Mr. Obama seems to believe that Israel is expendable, that Islamists hold the key to regional peace and stability, and that the United States should reprioritize its allegiances accordingly.  These policy assumptions, however, are factually flawed and easily deconstructed.

First and foremost, the Arab-Israeli conflict is unrelated to any other conflicts plaguing the region; and it persists solely because of the refusal to recognize Jewish national integrity.  Arab-Muslim rejectionism predated the creation of Palestinian national identity in the 1960s, and in fact existed long before Israeli independence in 1948.  

The denial of Israel’s right to exist stems from a religiously-mandated rejection of the Jews’ right to self-determination.  As subjugated people whose land was usurped through jihad, Jews under Islam lost their right to national sovereignty and were relegated to the role of a dispossessed minority subject to persecution, repression and pogrom. 

Organized violence against Jews living under the British Mandate began in 1920 with attacks on Jewish towns in the north, and continued into 1921 with riots in Yafo, Petah Tikva and elsewhere.  Spurred on by the jihadist aims of Haj Amin al-Husseini and facilitated by British collusion, Arabs rioted in 1929, massacring many Jews and expelling the survivors in Tzfat and Hevron – historically Jewish cities that were disingenuously labeled Arab thereafter. 

Attacks and riots continued throughout the 1930s, culminating in the issuance of the White Paper in 1939, which restricted Jewish immigration and, accordingly, assured the deaths of millions during the Holocaust.  No similar curbs were placed on Arab immigration.

Anti-Jewish agitation in Mandatory Palestine was not caused by boundary disputes or arguments over territory per se.  Rather, it was motivated by cultural enmity and the sectarian refusal to acknowledge the Jews’ ancestral rights in a homeland that was historically theirs, but which had been coopted through jihad and recharacterized through taqiyya. 

This rejectionism dictated the treatment of Jews long before the rebirth of Israel and was unrelated to the purported rights of Palestinians, who had no political existence before the creation of a faux national identity years after Israeli independence.  As acknowledged by many Palestinian leaders and intellectuals over the years, including Yasser Arafat and Zahir Muhsein, “[t]he ‘Palestinian People’ does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel.” 

The attempt to link Israel to other regional conflicts is offensive and betrays an ignorance of Jewish, Arab and Mideast history and politics.  The region is home to a diverse array of peoples and cultures, including Arabs, Kurds, Berbers, Turks, Copts, Persians, Maronites, Armenians, Circassians and Jews.  It is also home to different religious traditions, including the Sunni, Shiite and Alawite branches of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and the monotheistic Bahá'í, Yazid, Mandaen and Druze faiths.  Despite generations of conflict, many of these groups were arbitrarily forced together into modern states by the European mandatory powers after the First World War.   

The borders of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon were drawn to include traditional enemies who nevertheless continued to clash after becoming Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis and Lebanese.  The British and French never understood the divisions within Mideast society as they forced incompatible groups together in newly created nations.  In pressuring Israel to accept a peace plan that would undercut her long-term viability, the Obama administration displays the same lack of understanding, as well as a refusal to acknowledge ancestral Jewish claims.  Even if a resolution could be achieved, it would have no bearing on clashes pitting Arabs against Kurds, Sunnis against Shiites, or Muslims against Christians. 

Muslims have waged war against “infidels” for nearly 1,400 years, and friction among the various religious and ethnic groups in the region arose long before the establishment of the modern Jewish State.  These struggles are unaffected by Arab-Israeli discord and will not be resolved by the creation of a state of Palestine.  The theory linking Israel to unrelated conflicts and events is similar to those classical anti-Semitic canards that accused Jews of affecting world events through pervasive influence, power and wealth beyond their numbers. 

It is a subtle way of blaming Jews for causing or exacerbating conflicts to which they are strangers, and it comes from the same dark impulse that in the past compelled anti-Semites to accuse them of consuming Gentile blood, poisoning wells and causing the Black Death.

Just as unfounded as the theory of linkage is the notion that Islamism can be controlled; and yet the White House seems bent on redefining Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, as moderate forces for democratic change.  This premise, however, is patently absurd.  

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna on the principle that the Quran and Sunnah constitute the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community ...  and state.”  Its goals include reinstituting the Caliphate and spreading Islam through jihad, and its targets for hatred include Jews, Christians and liberal western society. 

It supported Nazism during the Second World War, and sponsors terrorism while calling for Israel’s destruction today.  Moreover, its violent campaign against the Coptic community following Morsi’s election underscored the continuity of its supremacist philosophy.  The Brotherhood is neither moderate nor secular – regardless of the administration’s attempts to sanitize its image.

The only point regarding the Brotherhood about which President Obama is correct is that its election in Egypt was democratic; that is, Morsi was elected by a majority of voters (as was Hamas in Gaza).  Without western-style constitutions to safeguard individual rights and liberties, however, these elections were merely exercises in “pure democracy,” a form of government in which personal and minority rights are not respected or guaranteed. 

Individual rights in pure democracy are subservient to the will of a dictatorial majority that often succumbs to mob rule.  For this reason, it was considered by Plato and Aristotle to be the least desirable form of government.  

America’s founding fathers also frowned on pure democracy, as James Madison articulated when he wrote:

[I]t may be concluded that a pure democracy … can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

(“The Federalist No. 10: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued),” (November 22, 1787)).  The founders instead envisioned a republic in which individual rights and liberties would predominate.

The framework for American government is prescribed in Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of Government.”  The framers contemplated a republic based on constitutional principles and a free, fair and open electoral system.  In contrast, Morsi’s election represented the kind of pure democracy that was reviled by the framers; and it produced a repressive government that was antithetical to the open societies found in countries like the United States, Canada and Israel.  Any similarity to the American system implied by the administration’s praise for the democratic nature of Morsi’s election was false and misleading.

The President likewise misrepresents the authenticity of Palestinian claims, which unlike the Jews’ birthright, are not supported by history, archeology or cultural imprint.  In speeches and policy statements over the last five years, Mr. Obama has carefully avoided validating Jewish historical claims, instead describing the establishment of modern Israel as a response to the Holocaust. 

He thus lends credence to a Palestinian narrative that denies Jewish history and portrays Israel as a colonial aberration populated by foreigners with no ancestral connection to the land.  He also feeds into propaganda that characterizes the mere existence of Israel as occupation, denigrates Jewish nationhood, and denies that the Temple ever stood in Jerusalem.

In endorsing Palestinian claims while failing to acknowledge the Jews’ ancient connection to their homeland, Mr. Obama empowers those who delegitimize Israel.  The President uses the term “occupation” to describe Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria, employing the same propaganda-laden term used in Arab-Muslim circles to describe the entire State of Israel. 

He refers to Israeli settlements as “illegitimate,” though they violate neither traditional international law nor the Fourth Geneva Convention, and uses the term “settlements” to describe Jerusalem neighborhoods that have always been Jewish.  Furthermore, he refrains from using any language that evokes Jewish ancestral rights, thereby stifling dialogue concerning the historical justification for the Jewish State.

Whether mucking around in Syria, misreading the tea leaves in Egypt, appeasing Islamists or promoting a vision of Arab-Israeli peace that elevates historical fiction over authentic Jewish rights, the Obama administration has displayed equal parts hubris and incompetence.   

The President seems to believe that force of personality and partisan values are more important than ability and strategic vision in directing foreign policy.  Consequently, , the United States has had no coherent policy during his presidency, and the Mideast has become more dangerous as a result.  

In addition to exacerbating problems with Syria, Iran and Israel, Mr. Obama’s policies have alienated the Saudis, facilitated an Islamist takeover in Libya and resurgence in Iraq, emboldened the Taliban in Afghanistan, and enabled a renewal of foreign expansionism in Lebanon.  His policy of “leading from behind” appears to encompass the appeasement of enemies and abandonment of friends.  As a consequence, the United States is not trusted by its allies or feared by its enemies, and its international credibility is in tatters. 

Foreign policy is not a game for ideologues or amateurs, particularly in areas fraught with explosive cultural, religious and internecine tensions.  The Mideast is unquestionably tenser and less stable than it was five years ago.  The question now is whether it can find some level of stasis and wait out the last years of the Obama presidency without further damage.