Belmont Club

The Lies That Ate a Region

The Obama administration’s efforts in the Middle East appear to be ending in a series of dead ends. Take Syria.

A recent Pew research survey found little optimism for the outcome of the ‘Arab Spring’ in that country. Ninety five percent of Lebanese, 80% of Jordanians and 60% of Turks were concerned the war there would spread to their own countries. Or if not, then to some other country at the least. Eighty nine percent of Tunisians, 79% of Jordanians, 78% of Israelis, 77% of Egyptians and 74% of Palestinians believe conflict will cross the border into some other country.

Nor is there much optimism that the leaders from behind can steer the wreck. The survey shows only a small margin of support for Western aid to Syrian rebels. Even Arab support for the rebels is weak.

Only the Jordanians (65%) and Lebanese Sunnis (63%) back Arabs arming the rebels. Nearly all the Shia (97%) surveyed in Lebanon are opposed to such outside intervention.

At the same time, there is no public support in the United States, Western Europe or in Turkey for sending arms and military supplies to the anti-government groups in Syria. Eight-in-ten (82%) Germans oppose such assistance, as do more than two-thirds of the French (69%) and the Turks (65%) and a majority of the British (57%). Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans were also against arming the rebels when the survey was taken in the first two weeks of March.

Invoking the threat of chemical weapons increases public support for intervention, but by surprisingly little. Pew says “since then evidence has emerged that the Assad government may have used chemical weapons in its fight against opposition forces. In a subsequent Pew Research Center poll taken April 25-28, Americans, by a 45% to 31% margin, favor rather than oppose the U.S. and its allies taking military action against Syria, if it is confirmed that Syria used chemical weapons against anti-government groups.”

But if the rebels are not particularly loved, Assad is deeply hated, the survey found. To a surprising extent the region seems to share the Kissingerian hope that it would be best if both sides could lose.

Joseph Hoar at Foreign Policy argues that the critical line along which the fire can spread to the Arab world is through Jordan, now swamped by nearly a million Syrian refugees. Economic pressures are mounting in the Kingdom and the unthinkable may happen. The Jordanian crown is no longer safe. But it will surprise many Americans to learn that economic pressures are mounting in the Saudi Arabia as well.

Recently Saudi Arabia attempted to deport tens of thousands of foreign workers, which according to the New York Times was “part of a continuing effort to lower the country’s staggering youth unemployment rate, in part by shifting the balance in hiring practices for private-sector jobs, which are overwhelmingly occupied by the kingdom’s 10 million foreign workers. In November, the government started penalizing private companies that hire more foreigners than Saudi citizens as part of a plan to create six million new jobs for Saudis by 2030. The policy also reflects fears of political instability among the monarchies of the Persian Gulf region, where the authorities have combined inducements with repression to contain the discontent among young people that helped propel the Arab uprisings more than two years ago.”

The Saudis need to take the expat jobs, even the low end ones. Yet even if the Saudis succeed it will only shift the pressures elsewhere. The Guardian notes that the Kingdom plans to deport 300,000 Yemenis to their impoverished homeland,  which would implode the neighboring country. “An estimated 800,000 to 1 million Yemenis live in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, remitting about $4bn (£2.6bn) annually. Yemen is the poorest and least developed country in both the Gulf and the Arab world, running out of oil and water while facing grave internal security challenges.”

These upheavals are occurring at a time when the old guard of Saudi Arabia’s Royal House is dying off. The Washington Institute notes the appointment of a new senior royal, Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Muhammad to replace his predecessors who either died of old age in office, became hopelessly corrupt or in one case afflicted with dementia.

His appointment will mean the end of the gravy train for some.  And he’s an outsider. “Prince Fahd’s pedigree is not part of the House of Saud’s mainstream, so he is not a potential future king. But Khalid’s sacking will likely be seen as a setback for some of the king’s rival half-brothers (the so-called Sudairi princes) and their sons.”

For Washington, Fahd’s appointment means that the U.S. military now has a competent, experienced, and authoritative royal to deal with in further developing the longstanding bilateral relationship. The long-range air-launched missiles that will be discussed during Secretary Hagel’s visit are an important element in U.S. efforts to counter Iran’s apparent hegemonic regional ambitions. But Washington should also be concerned that this latest twist in royal politics could provoke destabilizing countermoves within the House of Saud.

An administration which came to office promising new relations with the Muslim world and tantalizing voters with “grand bargains” stares at nothing but ruins. The ruins, however, are staring back. The desperate state to which President Obama’s projects have fallen is illustrated by reports that he is urging Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey to form an alliance against Iran. Quoting London’s Sunday Times the Israel Times says “the plan would see Israel join with Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to create a Middle Eastern “moderate crescent,” according to the Sunday Times, which cited an unnamed Israeli official. Israel does not currently maintain formal ties with Riyadh or Abu Dhabi, and relations with Ankara have been strained since 2009.”

Under this plan, the goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon would be abandoned. Instead, Israel would share Iron Dome with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and they would emplace batteries in their countries to defend themselves against Teheran.

According to the report, Israel would gain access to radar stations in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and in exchange share its own early warning radar information and anti-ballistic missile defense systems, though it’s not clear in what form. The report details that Jordan would be protected by Israel’s Arrow long-range anti-missile batteries.

The so-called 4+1 plan is being brokered by Washington, and would mark a sharp shift in stated policy for the White House, which has insisted the US is not interested in containing Iran but rather stopping it before it reaches nuclear weapon capability.

RT also reports the “4+1” talks and adds that Patriot missiles may be added to the mix. However, some quarters have dismissed the proposal as too fantastic to be true. “Turkey has dismissed the report. ‘These are manipulative reports which have nothing to do with the reality,’ a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Hürriyet Daily News.”

But if manipulation has an alias, it is “leading-from-behind”. For some time now the administration has been attempting to substitute its talent for plotting to replace its incapacity in sound policy making. First there was the encouragement of anti-Mubarak forces which led to present day starvation Egypt. Next there was support for the Arab Spring rebels in Libya which resulted in well — “what difference does it make?” in the words of Hillary Clinton. Next there was the denial that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon followed by the empty promise to prevent it in the unlikely event that they did what they we were assured they could not do. This was followed by the stern attempt to stop the spread of chemical weapons use by warning of “red lines”, a warning that has now transformed itself into a four course menu of Crow in the White House. Now that the fires in Syria are threatening to rage out of control there is this strange report hinting at organizing Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey into an alliance to “contain” Iran.

You can almost hear the click of the hammer on the empty chambers.

Perhaps the real objective of the Benghazi coverup was not to hide a particular act of incompetence or dereliction but to mask an entire failed policy process; one so epically shambolic, amateurish and bizarre it is a scandal in itself. What has protected the administration till now is the sheer implausible scale of their incompetence. Who would believe it? It was reflected in the astonishment of a senior State Deparment counterterrorism official on the night of Benghazi. “You should have seen what (Clinton) tried to do to us that night,” he said.

The defenders of the administration have pointed out that the key problem to explaining Benghazi is that no Secretary of State or President could be so stupid. And yet as a famous statesman from the 20th century reminded us, effrontery is often the best flag under which to advance. A grifter never works from a small lie. He works from a big one.

in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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