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September 30, 2016 / 27 Elul, 5776
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The Secret Document that Set Obama’s Mideast Policy

In August 2010, Obama ordered a secret report on unrest in the Arab world.

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Palestinian boys listen to President Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University.

Palestinian boys listen to President Barack Obama's speech at Cairo University.



Though I’m writing this somewhat facetiously I mean it very seriously.

And here’s more proof from the Washington Post in March 2011 which seems to report on the implementation of the White House paper’s recommendations:

The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.

That says it all, doesn’t it? The implication is that the U.S. government knew that the Brotherhood would take power and thought this was a good thing.

It continued:

“If our policy can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, we won’t be able to adapt to this change,” the senior administration official said. “We’re also not going to allow ourselves to be driven by fear.”

Might that unnamed official be then counter terrorism advisor and now CIA director John Brennan? I’d bet on it.

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?

More likely the Brotherhood is 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.

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 any way so let’s give them a push did not apply to Iran or Syria or the Hamas-government in Gaza or Hizballah-governed Lebanon and not at all to Islamist-governed Turkey.

Credit should be given to the U.S. government in two specific cases. In Libya, 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:

Barry Rubin

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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