A recent dispute between conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer centered on the Obama administration’s return to the British government in January 2009 of a bust of Winston Churchill, which had been kept in the Oval Office by President George W. Bush following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A more fruitful discussion would compare the policies and military campaigns of British Prime Minister Churchill and President Obama in the Middle East and North Africa during their respective first years in office. This historical comparison is timely, as last week’s foreign policy debate between Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney was primarily devoted to these interrelated regions.
While Obama’s serial failures over the past 45 months in the Middle East and North Africa have been intensively analyzed, Churchill’s outstanding successes in the same regions between 1940 and 1943 are not remembered by the general public in Western democracies.
For example, an Israeli government-sponsored conference on September 21 in New York City, on the more than 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, totally ignored the critical reality that nearly all Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II survived because of Allied battlefield victories. For three decades after the war, these Mizrachi Jews immigrated to Israel, France, America and other Western countries, and they and their descendants have made many valuable contributions to their new homelands.
Even Obama’s most diehard supporters have not argued that his strategy between January 2009 and October 2012 has been successful in the two regions. The president refused to support the popular uprising in Iran in the summer of 2009 against the Islamic fanatics who have misruled that nation for three decades, and his reliance on diplomacy and economic sanctions to end the Iranian nuclear-weapons program has also failed.
Similarly, Obama’s reactions to the revolutions that have swept across North Africa and the Middle East since their beginning in Sidi Bou Zid, Tunisia in December 2010 (the site of a major American battlefield defeat in February 1943) are aptly summarized as “leading from behind.” The unwillingness to take military action to end the mass killings of civilians by the Assad regime in Syria is another diplomatic fiasco on the part of Obama and his hapless secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
In Iraq, Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by not negotiating an agreement with the new Iraqi government to extend the stay of American military personnel who were successfully rebuilding the country’s armed forces.
Further, the president’s dispatch of tens of thousands of Army, Marine and Air Force reinforcements to Afghanistan in 2010 and his simultaneous announcement of their withdrawal in 2012 violated a cardinal rule of war. As General George Patton once pointed out, no commander should allow a pre-existing plan to override battlefield conditions; instead the commander must adjust the plan to the inevitable successes or failures on the ground.
More than 1,500 Americans have been killed in the Afghanistan Theater since Obama’s inauguration as compared to 650 killed there during President Bush’s eight years in the White House.
Finally, on September 11, 2012, our embassies in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and other Muslim countries were attacked by local religious fanatics, and four Americans – Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty – were killed in an assault on our embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Despite extensive outreach and apologies to the Muslim world, the Obama administration can’t claim the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are more aligned with American interests than they were when the president was inaugurated in January 2009. In short, his “new beginning” with the Islamic world has been an abject disaster.
* * * * *
By contrast, between May 1940, when he replaced Neville Chamberlain as prime minister, and May 1943, when the Mediterranean again became an Allied lake, Churchill was the driving force behind victorious military campaigns from Iran in the east to Morocco in the west.
In September 1940, with the Battle of Britain raging and a Nazi invasion still a genuine threat, Churchill reinforced Commonwealth and Empire forces in Egypt in anticipation of an Italian attack from Libya aimed at the Suez Canal and Middle East oil fields. The expected Italian invasion was launched, but stalled after an advance of just 60 miles into Egypt.