On U.S Middle East Policy / Prof. B.Rubin

May 11,20011
Why is U.S. and European policy toward the Middle East so off-base, and why do policymakers believe the strange things they think and the crazy things they do are good strategy?

I don’t have to write anything to make fun of current U.S. Middle East policy. All I have to do is quote administration officials.

Here’s the New York Times:

“One administration official said that some national security officials were hoping that even if Mr. Assad stayed in power, he would move away from the alliance with Iran because so many of the Sunni protesters wanted to see an end to that alliance. `There are some who think that because of that, Assad would have to back away,’ the official said.”

See! You thought people were demonstrating either for democracy or for Islamism. Actually, they are demonstrating because they want the regime to distance itself from Iran!

No doubt they were chanting: Hey! Hey! Bashar al-A! How much have you distanced yourself from Iran today!

Unfortunately, demonstrators in Egypt really do want their country to distance itself from America.

And now here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Atlantic:

“JG: One thing I didn't understand was this Bashar al-Assad moment, when you called him a reformer, or said he was being seen by others as a reformer. There is always going to be plasticity or strategic hypocrisy in the way you have to deal with the world. But shouldn't we be blowing some of these winds of change in the direction of Damascus and Tehran as well?

“Clinton: We don't have to blow. The winds are blowing. There's no stopping them. And what we have tried to do with him is to give him an alternative vision of himself and Syria's future. So when a number of the members of Congress who have gone over to Syria come back and say both publicly and privately, `We think he really wants to reform, but he's trying to put together the political pieces to be able to do that,’ I think it's worth reminding him of that…Thus far, it doesn't look like it's heading in the right direction. But there was certainly a lot of hope that he would begin to introduce the kinds of reforms that would help Syria get ahead of the curve. “

Where to begin? Whether or not current U.S. foreign policy “blows” is a question I will leave to others. The idea of giving Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad an “alternative vision” of himself is a job for his therapist, not the United States. There is no evidence that Bashar ever wanted to make reforms and you sound as if you feel sorry for him. You didn’t feel sorry for Mubarak, that’s for sure.

This is a man who backs Hamas and Hizballah; murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri; and trains, finances, and helps Iraqi terrorists to kill Americans.

Let me put it in the simplest—but not inaccurate—terms as follows:

He’s like Usama bin Ladin but a lot smarter and more subtle.

I'll focus on the U.S. government but you can adapt, as appropriate, this analysis for various European countries.

They believe--partly due to White House ideology and partly to the CIA (I don't know why the Agency is pushing this idea) that al-Qaida and perhaps much--but not necessarily all!--the Taliban is a terrible enemy of America that must be combatted because it attacks America directly with terrorism.

But since Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syria don't launch terrorist attacks on Americansoil and installations (I'd add sarcastically: on a regular basis) they can be reasoned with and either won over or neutralized as an anti-American force.

From a narrow counter-terrorist perspective this may make some sense. But as a strategic doctrine it is disastrous. What's worse: al-Qaida committing a few terrorist attacks or the fact that those revolutionary Islamist groups and their allies rule with more than 100 million people (Iran, 78 million; Syria, 23 million; Gaza Strip, 1 million plus); with billions of dollars in assets and Iran en route to getting nuclear weapons.

Revolutionary Islamists now have the prospect of adding another 86 million people through the control of Lebanon and potentially Egypt (4 million, Lebanon; 82 million, Egypt) and are also allied with the current regime in Turkey (78 million people) which is Islamist and seems headed toward reelection.

That means that as many as 265 million people live under regimes allied against the United States and promoting a revolutionary Islamist ideology.

I don't mean to exaggerate here so you can take the above figures as pretty shocking even if not one hundred percent fully indicative of the situation. Moreover, we don't know yet what will happen in Tunisia and--despite ample U.S. involvement--Libya.

That seems pretty serious and qualifies as the leading strategic threat to the United States and the world.

Over the last 30 years the region has seen:

Iran's Islamist revolution and the seizure of American diplomats as hostages; 1982 Israel war with the PLO and Syria; Iran-Iraq war; Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; civil wars in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, and Algeria; the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the ensuing war; the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban and ensuing war; the 2006 Israel-Hizballah war; two Palestinian intifadas coupled with rejection of a compromise peace agreement that would give them a state; popular revolutionary upheavals in Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain; and massive terrorism of which the September 11 attacks are only the largest single example of many.

I think even the above list isn't complete. Virtually all of these events have been generated by revolutionary Islamism or, to a lesser extent, radical Arab nationalism which is sometimes allied with Islamism.

In the face of these facts, to ignore revolutionary Islamism as the main threat to America, the West, and the world is a pretty phenomenal conclusion. To do things like helping destabilize regimes so that the Muslim Brotherhood threatens to take over, accepting a Hamas regime in Gaza and standing by and watching a Fatah-Hamas deal, and viewing Iran as only a direct military threat that can be dealt with by conventional deterrence is suicidal.

Yet this is the road the U.S. government and much of Europe is taking.

They seem to think that if they show how much they respect Muslims in general, distance themselves from Israel, and engage the radicals in dialogue while making concessions to them, this will defuse the problem.


How bizarre is the situation? I have to beg people to consider that the Muslim Brotherhood might be a radical group even though every single statement of its leadership in Arabic is full of jihad, anti-Americanism, threats to wipe out Israel, and calls to make Egypt an Islamist state.

I have to explain that Hamas has in fact not accepted a two-state solution but merely will accept a Palestinian state to use as a base to wipe Israel off the map. With this two-state strategy Hamas has now come up to the level of moderation shown by the PLO...in 1974.

We know from Wikileaks that the U.S. Embassy in Turkey warned about the pro-Islamist and anti-American policy of that government yet this had no effect on U.S. policy.

Even the obvious disastrous mistakes made in Egypt earlier this year has not turned around the White House and much of the mass media to understand what's going on.

If not for a valiant battle by wiser people in the State Department, the administration would have blithely cooperated in the overthrow of Bahrain's government and replacement by largely (though not wholly) pro-Iran forces. And all the Defense Department's efforts to talk sense to the White House didn't stop the Libyan intervention.

And so on.

Consider the Usama bin Ladin funeral. A whole elaborate scenario was devised to persuade Muslims that America respected Islam. (I suspect that the president's advisor on terrorism, John Brennan, who is responsible for a large amount of this idiocy, was the source of this idea.)

Yet what happened? The funeral and burial at sea was denounced by virtually all Islamists and even mainstream clerics as a moral crime and against Islam.

This strategy just doesn't work, yet when it fails the dominant policy elite doesn't even seem to notice. What's needed is to stop throwing allies under the bus; recognize the revolutionaries as enemies; and work with moderates who oppose the spread of revolutionary Islam.

Is this really so hard to understand?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's latest pronouncements are just plain horrifying. Consider what she said in this interview:

On Egypt:

"QUESTION: Should we fear the Muslim Brotherhood?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we don’t know enough yet to understand exactly what they’re morphing into. And I’m – I mean, for me, the jury is out. There are some Islamist elements that are coming to the surface to Egypt that I think on just the face of it are --

QUESTION: Coming out of jails, in fact.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Coming out in jails, coming out of the shadows that are inimical to a democracy, to the kind of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience that was the aspiration in Tahrir Square."

"We don't know enough...."

Really? Read any speech or interview by the leader and deputy leader of the Brotherhood, full of Jihadist rhetoric, genocidal rage against Jews, insistence on making Egypt an Islamist state, and loathing of America. What's morphing? It's just an illusion based on clever efforts to fool the dim-witted dhimmis.

Those people "coming out of jails"

They are openly holding joint meetings and demonstrations with the Muslim Brotherhood. The two are allied now. Even probable next president of Egypt Amr Moussa knows that. I know it, why doesn't she know it?

"The jury is out"

And when will the U.S. government see the danger of the Brotherhood, after it takes power and starts down the road to war with Israel and open enmity to the United States?

The jury is as much out on the Muslim Brotherhood as it is on Usama bin Laden.

2. Syria

And here's another equally horrifying interview:

"Q: At this point, [Syria] is a country where they have killed most people in the street.

"CLINTON: Well, I don't have that comparison, but what I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed [Libyan leader Muammar] Qadhafi would do that. People do believe there is a possible path forward with Syria."

So the U.S. government still hopes that President Bashar al-Assad will be a reformer? I won't bother to list once again all the evidence to the contrary both in his past performance and in understanding his interests.

But here is something remarkable. Clinton mentions Qadhafi. Yet Qadhafi did "reform" his foreign policy after he was scared, following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, that he'd be next on the list. So pressure showed successful results in Libya while the Obama Administration's appeasement of Syria failed totally--and will continue to fail totally. Pay attention and learn the lesson please.

3. Hamas

But apparently the "jury is still out" on Hamas, too. What, we don't have enough information to evaluate that group? Perhaps it is "morphing?" The Obama Administration strongly criticized Israel for withholding the transfer of tax revenue tothe Palestinian Authority. Of course, that money is only due to be handed over according to the Oslo agreement, which the PA no longer observes and Hamas opposes completely.

American officials said the administration, is, “Waiting to see what this reconciliation agreement looks like in practical terms, before we make any decisions about future assistance.”

Memo to Obama Administration: A country doesn't just watch and wait as others trash its interests. It does something. When one of your clients, who you are ceaselessly helping and to which you are giving large amounts of money, joins forces with an openly genocidal terrorist organization allied with your worst enemies, how long do you have to wait to see what's going to happen?

From Clinton's first interview:

"We are losing the war of ideas because we are not in the arena the way we were in the Cold War."

Well, if you cannot define the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Syria as hostile you certainly are not in the arena. Imagine the Cold War in these terms! How long would the United States have been saying the "jury is out" on the nature of the Soviet Union? Thank goodness President Harry Truman understood the situation in 1947. By Obama Administration standards it would have taken until the mid-1960s.

But Clinton isn't that stupid. She's stuttering so much in these interviews because she has to follow the president's political line, and that is very stupid indeed. And much worse, it is very dangerous.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/ His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).


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