Obama Gives A Preview Of How He'll Campaign On Foreign Policy / Prof.B.Rubin

December 9, 2011
“I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy.” –Bob Marley

As his rare December 8 press conference, President Barack Obama took two questions on the Middle East. His answers give a sense of how he’s going to campaign on the issue. Both answers are deeply flawed but one wonders how many people will understand that.

To paraphrase the song, Obama will say: I shot ben-Ladin, and I also wounded Iran.

The way his election rivals should put it is:

You–or more accurately courageous U.S. soldiers–may have shot the sheriff but you have been helping turn over several countries with tens of millions of people to the far more dangerous deputy. He and his men are terrorizing the townspeople who you keep criticizing them for trying to defend themselves.

Or, let me put it boldly:

Think about this: In the year 2012, 250 million people, the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Middle East, will be governed by radical Islamist regimes that believe in waging jihad on Israel and America, wiping Israel off the map, suppressing Christians, reducing the status of women even more than it is now, and their right as true interpreters of God’s will to govern as dictators. (Egypt, Gaza Strip, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey)

Now compare that to a few thousand al-Qaida guys running around and staging occasional terror attacks.

Back to the press conference. A reporter asked Obama:

“Republican candidates have taken aim at your approach to foreign policy, particularly the Middle East and Israel, and accused you of appeasement. I wanted to get your reaction to that.”

I think that the concept of “appeasement” is not so useful here and is easy for Obama and his supporters to dismiss. Appeasement is to make concessions to a strong force that you fear in order to get them to not hurt you by making concessions to them.

What the Obama Administration has done goes far beyond that.

First, it is based on believing that no real problem exists at all.

Second, the administration believes that the United States should actively promote revolutionary Islamist movements because they are deemed not so dangerous in the first place and letting them have power is a way of moderating them. The administration talking point is that the United States is at war with al-Qaida, not with “Islam.” The proper response is that no one said the United States is at war with “Islam” but only with Islamists. Nope, nothing with the letters “I-S-L-A-M’ is acceptable. And by that token one cannot say Jihadists or Salafists. Perhaps the French “integralists” (fundamentalists) would do?

But beyond parsing words, how do you respond to this, President Obama:

“Waging jihad against [the United States] is a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded. Governments have no right to stop their people from fighting the United States….All Muslims are required by their religion to fight.”

Who said that? Answer: Muhammad al-Badi, leader of the group that received the most votes in the Egyptian election. And the party that comes in second agrees with that statement but finds him too moderate!

Third, the administration does not support the intended victims of revolutionary Islamism. These include most obviously Israel but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the democratic opposition movements in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. And soon it will include Christians, women, and political moderates in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

To use an analogy, appeasement was the British and French giving Nazi Germany part of Czechoslovakia. Obama Administration policy is the equivalent of cheering Hitler’s taking power because the president’s main advisor on the issue, Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini (that is, Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Erdogan) told him that it was a great idea and everyone knows that getting into power (running schools, fixing roads, collecting garbage) moderates people.

This isn’t appeasement, it is social engineering or what one might call Islamist nation-building.

And note the entire answer of the president on this issue:

“Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22-out-of-30 top al Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.”

This doesn’t reveal the solution, it actually puts his wrong policy very clearly. Nobody thinks Obama has been appeasing al-Qaida! Obama does think al-Qaida is evil. The problem is that he doesn’t think that about the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, and (basically and certainly until a few weeks ago when the decision was unavoidable) the Syrian dictatorship. It isn’t even clear as to whether he thinks that about the Taliban.

The strategy of getting al-Qaida but viewing other revolutionary Islamists as allies in the war on al-Qaida is a big reason why the administration is pro-Islamist.

It’s a two-track policy: kill al-Qaida; make friends with all of the other Islamists. Remember that the Brotherhood is far more dangerous than al-Qaida because it takes over entire countries.

Here’s the man who I think is just about the best political analyst in the Arab world, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid on this topic:

“The Islamist party leaders hastened to embellish their image for the Western countries….Of course, these speeches are public relations acts, and could only be believed by someone ignorant about the region or by the logic of the religious parties. [At most, these claims of moderation] expresses the opinion of few leaders only, because the majority of leaders and cadres of these groups consider cleansing the society as their first duty, and it would not be long before they topple the tolerant leaders.”

Imagine the Islamist version of Patrick Henry: “I know not course what others might take, but as for me, give me Sharia law and give you death.”

The other answer was about Iran:

“I think it’s very important to remember, particularly given some of the political noise out there, that this administration has systematically imposed the toughest sanctions on Iraq — on Iran ever.

“When we came into office, the world was divided, Iran was unified and moving aggressively on its own agenda. Today, Iran is isolated, and the world is unified in applying the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced. And it’s having an impact inside of Iran. And that’s as a consequence of the extraordinary work that’s been done by our national security team.

“Now, Iran understands that they have a choice: They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and foreswearing the development of nuclear weapons, which would still allow them to pursue peaceful nuclear power, like every other country that’s a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world. And if they are pursuing nuclear weapons, then I have said very clearly, that is contrary to the national security interests of the United States; it’s contrary to the national security interests of our allies, including Israel; and we are going to work with the world community to prevent that.”

But the Iranian regime has chosen. So your policy is obsolete.

Again, though, we are offered a solution that is far less than it appears. First, of course, the administration wasted two years in a useless engagement policy with Iran.

But was the world so divided and now is so united? Not really. The problem in 2009 was that China, Russia, and Turkey opposed stronger sanctions. What Obama achieved? He got through greater sanctions by giving these countries exemptions. At any rate the choice Iran is being offered is pretty much the same choice that prevailed in 2009.

And of course the main problem with the policy is that it isn’t affecting Iran’s effort to get nuclear weapon. In other words, he’s saying: I have a great policy. Of course, it doesn’t work but isn’t it a great policy? Ironically, at the moment Obama makes brags about his sanctions record he is trying to stop Congress from making the sanctions more effective.

Finally, and shockingly, he slips in something that everyone is likely to miss. He claims credit for political divisions in Iran! Before, Iran was “unified” but now sanctions are “having an impact inside of Iran.” And this is because of the “extraordinary work” of his administration.

Such illusions are dangerous.

In 2009 Iran was not unified. Indeed, it was far less unified than it is today. There was a mass opposition movement that Obama didn’t support! That was the best chance to have “an impact.” Obama stood by while the opposition was crushed, even praising the Iranian regime for the stolen election!

And is Iran divided today? Well, there are always factional fights but neither of the present factions want to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. It’s a battle between the supreme guide and his faction, which wants to maintain current policy, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which wants an even more aggressive policy!

Does Obama believe, as his statement hints, that there is no an important faction that wants to end the nuclear weapons’ program so all he has to do is stay on course, they will win, and the problem will go away? That might well be true and that’s very scary.

Moreover, Obama has never had the slightest understanding of Iran’s non-nuclear strategy of expanding its influence. Tehran’s influence has grown in Iraq (though many exaggerate this) and Lebanon. By demoralizing America’s Gulf Arab allies, Obama has undercut their resistance to Iran.

I think Obama genuinely believes what he’s saying on the issues of the Islamists and of Iran. I don’t believe there’s the slightest chance he will change his mind. It isn’t just incompetence and it isn’t just ignorance. It is this president’s stubbornly holding to a set of views that have little or nothing to do with reality.

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