Get PJ Media on your Apple

The End of the ‘Wrong Side of History’

Of tyranny and clichés and who gets to write history.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

March 5, 2014 - 12:05 am

President Barack Obama, in criticizing Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s conquest of the Crimean Peninsula, described Putin as standing “on the wrong side of history.”  This curious and arresting phrase has become a frequent cliché among western liberals.

It is testimony to their self-confidence, and to their belief that they have accurately read the deeper currents and inevitable direction of human affairs. These, in the view of the president and his supporters, point inexorably toward greater cooperation between peoples; a decline in attachment to particularist ethnic, national or religious histories; and a decline in the use of force to settle disputes between states.

The unspoken assumption behind all this, of course, is that being on the right side of history also means accepting the unmatched dominance of the U.S. in global affairs, and in turn the unchallengeable domination of the U.S. by people supporting the particular progressive world view of the president and his supporters.

That is, Obama and his supporters use the word “history” to refer to themselves.

The problem with all this is that in the last five years, many players on the world stage have learned that if “history” and “Obama” are synonyms, being on the wrong side of Obama is a not particularly uncomfortable or worrying place to be.  So the threat of it has rather less impact than the president might hope or assume.

This is not a marginal point. Rather, it is the key factor defining the direction of strategic affairs globally, and in the Middle East in particular.

Let’s examine the record:

In the Middle East, declining respect for being on the wrong side of the United States is the single factor which underlies the direction of events in the key conflict zones of the region.

In Egypt, the current de facto administration of General Abd al Fattah al-Sisi came into being on July 3, 2013, as a result of a military coup against a U.S.-supported Muslim Brotherhood government.  Sisi as of now appears to command immense popularity among the Egyptian population.

He has paid no apparent price for directly challenging the will of the U.S. administration. He is likely to win the Egyptian presidency this year and to set in motion another long period of de facto military rule in Egypt. He is also in the process of reviving Cairo’s relations with Russia.

In Syria, an anti-American dictatorship is holding its ground, despite ostensible U.S. support for its overthrow, and despite the dictator Assad’s responsibility for the deaths of over 140,000 of his countrymen over the last three years. Iranian and Russian aid to the Assad regime have proved decisive.  Bashar Assad was smart enough to stick with allies who would stick by him.

In Iran, the regime has stage-managed the emergence of a supposed “moderate” president.  The true powers in that country, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, have as a result obtained sanctions relief. This in turn is enabling them to continue to develop their missile program and uranium enrichment capacity undisturbed. They are also proceeding apace with their program of regional outreach, and are currently aligned with the dominant forces in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

But even among the supposed allies of the U.S. in the region, it has become apparent that defying the will of the patron carries no particular price. The Saudis united with their Gulf allies to crush an Obama-supported uprising against the emir of Bahrain in 2011.

More recently, the  Saudis have pursued their own policy of arms supply to Islamist and jihadi rebels in northern Syria.  In February, it became clear that the kingdom intends to supply Chinese-made shoulder fired anti-aircraft systems to rebel elements in Syria. This is in direct contravention of U.S. wishes.

Washington evidently (and justifiably) fears that such systems could end up being used against western targets. The Saudis are going ahead anyway.

So what do General Sisi, Bashar Assad, the Iranian mullahs, the Saudi monarchy and of course Vladimir Putin all have in common?  They are all on the wrong side of “history” (i.e., the wrong side of the U.S. administration and its supporters).  And they have all come to the conclusion that this doesn’t matter, and they will experience little difficulty in pursuing their wishes regardless.

Which brings us to the latest interactions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  It appears that the administration believes that even if no-one else much listens anymore, surely the small state of Israel can be frightened and bullied into getting on the right side of “history.”  Hence the thinly veiled threat in Obama’s recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, according to which failure to reach an accord with the Palestinian Authority will lead to Israel’s facing international isolation and the closing of the “window” for a peace deal.

All this is quite surreal, of course, given the very obvious insurmountable gaps between the sides, because of the PA’s insistence on the “right of return,” rejection of mutual recognition between the sides and rejection of defensible borders for Israel.  These stances lie behind the PA’s rejection of Secretary Kerry’s framework for continued negotiations.

But the U.S. administration should also understand that Israeli determination to act in their country’s own self-defined interests is no less deeply rooted than that of the other players on the global stage noted above.

Israelis remember that they buried 1,100 of their own citizens in the period 2000-2005 because of a mis-reading of history and the consequent placing of trust in an enemy committed to their demise. They will be unlikely to rush to repeat the experiment. The waving of the bogeyman of increasing isolation will not induce them to do so.

As for inducements to get on the right side of “history” – the president might note that all the players noted above, Israel included, are operating on similar lines. These involve the protection and assertion of clearly defined national interests, the use of force where deemed necessary, the judicious backing of allies and the effort to deter enemies.

Those who operate along those lines most effectively will get to write the history, in which they will portray themselves as the natural and inevitable victors.  Those who fail to do so will find that efforts to equate their own preferences with the natural tide of human events will be a subject for the increasing derision of their peers, and probably also of history.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Obama can proclaim Putin to be on the wrong side of history but the sad reality is Obama does not understand history at all. Incompetance, indecisiveness, and a total lack of understanding on how the real world works. Obama is an amature compared to Putin. Obama is Jimmy Carter on steroids. What do you expect from a community organizer.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
History is not a single event, it is collection of evolving and interlaced decisions either building up or tearing down depending on where an individual stands.

In 20-30 years people will look back on the collapse of the US economy and wonder where it all went wrong, and why the citizens and voters allowed it to happen. It is easy to trace ; in 1972 Nixon created the Petro Dollar system and placed liquidity of the US economy under Saudi Arabia's control. As a result Saudi interests have been funding the destruction of Democracy and US economy through its Wahhabi Schools and terrorist attacks including 911. Add the ridiculous exponential expansion of unsustainable social programs and wars, these related events destroyed the US Dollar and international trading partners could no longer rely on it as a medium to settle debt.

This is what being on the wrong side of History means.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
YOU CAN'T WIN THE FUTURE IF YOU LOSE THE PRESENT.
Here's a lightweight who knows nothing about history, diplomacy, foreign affairs or running the military. Yet, he thinks his tired worn-out ideas from the 30s will win the future. Hey, dumbnuts, you can't win the future if you lose the present.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (45)
All Comments   (45)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Doesn't that phrase "the wrong side of history" come straight outta Marxism? And isn't it interesting that Barky evidently doesn't know that?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's why I found the whole thing preposterously hilarious, as if that accusation to a former Soviet Communist KGB agent was going to have any effect other than illiciting laughter.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is President Obama who is on the wrong side of History, when it comes to keeping to America's values. President Obama has supported some of the worst Muslim Terrorists who have murdered Americans and thousands of others, and has many placed in U.S. government positions whose goal is to destroy America from within. By supporting the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorists he has been supporting Sharia law in other nations, in no way has he been supporting Freedom. Although I would agree that dictatorships should be brought down, President Obama is not helping to bring Freedom anywhere, but supporting Muslim Terrorist savages who would will fill the void with sharia law if Assad is brought down, which is far worse than the dictatorships before them. Egypt learned this before it was to late for them, and it was America's President helping in the attempt to put them under the thumb of the Savage Muslim Brotherhood Terrorists version of sharia law. This is why I agree with Vladimir Putin's suggestion of countries coming together in support of the Christian's around the globe who are being slaughtered by Muslim Terrorist savages, some of which President Obama seems to have an allegiance to. Christians in America should stand against such a President because it is only a matter of time when the hatred by Muslim groups is spread here against Christians at which time America's Christians will also be attacked. - God Bless America, Israel the NRA and all Real Freedom Fighting Patriots.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dont forget the real history in Max Blumenthal's "Goliath".
All the other problems stem from this.
Can the jews democratically preserve their religion in Israel
or do they have to continue to use propaganda &
brute force to quell the other side?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well said. Welcome, Mr. Spyer.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wish I was as confident in the attitude of our countrymen as you are. Those days were a long time ago to many Israelis, just as 9/11 is a long time ago to many Americans. So could someone tell me exactly why we released all of those murderers? Did Obama promise Bibi something that the Israeli public is not allowed to know about?
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
That they would force the ethnic expulsion of fewer Jews from Judea and Samaria in an agreement or 'agreement'; or 'let' Israel keep a few more centimeters. Something like that. Or it could have also been tied to the boycott threats that Kerry and Obama supposedly oppose.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"These, in the view of the president and his supporters, point inexorably toward greater cooperation between peoples; a decline in attachment to particularistic ethnic, national or religious histories; and a decline in the use of force to settle disputes between states."

Obama and co. sound like your average libertarian commenter.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dr. Spyer is the best writer on current military affairs that I know of.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes. Or, the era of belief in rescue by Uncle Sam may finally be, gratefully, coming to an end in our tiny and treasured little land. G'Bless the US, certainly a good country still, but for Israeli leaders to believe that DC will rescue Israel in a crisis...Obama dealing with Israel, having to 'support' Israel is like a man on the cusp of an enema.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Our commander in chief knows exactly what he is doing. His main goal is for the U.S not to be a world leader anymore, (lead from behind). The U.S to him has been unfairly found, developed on the backs of the poor and has been successful in the extortion of 3rd world countries. He is on record saying" if we can't bring 3rd world countries up to the level of the U.S than will bring the U.S down to their levels."
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
How do Americans feel about the billions given to Ukraine to be given to Russia to pay their gas debts. That's spectacular tokinism from Kerry while your infrastructure is falling apart.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 Next View All