The Secret Document That Set Obama's Middle East Policy

What did Obama and his advisors think would happen? That out of gratitude for America stopping its (alleged) bullying and imperialistic ways and getting on the (alleged) side of history, the new regimes would be friendly. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular would conclude that America was not its enemy.

You know, one Brotherhood leader would supposedly say to another: all of these years we thought the United States was against us, but now we see that they are really our friends. Remember Obama's Cairo speech? He really gets us!

More likely he'd be saying: we don't understand precisely what the Americans are up to but they are obviously weak, cowardly, and in decline.

In fact, that's what they did say. Remember that President Jimmy Carter's attempts to make friends with the new Islamist regime in Iran in 1979 fed a combination of Iranian suspicion and arrogance which led to the hostage crisis, and Tehran daring to take on the United States single-handed. America, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said at the time, can't do a damned thing against us.

Incidentally, everyone except the American public -- which means people in the Middle East -- knows that Obama cut the funding for real democratic groups. His Cairo speech was important not for the points so often discussed (Israel, for example) but because it heralded the age of political Islamism being dominant in the region. Indeed, Obama practically told those people that they should identify not as Arabs, but as Muslims.

In broader terms, what does Obama’s behavior remind me of? President Jimmy Carter pushing Iran’s shah for human rights and other reforms in 1977, and then standing aloof as the revolution unrolled -- and went increasingly in the direction of radical Islamists -- in 1978.

As noted above, that didn’t work out too well.

Incidentally, the State Department quite visibly did not support Obama’s policy in 2011. It wanted to stand with its traditional clients in the threatened Arab governments, just as presumably there were many in the Defense Department who wanted to help the imperiled militaries with whom they had cooperated for years. And that, by the way, includes the Turkish army, which was being visibly dismantled by the Islamist regime in Ankara.

While the State Department backed down on Egypt, it drew the line on Bahrain. Yes, there is a very unfair system there in which a small Sunni minority dominates a large Shia majority, and yes, too, some of the Shia opposition is moderate, but the assessment was that a revolution would probably bring to power an Iranian satellite government.  

But the idea -- that they're going to be overthrown anyway so let's give them a push -- did not apply to Iran or Syria or Hamas-government Gaza or Hizballah-governed Lebanon and not at all to Islamist-governed Turkey.

It makes sense that this basic thinking also applied to Libya, where dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi was hardly a friend of the United States, but had been on better behavior lately. As for Syria, the U.S. government indifference to who actually wins leadership of the new regime seems to carry over from the earlier crises.

Credit should be given to the U.S. government in two specific cases. Once the decision to overthrow Qadhafi was made, the result was a relatively favorable regime in Libya. That was a gain. The problem is that this same philosophy and the fragility of the regime helped produce the Benghazi incident. The other relatively positive situation was Iraq's post-Saddam government, to which most of the credit goes to Obama's predecessor but some to his administration. Still, Iraq seems to be sliding -- in terms of its regional strategic stance, not domestically -- closer toward Iran.

At any rate, the evidence both public and behind the scenes seems to indicate that the Obama administration decided on two principles in early 2011.

-- First, let’s help overthrow our friends before someone else does so, and somehow we will benefit from being on the winning side.

-- Second, it doesn’t really matter too much who takes power, because somehow they will be better than their predecessors, somehow we will be more popular with them, and somehow U.S. interests will be preserved.

Landler definitely thought he was making Obama look good.

Instead, he was showing us that the bad thinking and disastrous policy was planned and purposeful.