Obama's Middle East Mess
Of course, the reason America no longer has any military aircraft in Iraq is that President Obama failed to reach a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government. Obama likes to brag about having “ended the war in Iraq.” Yet the worst of the Iraqi violence had ended before Obama took office, thanks to a strategy adopted by his predecessor. Obama was responsible for (1) consolidating the gains he inherited and (2) negotiating a new SOFA before December 2011. His failure to secure an agreement represented a huge victory for Iran, which has become much more influential in Iraq since U.S. troops departed.
Not surprisingly, many Iraqis feel abandoned. In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, one of the Iraqi sheikhs who led the so-called Anbar Awakening recalled the hollow promises that Obama made to him back in 2008. “President Obama said he would not forget all the sacrifices that were made,” said Ahmad Abu-Risha. “Now we look back at that meeting and we think it was political propaganda. What he said, we don’t see it happening.” Thus, Abu-Risha wanted to ask the president a few questions: “Why did you leave Iraq to Iran? Why did you give up the many sacrifices that Americans made?”
Speaking of Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano told reporters on November 20 that Western sanctions are not having “any effect” in deterring Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians are still “producing enriched uranium up to 5 percent and 20 percent with a quite constant pace.” Indeed, they are apparently so unafraid of Obama that they were planning to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.
Obama’s mistreatment of Israel has given Tehran even more reason to doubt the credibility of U.S. military threats. In August, for example, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, said that he did not want Americans “to be complicit” in an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “Complicit”? Doesn’t that word suggest that an Israeli strike would be criminal?
As for the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” it looks more hopeless today than it did when Obama took office. Hectoring Israel over the settlements has not earned Obama any great affection from the Palestinians. In fact, the Palestinians think so little of his administration that they aggressively campaigned for U.N. recognition of their “statehood,” despite strong opposition from Washington.
In short, nobody in the Middle East seems to trust or respect Obama: not the Israelis, not the Palestinians, not the Syrians, not the autocrats, not the activists, and not the Islamists. Many Egyptians fear the United States isn’t doing enough to stop the Muslim Brotherhood from trampling democracy. (They also remember that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the Mubarak regime “stable” less than three weeks before it collapsed.) And many Libyans are frustrated that Obama mostly ignored their country following the death of Muammar Gaddafi, until four American diplomats were slaughtered in Benghazi.
Last month, Brookings Institution analyst Shadi Hamid lamented that “the United States has somehow managed to alienate both sides of the Arab cold war: Dictators think we’re naively pro-revolution, and Arab protesters and rebels worry we’re still siding with the dictators.” It is a remarkable feat, but not something the administration should be proud of.