The Secret Document That Set Obama's Middle East Policy
“... we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms. ... America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as president to protect the American people.” -- President Barack Obama, Cairo, June 2009
“The United States is now experiencing the beginning of its end, and is heading towards its demise. ... Resistance is the only solution. [Today the United States] is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles, and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance.” -- Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Badri, Cairo, September 2010
What did the president know, and when did he know it? That's a question made classic by the Watergate scandal. Now, it is possible to trace precisely what Obama knew and when he knew it. And it proves that the installment of power of the Muslim Brotherhood was a conscious and deliberate strategy of the Obama administration, developed before the "Arab Spring" began.
In February 2011, the New York Times ran an extremely complimentary article on President Obama by Mark Landler, who some observers say is the biggest apologist for Obama on the newspaper. That’s quite an achievement. Landler praised Obama for having tremendous foresight, in effect predicting the “Arab Spring.” According to Landler:
President Obama ordered his advisers last August  to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world, which concluded that without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt, administration officials said Wednesday.
Which advisors? The then counter-terrorism advisor and now designated CIA chief John Brennan? National Security Council senior staffer Samantha Power? If it was done by Obama's own staff, rather than State and Defense, it's likely that these people were the key authors. Or at least one of them was.
So should U.S. policy help allies avoid such sweeping change by standing firm or by helping them make adjustments? No, explained the report, it should get on the side of history and wield a broom to do the sweeping. The article continued:
Mr. Obama’s order, known as a Presidential Study Directive, identified likely flashpoints, most notably Egypt, and solicited proposals for how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States, [emphasis added] these officials said.
The 18-page classified report, they said, grapples with a problem that has bedeviled the White House’s approach toward Egypt and other countries in recent days: how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.
As I noted, the article was quite explicitly complimentary (and that’s an understatement) about how Obama knew what was likely to happen and was well prepared for it.
But that’s precisely the problem. It wasn't trying to deal with change, but was pushing for it; it wasn't asserting U.S. interests but balancing them off against other factors. In the process, U.S. interests were forgotten.
If Landler was right, then Obama did have a sense of what was going to happen, and prepared. It cannot be said that he was caught unaware. This view would suggest, then, that he thought American strategic interests could be protected, and broader instability avoided by overthrowing U.S. allies as fast as possible and by showing the oppositions that he was on their side. Presumably the paper pointed out the strength of Islamist forces and the Muslim Brotherhood factor, and then discounted any dangers from this quarter.
One could have imagined how other U.S. governments would have dealt with this situation. Here is my imagined passage from a high-level government document:
In light of the likelihood of sweeping political changes, with countries from Bahrain to Yemen ripe for popular revolt, U.S. policy should either help friendly governments retain control or encourage them to make reforms that would increase the scope of freedom in a way that would satisfy popular desires without endangering U.S. interests and long-term stability. In the event that the fall of any given regime seemed likely, U.S. policy should work both publicly and behind the scenes to try to ensure the triumph of moderate, pro-democratic forces that would be able to prevent the formation of radical Islamist dictatorships inimical to U.S. interests, regional peace, and the well-being of the local population.
(Note: again, that is my reconstruction and not a quote from the document.)
Such an approach would have been easy, and in line with historic U.S. policy. We have every reason to believe that the State Department and the Defense Department favored such an approach.
But let’s look at precisely how the White House described the U.S. policy it wanted:
... how the administration could push for political change in countries with autocratic rulers who are also valuable allies of the United States.
In other words, a popular revolt was going to happen (I’ve seen the cables from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia that accurately predicted an upheaval), but would it succeed or fail? The Obama administration concluded that the revolt should succeed and set out to help make sure that it did so. As for who won, it favored not just moderate Islamic forces -- which hardly existed as such -- but moderate Islamist forces.
Which didn't exist at all.