How Obama Administration's Ideological Obsessions Trash U.S. Interests
By Barry Rubin
It’s amazing how an entire foreign policy philosophy can be contained in so few words, as in this short paragraph:
“`It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,’” Mrs. Clinton said at the National Defense University. `O.K., fine, what’s next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.’”
Ladies and gentlemen I ask you to explore with me how the downfall of a great power is encapsulated in this passage. See, too, how history is totally garbled, the lives of thousands are shortened, and millions subjected to tyranny.
And that’s an understatement.
First, of course it would be news—-big news—-if the United States government calls for the overthrow of Syrian dictator-president Bashar al-Assad. People have been waiting for months to hear these words uttered and implemented. One reason it would be big news is that for the last 2.5 years the Obama Administration—as bizarre as that might seem—has become the virtual sponsor of that anti-American dictatorship, a tyranny fawned over by the likes of Senator John Kerry and then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Syria’s government arms, finances, trains, and assists terrorists to kill Americans and Iraqis in Iraq. It does the same for terrorists in Lebanon, a country which it has now once again turned into a satellite. It does the same for terrorists attacking Israel which, last time I checked, was still a U.S. ally. And it even does so, albeit only occasionally, in Jordan. The Saudis have been trying to contain Syria’s subversion for years, without U.S. help. Syria is an ally and client of Iran and has tried to develop its own nuclear weapons in partnership with Iran and North Korea.
Yet through all of this, the Obama Administration has kept engaging Syria. The mass media in America has tended to be apologists for Syria at least up to the last few weeks. The op-ed columns have been full of apolegetics for courting Syria. Yet they never present the case for why this was a bad idea and would never work.
So in the face of all this—including Syrian aggression against five U.S. allies—the Obama Administration kept engaging Syria until the most recent days. Why did it take a rebellion and massive repression to make the Obama Administration even think about a major policy shift?
And this wouldn’t be news?
Then there’s the implicit assumption that what the United States does isn’t important. Oh no, explains the secretary of state, Turkey and Jordan are what’s important.
Note the relevance of this behavior to Libya. When the Arab League called for the downfall of dictator Muammar Qadhafi that was enough for the United States to commit itself to the enterprise. No, I haven’t forgotten the European pressure for such a move, but Obama emphasized the need for Arab approval as primary.
Yet when Saudi Arabia, Jordan,, and others wanted to keep Egypt’s dictator-president Husni Mubarak, or at least the regime, in power that didn’t matter to the Obama White House. Ladies and gentlemen, those U.S. allies were not even consulted on the issue. Bahrain, same story.
All of these countries are not constantly begging the United States in private to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict but to solve the problem of Iranian aggression. People depend on American leadership and protection. They aren’t getting it today.
One of the most remarkable conclusions to be drawn is that the Obama Administration is incapable of learning to understand international relations and will not do so even if in power another 5.5 years. That’s in large part because this president won’t abandon:
The obsession for popularity that has overridden the pursuit of U.S. national interests. And it doesn’t even bring popularity!
The obsession to prove that America is no longer an “imperialist bully” that has made the Obama Administration act as if the United States is and should be a pitiful helpless giant. And that includes its behavior toward such false friends as the Turkish regime and Pakistan.
The obsession to show that he feels those who hate America have a real justification for doing so that has led to a U.S government to coddle its enemies.
The obsession with “soft power” that cannot avoid hard realities. You can’t prove to people who want to destroy you that you are on their side.
The obsession in believing that there must be something wrong with any non-European country that wants to ally with America which has led to indifference toward real allies’ needs.
Digression: I keep thinking this approach parallels the Obama side’s arguing that any Hispanic, African-American, or woman who doesn’t support Obama has something seriously wrong with them, a traitor to their group. In the same manner, there almost seems to be a subconscious belief that any non-European government that isn’t radical or at least anti-American is not really authentic. Or that those really moderate Muslims in the West are not legitimate and should be ignored in their efforts and warnings.
I find this sentence of Clinton’s to be particularly annoying:
“If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”
What nonsense! Turkey and other local countries are saying it and of course the Assad regime is ignoring it! And the current Turkish regime is no friend of the United States. It is an ally of Iran and of the Muslim Brotherhood. It wants an Islamist, anti-American regime in Syria—of course, one that is friendly with the Turkish Islamists who are now arresting every military officer in sight.
And why didn't Clinton mention Saudi Arabia? That's another insult to that kingdom which has put up with so much abuse from the Obama Administration despite being a critical ally? We know a lot of things the Saudis do, at home and abroad, that we don't like. But on Syria their policy has been better than Obama's. They've recalled their ambassador from Damascus, something Obama refuses to do. Oh, and Assad hasn't listened. Maybe that's why Hillary Clinton didn't mention them.
The problem of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is not essentially related to partisan politics or liberals versus conservatives. Obama foreign policy is profoundly at odds strategically and philosophically with pretty much every presidential predecessor for more than six decades. It has abandoned the most basic principles of diplomacy, which is why it keeps making obvious, dangerous, and absurd errors.
If people who actually know about the Middle East, for example, were allowed to write in the mass media, the Obama Administration’s foreign policy would be torn to pieces every day. Many people in the foreign policy establishment know this. In defense of U.S. interests they should start speaking out.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pjmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). GLORIA Center site is http://www.gloria-center.org.His articles published originally outside of PajamasMedia are at