Obama's Middle East Speech: The Opposite of Strategy Is Catastrophe
President Barack Obama’s big Middle East speech is extraordinarily important. I think that it has been largely misinterpreted and deserves a very detailed examination. Forgive me then for analyzing it at length but that’s necessary to understand both Obama’s thinking and policy.
First and foremost, this could be called Obama’s George Bush speech. The intention was to find some way to make the main priority of U.S. policy the support of democracy in the Arab world. This is precisely the theme that Obama’s supporters ridiculed when Bush did it. So Obama had to find some way to approach the issue without anyone realizing he had copied Bush. He succeeded! No one seems to have caught on yet.
One of the tricks is that he began by saying that he was opening “a new chapter in American diplomacy.” But in his main theme he wasn’t doing that at all. He said, “The United States supports a set of universal rights.” Isn’t this in a real sense the exact opposite of multiculturalism? Doesn’t it contradict everything Obama and his supporters have stood for up to now?
Bush, whatever his failings, combined a policy of supporting democracy with one of fighting revolutionary Islamism. If Obama only supports revolutionary change and goes soft on America’s enemies, his policy will promote revolutionary Islamism.
Obama claimed, “Now, already, we've done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.” In other words, Bush is to be identified with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama is to be identified with ending those wars successfully and promoting democracy.
Second, this was not a speech about Israeli-Palestinian issues. On the contrary, he was trying to find a framework for pushing that question onto a backburner. Here he failed completely. Since Obama has such low credibility with Israel and its supporters, some relatively bland statements blew up into such a huge crisis that some are describing it as the end of the traditional U.S.-Israel alliance.
The main problem with Obama’s speech is not what he said about Israel but what he said about developments in the Arab world.
Basically, the difficulty is that he embraced change in the Arab world with no strategic sense whatsoever and not even a gesture toward the dangers involved. Obama wanted to put himself on the side of the “Facebook kids.” It is an approach that has nothing in common with a serious approach to foreign policy.
Everything about the upheavals is good according to Obama. He has zero comprehension of the revolutionary Islamist threat. For Obama there is only al-Qaeda (bad), the existing regimes (bad), and those who want freedom and democracy (good). There is no mention of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no mention of Hizballah.
“Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow.” Here he refers to Egypt and Tunisia. Who are the more who might follow? Obviously, Libya is implied here and also Yemen. Yet these eight words contain much of the huge flaw in Obama’s policy.
On one hand, no U.S. ally is given an exemption. There is nothing in the speech to indicate that Obama does not favor the overthrow of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco, or Algeria. Have no doubt: These governments will see this speech as favoring their demise.
On the other hand, there is no special emphasis on the overthrow of America’s enemies. There is no explicit call for the overthrow of the Iranian and Syrian governments, nor of Hamas in Gaza, nor of the mass-murdering regime in Sudan, nor of keeping Hizballah out of power in Lebanon.
It might be noble and consistent for Obama to say, “If America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change with change that's consistent with the principles that I've outlined today.” But what that means is, for example, that friends will be treated the same way as enemies.
This is one more example of the upside down, non-strategic, absent of all concept of national interest that characterizes Obama’s policy. President Obama is no foreign policy realist.
Obama stresses that al-Qaeda is faltering. True. But other Islamists are advancing. I won’t list all the examples here but there are a dozen of which Obama never seems to take notice: Muslim Brotherhood gains in Egypt; Hizballah on the verge of power in Lebanon; Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip; Turkey joining the enemy camp; Iran still going full-speed ahead toward nuclear weapons.
Iran and nuclear weapons? There are three mentions, but what is one of the most important factors in the region barely registers. One of those is to say that having nuclear weapons doesn’t benefit anyone. That should be a laugh line.
As I’ve said before, a basic concept of this administration is that al-Qaeda is the enemy because it attacks America. Yet the much larger strategic threat posed by revolutionary Islamism — Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, smaller groups, and with Turkish government cooperation — is not perceived as a threat.
That is a catastrophe.