While foreign policy did not figure large in the second presidential debate, the Middle East again emerged as the overwhelmingly main international issue.
In the beginning of the debate, President Barack Obama claimed that he put a high priority on energy independence, an assertion well refuted by Governor Mitt Romney. A president who wanted energy independence, from the unreliability of Middle East supplies, could easily expand oil drilling on federal land; the use of new technology to produce oil and gas; a major pipeline from Canada; and the continued production and use of coal for generating power. To do none of these things and put his effort into restricting traditional energy sources and push hard for untested, long-term, and failed “green energy” schemes subverts energy independence.
But the main emphasis in the debate was on the Benghazi assassinations. Obama said:
So as soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team, and I gave them three instructions. Number one, beef up our security and — and — and procedures not just in Libya but every embassy and consulate in the region. Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again. And number three, we are going to find out who did this, and we are going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.
In other words, Obama said let’s increase security—after the attack was made—and then investigate and find those responsible for the attack. This is all rather obvious and anyone would have done that. But the real questions are different ones: How about investigating why there was such a security breach and the reasons for the attack?
And how about what happened beforehand?
The official story of what led up to the attack is just plain weird. Supposedly, the U.S. ambassador arrived back in the country and immediately ran off to Benghazi virtually by himself allegedly to investigate building a new school and a hospital there yet without any real security. His protection was to be provided by relatively untrained Libyans who a few months earlier had been rebels in the civil war.
It is quite true that the State Department and ultimately Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for the ambassador being in Benghazi and for ensuring his protection. The president would not be consulted on such a “minor” event. But the story hinges on why the ambassador was in Benghazi that day.
If he was, as accounts by sources in the U.S. intelligence community suggested, negotiating with a terrorist, anti-American group to obtain the return of U.S. weapons provided during the civil war that would have been a much higher-priority matter. The fact that he was not accompanied by a delegation of foreign aid experts to evaluate these alleged projects shows that the reason for the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi is being covered up. This situation transcends State Department jurisdiction and brings in the CIA and higher-level national security officials. The plan would have been in the presidential briefing and it is quite conceivable he would have been called on to approve of it.
Obama said he did three things but in fact he did four: he and his administration immediately lied to the American people about the cause of the attack, what happened, and who appeared to have done it.
–They said the attack was due to the video rather than a revolutionary Islamist attempt to hit at the United States and subvert the regime in Libya.
–They said the attack was a spontaneous act in the context of a peaceful demonstration when it was a planned assault.
–They said that there was no idea who was responsible when it was almost certainly al-Qaida.
In the debate, Obama charged:
While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release trying to make political points. And that’s not how a commander in chief operates. You don’t turn national security into a political issue, certainly not right when it’s happening.
Yet all three of the above lies were precisely a matter of turning “national security into a political issue,” and that is what Obama has done throughout his term.
One argument we will be increasingly hearing is that President Barack Obama couldn’t have done anything to change events in the Middle East. This is ironic of course because when things were going well he wanted to take credit as the inspiration for the “Arab Spring.”
Let’s remember that the president began with three acts that foreshadowed what was to come. He gave a speech in Cairo in which Muslim Brotherhood leaders were seated at the front, thus making it impossible for Egyptian government officials to attend. Obama thus not only declared himself on the side of the opposition but of the Islamist opposition.
What’s even more important but never noticed was something critical Obama did. In discussing the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking world he exalted Islamic identity. Remember that for six decades national, i.e., Arab, identity had dominated. True, it was used by dictatorships and for demagogic, anti-American purposes.
Now, however, here was an American president declaring that religious identity should dominate. This was an action against both the existing regimes but also against the moderate opposition forces.
After the demonstrations in Egypt began, in January 2011, the U.S. State Department, with the approval of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, advocated a policy in line with traditional U.S. strategy. They would work with the military to institute reforms and more freedom while jettisoning the aged, ineffective President Husni Mubarak. But they opposed the dismantling of the regime.
The White House rejected that approach and publicly declared its desire for Egypt’s fundamental transformation. Anyone who knew Egypt should have and could have predicted this meant Islamist dominance. Yet the administration rejected the idea that this might happen. Indeed, without being asked, Obama publicly stated that he had no problem with a Muslim Brotherhood government taking power. Obama deliberately didn’t consult with the leaders of Israel, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia because he didn’t want to hear their warnings about the risks he was taking and their opposition to what he was doing. He had already decided that a Brotherhood regime would be his preferred outcome.
By such actions, Obama conveyed to the military that it could not expect U.S. support and made it impossible for the generals to try to retain control over events. Indeed, in the following months, U.S. policy under Obama’s direction constantly criticized the military and called for a quick transition.
But that did not mean that the Obama Administration supported the moderate opposition. Reportedly, U.S. programs that helped prepare political forces for elections and taught them lessons about organizing were directed to the Brotherhood, not the liberals. There was certainly no systematic effort to help the moderates. Indeed, in briefings to Congress and the media literally every day in 2011 and throughout 2012, the Obama Administration—under the president’s supervision—whitewashed the Brotherhood as a moderate organization. Anti-American speeches by Brotherhood leaders, calls for Jihad against Israel, extremist actions, and support for violence against U.S. soldiers in Iraq were all ignored. The best known example was intelligence director James Clapper’s declaration that the Brotherhood was a secular, moderate group.
What America says and does has more influence in the region than many Americans think. If local forces fear the United States or think it involved in conspiracies against them (rightly or wrongly) that influences their behavior. They act more cautiously. Moderates and anti-Islamist military officers may be encouraged or demoralized to become more active and tough. In Obama’s case, he persuaded the anti-Islamist forces that he was on the other side and that they had no chance of winning.
Therefore, while of course the main determinant factors took place in Egypt, U.S. influence was considerable but was deployed to help the Brotherhood. If Obama had backed the Egyptian army it probably would have retained control, even while granting a lot more freedom and a role for elected authorities. If Obama had backed the moderates, they probably would have done much better in the elections.
So while, of course, the U.S. government and Obama are only responsible in part for what happened in Egypt, they did have real influence and that was provided to anti-American, radical, and antisemitic forces.
There are those who want to focus on the idea that this was on purpose because of Obama’s own views and nature. Such ideas are not provable and in a real sense aren’t important. What is important is to show that Obama’s actions were objectively against U.S. interests, made peace in the region less likely, and contributed toward creating new dictatorships.
We’re gonna have to take a regional approach. We’re gonna have to involve Syria in discussions. We’re gonna have to engage Iran in ways that we have not before. We’ve gotta have a clear bottom line that Israel’s security is paramount. But that also we have to create a two-state solution where people can live side by side in peace.
The pro-Syria policy, despite that regime’s repressive and anti-American nature, failed. The Obama Administration’s proposed solution now is to replace that regime with one that’s likely to be a revolutionary Islamist anti-American regime.
The pro-Iran policy failed. The Obama Administration’s proposed solution now is to have tough sanctions—which is good—but then to insist that this will solve the problem and not to deal with the inevitable outcome of Iran getting nuclear weapons, not to mention Tehran’s continuing subversion and backing for terrorism.
The Obama Administration is eager to make a deal with Tehran and if the Iranian leaders were only a bit more flexible they could probably get a diplomatic arrangements with that U.S. government that would give them much of what they want. As so often has happened in the Middle East it is only the radicals’ intransigence which prevents them from gaining appeasement from the West.
The “peace process” policy failed. And this administration has done more to undermine Israel’s security than all the previous presidencies put together. The problems include: pushing Israel to ease the pressure on Hamas in the Gaza Strip; helping a genocide-oriented anti-Israel government into power in Egypt; same thing in Syria; making America’s leading ally in the region a Turkish regime that was viciously anti-Israel; and more.
An American reader writes me, “I’ve tried explaining the situation in the Middle East to friends and there are blank stares. I believe what they’re thinking is that how come, if it is so bad, I haven’t seen in the newspapers or on the national news? The New York Times doesn’t mention it at all.”
This is an accurate description of what a very large portion—a majority?—of Americans think. The same point applies to the economy (media explanation: it’s getting better) and many other issues. The coming election is, among other things, going to be a test of how much of a hold the mass media has on people.
Of course, the newspapers and television news do report a lot about bad things in the Middle East. The ambassador to Libya was murdered and hatred of America is rampant (official and media explanation: if not for that video everything will be fine); Iran is moving ahead on nuclear weapons (official and media explanation: sanctions will stop them, Obama will offer a deal, something will turn up); Egypt is ruled by radical Islamists who have openly backed terrorism against Americans, demanded genocide against Israel, and seek to overthrow of all Arab governments allied to the United States (official and media explanation: they’re really moderate), and so on.
In other words, bad developments are sometimes reported though there is an attempt to explain it away. This does leave some margin for readers and viewers to use their brains. Are these explanations credible? Why do things keep getting worse? If Obama is such a big supporter of Israel why does he keep subverting its interests? If Obama has made people in the region love America why do they keep hating America?
Come to think of it, if Obama is such a big supporter of America why does he keep subverting U.S. interests?
Mitt Romney gave a speech at the Virginia Military Institute today which focuses on U.S. Middle East policy. There are some good points in this speech that are definite steps forward. Romney sounded like a president should, someone who grasps power politics, deterrence, credibility, supporting allies and opposing enemies, and all the basic principles that have been largely vanished by the Obama Administration in exchange for unworkable and dangerous concepts.
This speech will no doubt consolidate his supporters. Yet without challenging President Barack Obama’s policy with more detail or confronting the revolutionary Islamist threat more directly, can Romney persuade people that his strategy would be much better than that of the man under whose presidency Usama bin Ladin was killed (but al-Qaida and the Taliban weren’t defeated) even though Egypt was lost as a U.S. ally? Presumably that will come in the foreign policy presidential debate.
The best parts were on Israel, Syria, how Obama empowered America’s enemies, and the importance for American leadership. Romney also makes it clear that America is not the villain of the world, a point often obscured–to say the least–by the current president.
He begins by quoting former Lexington, Virginia, resident George Marshall, who led the U.S. military during World War II and later became secretary of state and secretary of defense:
“The only way human beings can win a war is to prevent it.” Those words were true in his time — and they still echo in ours.
Romney views President Barack Obama as vulnerable on his international leadership, or rather lack of it. Romney argues that Obama’s policies are contributing to regional instability and future wars in the Middle East:
Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership. They want more—more of our moral support, more of our security cooperation, more of our trade, and more of our assistance in building free societies and thriving economies.
The attacks on America last month…are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East….
Romney further says that the cause of the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya was not a video:
[It was] terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West.
Here, Romney does not recognize the systematic revolutionary Islamist challenge to U.S. interests. We are back on the safe ground — on which Obama basically agrees — that the problem is just al-Qaeda, rather than also the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist groups. (Obama’s problem is that having said he already defeated al-Qaeda, he cannot admit that this supposedly destroyed group just assassinated an American ambassador.)
If Romney wants to focus his policy on just al-Qaeda, how can he compete with Obama’s ability to point out that he killed Osama bin Laden? One could even argue that Romney’s approach — the problem is bad terrorists who kill Americans — plays into Obama’s hands.
Obviously, Romney should not foreclose his options in dealing with Egypt, for example, by declaring its regime to be an enemy — despite the fact that even Obama has admitted it is no longer an ally. Yet Romney could have done better in defining the situation.
But here is the best phrase in the speech:
The greater tragedy of it all is that we are missing an historic opportunity to win new friends who share our values in the Middle East—friends who are fighting for their own futures against the very same violent extremists, and evil tyrants, and angry mobs who seek to harm us. Unfortunately, so many of these people who could be our friends feel that our President is indifferent to their quest for freedom and dignity. As one Syrian woman put it, “We will not forget that you forgot about us.
This suggests that Romney “gets it,” regarding the need to support real moderate or at least anti-Islamist forces.
So what would Romney do if he became president? He says:
I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have. I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf the region — and work with Israel to increase our military assistance and coordination. For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions — not just words — that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.
Romney is basically saying: I will be credibly tougher. The problem is that Obama can say that he has done these specific things. He does not deal with the wider strategic problem of Iranian ambitions or attitudes toward the opposition in that country. There is no substantive difference with Obama’s stated policy, nor is there a discussion — it is understandable that Romney wants to avoid this — of how he would view an attack on Iran or even the possibility of containing Iran. His statement is thus reasonable, but not compelling in proving that Romney would do a better job.
His second point is that he would:
… Champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world.
He adds that Obama has not signed any new trade agreements. It is not clear how trade agreements would affect the Middle East situation.
No friend of America will question our commitment to support them… no enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them… and no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America’s capability to back up our words….I will support friends across the Middle East who share our values, but need help defending them and their sovereignty against our common enemies.
But what countries does Romney have in mind? He has also stated the issue in a way that traps himself. Who shares U.S. values but needs help in defending themselves? Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, and the smaller Gulf emirates need U.S. help, but could not be said to share American values. So who is he talking about?
In Libya, I will support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that represents all of them, and I will vigorously pursue the terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.
Again, though, the Obama administration has also worked to help form a government in Libya and promises to catch the terrorists. We once more face the issue of Romney asserting that he will be tougher and do a better job but with no clear differentiation on his policy. Those who understand that he would be more determined are already voting for him. How would this convince anyone else?
In Egypt, I will use our influence — including clear conditions on our aid — to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel. And we must persuade our friends and allies to place similar stipulations on their aid.
This is nice rhetoric but again it is identical to Obama policy declarations. The one new point is that U.S. aid would be conditioned on fair treatment of minorities and maintenance of the treaty with Israel.
On aid, Romney explained that he would reform it
to create incentives for good governance, free enterprise, and greater trade…. And I will make it clear to the recipients of our aid that, in return for our material support, they must meet the responsibilities of every decent modern government—to respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities… to ensure space for civil society, a free media, political parties, and an independent judiciary… and to abide by their international commitments to protect our diplomats and our property.
The most original statement is on Syria:
In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran — rather than sitting on the sidelines. It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East.
This speaks of more activism in helping the rebels and — most important — the moderates among them. He puts the civil war in the context of combating Iranian influence, but to what extent would this justify backing anyone — Salafists and Muslim Brothers — who might overthrow the regime and “one day lead” Syria?
On Afghanistan, he says that he:
… will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
Yet what does this mean? Romney opposed “a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11.”
Romney makes a similar hint on Iraq where he says
costly gains made by our troops are being eroded by rising violence, a resurgent Al-Qaeda, the weakening of democracy in Baghdad, and the rising influence of Iran. And yet, America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. The President tried—and failed—to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.
This hints that Romney would consider keeping U.S. troops there longer. Yet does it make sense for Americans to keep fighting a war on behalf of Afghan allies who often kill U.S. soldiers in pursuit of a stability that is unlikely to come to that country? This could end up being even worse than Obama’s policy.
Finally, Romney criticizes Obama’s policy on Israel:
The President explicitly stated that his goal was to put `daylight’ between the United States and Israel. And he has succeeded. This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran….I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the president has failed…. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new President will bring the chance to begin anew.
This position implies that a new president could make dramatic progress in the peace process — which is certainly untrue.
Thus, there are shortcomings in Romney’s position but it suggests—perhaps too subtly for most listeners– that as president he would be on the right track, backing anti-Islamists in Middle East governments and oppositions against revolutionary Islamist, anti-American forces.
The Obama-Romney debate has been analyzed from many angles, especially about who won. Yet in the course of the event, Obama said what might be the most revealing slip he has ever made. This one phrase tells more about Obama and the ideology of his left-wing supporters than every other word they have spoken in the last four years.
It came near the end of the debate when Obama was summarizing his policies. He was clearly on comfortable ground, going through all of his cliches. But then, lulled into carelessness by rote repetition of his basic slogans, Obama got lost for a second–as demonstrated by his trademark stutter when he becomes unglued–and dropped in an amazing admission. Obama said:
All those things are designed to make sure that the American people, their genius, their grit, their determination, is — is channeled and [emphasis added] — and they have an opportunity to succeed. And everybody’s getting a fair shot. And everybody’s getting a fair share — everybody’s doing a fair share, and everybody’s playing by the same rules.
Obama was flattering the American people (genius, grit, determination) and promising that everyone will get a fair share (redistribution of wealth?) and fair shot–terms he has never actually defined. As for everybody playing by the same rules, Obama and his supporters favor different rules for each race, gender, and ethnic group, not to mention crony capitalists.
Yet it is that word “channeled” that gives the game away. Channeled by whom? The government, of course, and the great geniuses whose ideology and book-learning seeks to dominate the economy and culture, forcing people to do things for their “own good.” Who has ever proposed that some power should override the liberty of the American people to channel them, to tell them what to do?
The problem is that in a free enterprise (with reasonable regulation) country under the Constitution, Americans decide for themselves what to do. Nobody channels them, a phrase which sounds like a rancher driving his cattle to market. “Channeled” is a nice way to say manipulated, pushed, forced, and ordered.
We are not speaking here of laws against, say, murder or robbery or littering. These are clear and explicit, accepted by a consensus. This is something far more hidden, in which the implications of laws–for example, how Obamacare is intended to produce nationalized medicine–lead to something that the public opposes or certainly doesn’t want. And it is far wider and more systematic than under any previous government, too.
Thus, Americans will be told what they can do in pursuit of good health, what they can eat, how they can do business, what they are supposed to think and know about, what their religious institutions can do, and so on. Can one imagine any of the great American presidents talking about how he was going to “channel” the people with an increasingly large government that soaked up all the capital; determined the investment; set the rules to direct the health system, energy production, the auto industry, and just about everything else? Clearly, Obama wasn’t channeling George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.
In that moment he revealed himself totally. And, as far as I’m aware, nobody even noticed it.
PS: Another typical Obama moment came after the debate when he ridiculed Romney for saying that there were no laws that rewarded companies with tax breaks for exporting American jobs. Any real intellectual or serious leader would simply have cited the specific laws to which he was referring, but Obama merely kept saying how silly–or dishonest–Romney had been without giving any evidence. And any other president would have been pressed to provide evidence. A small incident but quite revealing of how fantasy-based administration policy has become.
Why are tens of thousands of Middle Eastern Muslims chanting about how much they love Osama bin Ladin and how much they hate Barack (Hussein) Obama?
Simple. Because bin Ladin was a Muslim and an Arab (for the Arab demonstrators) and thus he was one of their people, someone from their side, whatever tactical disagreements they might have had with him. And Obama isn’t. No amount of groveling, apology, or money will change that fact. Isn’t that clear?
I should quickly add that many Muslims don’t support the Islamists. In elections in Libya and Tunisia, a majority voted for non-Islamist parties. Even in Egypt when the showdown came in the presidential election the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won by only a narrow margin. Most Lebanese don’t support the Islamists (the main force of which is Hizballah, a Shia group). There are, of course, plenty of Islamists and they have lots of sympathizers. They can cite chapter and verse from Islamic holy texts.
Yet that doesn’t make all Muslims supporters of revolutionary Islamism or advocates of Shia totalitarian states, no matter how many times people who are ignorant about Islam and the Middle East run their little rants. Those rants are just as false as the “Islam is a religion of peace” nonsense.
But that’s not my point here. The key element for this article is this:
When solidarity along group lines takes priority and the line is that all of “us” must unite against the “other” no matter what truth, logic, or justice dictates then that means serious trouble.
Well, guess what? That is the line of the Obama Administration and its Newest Left supporters. All African-Americans should support the regime because Obama is Black and anyone opposing him is a racist. All “Hispanics” should support the president because he really wants open borders and the turning of all illegal immigrants into citizens, while everyone else is a racist.
All women should support the ruling group and leftist ideology because it wants to give them free birth control and anyone on the other side hates women. And everyone who receives a government check has to support the regime or someone might take away their check. Actually what’s most likely to take away their check is the bankruptcy of the programs due to over-spending.
In other words, the dominant forces in the mass media and academia and the current government and their supporters are tearing America apart by inciting interest groups to hate each other, make war on each other, and give loyalty primarily to their group no questions asked.
And this is precisely the kind of thing that makes Middle Eastern Muslims who even if they were Islamists–like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist groups—hated bin Ladin when he was alive opportunistically turn him into a martyr. The creation of a hysterical mob mentality for political gain is not restricted to the Middle East.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I’m going to try to analyze what Israeli strategy might look like if Obama were to be reelected. I don’t want to write a partisan piece — predicting every type of the most horrible disaster and open hatred from the White House — but a serious analytic effort. This involves speculation, but policymakers have to develop the most likely scenarios in order to plan ahead.
Let me start, though, with a joke. An asteroid hits the ocean, producing a giant tidal wave so powerful that within an hour all land will be covered by water. Television networks put on a variety of politicians, alleged wise people, and religious figures to speak with the doomed population. The rabbi among them explains: “All I can say is that you have one hour to learn to breathe underwater.”
That is Israel’s mission. To survive a second Obama term brought on it by the American — including a large majority of American Jewish — voters.
The first thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does is send a warm message of congratulations to the reelected president. He is going to be president for four years, like it or not, and Israeli leaders will work hard to minimize any antagonism. At least with Netanyahu strongly entrenched, Obama will understand that he cannot subvert the Israeli government to get some other prime minister more to his liking (i.e., someone ready to make unilateral concessions in exchange for getting nothing in return).
So with that basis established, here’s Israel’s Obama problem divided into four issues:
1. Maintaining bilateral relations
Israel’s government needs to ensure the continuation of U.S. aid, including assistance for anti-missile systems, intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation. Unless Obama decides to go all-out on an anti-Israel vendetta, he is likely to see this issue as a low-priority one. All he has to do is nothing.
Here, Israel’s contacts with Congress and the Defense Department will be critical. The Democrats in Congress will have to show whether they still do actually support Israel — and a majority of them do — by joining with the Republicans in backing continued aid and cooperation. The Defense Department has generally good relations with Israel and also benefits from Israel’s technological advances.
There are real prospects for maintaining bilateral relations on their current level. Obama can be expected to mistreat Netanyahu and to say things that totally misunderstand Israel and insult its interests, but when you are a country of 7.5 million allied with a superpower, your leaders have to take such behavior, as long as it remains verbal.
2. Keep Obama from damaging Israel’s situation in regard to the Palestinians
Obama will have to decide whether to put an emphasis on the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” meaning pressure on Israel to make concessions while the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) doesn’t keep its commitments and makes no compromises. He might decide to do so based on his ideological predispositions.
Yet there is some evidence that Obama won’t behave this way. His failure on peacemaking is the only such defeat he has ever acknowledged. He knows it is hard and the administration almost certainly knows — though it will never admit it publicly — that what Mitt Romney said was right. The P.A. doesn’t want to make a peace deal with Israel.
Moreover, there have been interesting developments regarding the main strategic motive for the idea that a peace deal is necessary as soon as possible and requires pressure on Israel. This factor is called “linkage” — the concept that bashing Israel and getting the Palestinians a state as soon as possible will solve all of America’s other problems in the Middle East. Once this is accomplished, Muslims and Arabs will love the United States and — more importantly in one man’s mind — Obama.
What’s important here is not just that linkage doesn’t work, but that this reality has never before been so obvious. With anti-Americanism and crisis coming from all directions — Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and so on — will Obama see bashing Israel as a panacea?
There’s no question that during his first term, especially the first two years or so, Obama really believed this and tried very ineptly to institute such a strategy. Yet he knows it didn’t work. At any rate, if faced with such a situation, the Israeli government is quite capable of offering cooperation, giving in on relatively unimportant issues, stalling for time and essentially calling the P.A.’s bluff. In the end, nothing will happen.
The dangers of an Obama second term certainly exist regarding the first two points, but it is the second pair of issues that are really and truly dangerous.
3. How would Obama handle the regional Arab situation and threats from revolutionary Islamist forces that he has helped to unleash and even to put into power?
In my view, the number one danger Israel faces is not Iran, but Egypt.
A radical regime now exists in Cairo that wants to wipe Israel off the map, is willing to help Hamas — which rules the Gaza Strip — on that project, and might get directly involved itself.
During Obama’s second term, Israel is likely to face sporadic attacks from the Gaza Strip that periodically it will have to retaliate against. Obama will remain aloof on this problem, which isn’t good but is manageable. The real difficulty is whether Hamas launches an all-out attack as it did in late 2008.
But this time it would have some level of Egyptian support. Such help could take many forms: Hamas headquarters, weapons storehouses and other facilities being moved onto Egyptian territory so that Israel cannot touch them; a massive flow of arms, weapons, and money across the border financed in part by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood; an influx of Egyptian volunteers to fight alongside Hamas, whose death would lead to howls of revenge in Egypt; and other such measures.
Beyond this, Egypt could escalate into allowing — even if denying responsibility — cross-border terrorist attacks on Israel. Attempted cross-border attacks are already routine and the Egyptian government does nothing to suppress the groups involved. It is not inconceivable that from the mass demands of Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood forces, by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the regime and by ideological hysteria, Egypt could end up in a war with Israel. That might happen if it proved necessary to send Israeli military forces into the Gaza Strip, as happened in 2009.
The Egyptian military is no longer a bulwark against this because its leadership has been dismantled, a collapse partly due to Obama’s policy.
Israel cannot depend on the United States to press sufficiently hard for enforcement of the treaty or to deter Egypt. As a result, Israel will have to be ready to fight such a smaller or bigger war by itself. If a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated regime were to be in power in Syria, it would join in. The only bright spot is that other Arab countries would stand aside. Perhaps even Hezbollah might content itself with the firing of some symbolic rockets rather than have Lebanon flattened in a “Sunni war.”
In fact, for the first time in almost forty years, under Obama Israel could not depend on U.S. support or protection against any Arab threat or aggression. Israel would just have to take care of itself. But the key issue: would Obama send arms — perhaps pressed by Congress and public opinion even if he didn’t face election — or would he play neutral and just do nothing while he pursued useless diplomatic efforts?
Briefly, there is no way that Obama would attack Iran or support an Israeli attack no matter what Tehran does. American sanction efforts would continue hand in hand with Iran going full speed ahead on obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel would still attack Iranian facilities if this were deemed necessary for national survival, but the bar on what constituted acceptable reasons for attacking would be raised.
Israel could also not depend on U.S. support in the aftermath. On the contrary, Obama could be outraged and blame Israel for terror attacks on Americans, the spiraling cost of oil, and other resulting problems. After all, he doesn’t face reelection — he can tame the pro-Israel Democrats with a few crumbs, and he wouldn’t care what the public opinion polls said.
If necessary, Israel would have to take that risk. But how does one define “necessary”?
So Obama’s reelection would be a serious problem for Israel, not a catastrophe or an end to the state. But for the first time in four decades, every Israeli leader would understand that the country could not depend on the United States as a protector. In fact, the Obama administration could be counted on to make things worse.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has written an op-ed piece about what’s wrong with President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy and what he would do if he is elected president. There aren’t many surprises but it reminds us how far Romney has to go before he can be said to have articulated a clear foreign policy of his own.
Romney lists five crises in the region that he feels place U.S. security at risk and that are neglected by Obama: the Syrian civil war; Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt; murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya; violent protests at U.S. embassies; and Iran’s continued progress toward having nuclear weapons as it continues to promise to annihilate Israel.
Romney continues: “Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.” These crises, however, could pull America into serious conflict.
The problem, he says, is that Obama’s policy
has allowed our leadership to atrophy…by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries….[By] stepping away from our allies, President Obama has heightened the prospect of conflict and instability. He does not understand that an American policy that lacks resolve can provoke aggression and encourage disorder.
He criticizes Obama for misreading the “Arab Spring,” moving away from Israel and lacking sufficient credibility to deter Iran. He also speaks of “using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression.”
Romney calls for restoring the strength of America’s economy, military, and values. “That will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing.”
Such an approach is acceptable for a short op-ed but hardly constitutes a foreign policy strategy. Aside from people noticing on their own that Obama’s policy is disastrous, Romney is going to have to do better if he thinks that the Middle East issue—or any international issue—is going to gain him support.
But what does Romney plan to do on these issues? While some of this can be expected to surface in the debates, he has not yet articulated a serious foreign policy plan with a little more than a month to go before the election. That’s extraordinary.
There are answers about what he should be saying which I have discussed in many previous articles and won’t take your time with now. An inspiring and persuasive alternative to Obama policy could be articulated.
But I am getting the feeling that either his campaign is thin regarding expertise on the Middle East or that those people are not being listened to by those higher up. It’s understandable that Romney might feel only the economy matters. Yet he is going to have to show that he could be a successful president internationally as well.
The process of doing so has not even begun and it is now late in the campaign.