Studying the Obama administration Middle East policy, one can only conclude that it should be called: malign neglect.
After all, when you declare that retreat is an advance, that surrender is victory and that you lead from behind, something seems clearly wrong with your thinking.
It brings to mind a line from Hamlet. Spoken by Polonius, about the melancholy prince, it is:
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.
Yesterday, as the remnants of the government of Yemen fled the port of Aden, with Iran-backed Houthi rebels fast on their heels, the White House declared that its Yemen policy was working.
Madness is when you take your delusions for reality.
In the meantime Max Boot, a distinguished foreign policy analyst explains the method in Obama’s madness:
Boot lists the data points we should consider:
Data point No. 1: President Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 and is preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, even while keeping a few more troops there this year and next than originally planned.
Point No. 2: The Obama administration keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit, while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges.
Point No. 3: Mr. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly “racist” campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now “re-assess options,” code words for allowing the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state over Israeli objections.
Put them together and you might get sick to your stomach. But they do constitute a coherent policy:
Taken together, these facts suggest that Mr. Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation. The president is pulling America back from the leading military role it has played in the Middle East since 1979, the year the Iranian hostage crisis began and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He is trying to transform Iran from an enemy to a friend. He is diminishing the alliance with Israel, to lows not seen since the 1960s.
Call it the Obama Doctrine: The U.S. puts down the burden, and Iran picks up the slack.
What does a policy that supports Iranian hegemony look like?
Mr. Obama is also doing little to contest Iran’s growing imperium in the Middle East, symbolized by the ubiquitous presence of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, which is charged with exporting Iran’s revolution. Tehran backs proxy militias such as Hezbollah, which has moved from its Lebanese base to support Iranian client Bashar Assad in Syria; the Badr Organization, which is leading the charge against Islamic State in Tikrit; and the Houthi militia that has taken over San’a, the capital of Yemen, and is now at the gates of Aden, a strategically vital port near the entrance to the Red Sea.
All U.S. officials will say in response is that Iran’s actions are “helpful” as long as they are not too “sectarian”—akin to praising Al Capone for providing liquor to the thirsty masses while piously expressing the hope that his conduct isn’t too criminal. Now the U.S. is even supporting the Iranian-directed offensive against Tikrit by providing surveillance flights and airstrikes for attacking forces.
To keep us up to date, in the absence of American leadership Saudi Arabia and its allies have launched an attack on the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
As everyone knows by now, Obama has turned away from Israel.
The flip side of this shift toward Iran is a move away from longtime allies, most notably Israel, which views the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. The president vowed to put some “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem, and boy has he delivered. His aides deride the Israeli prime minister as a “chickens—” and a “coward,” and Mr. Obama has exhibited more visceral anger at Mr. Netanyahu than he has at Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Khamenei.
We’d be better off if it was just plain madness.
It’s going to take a long time to clean up the mess caused by Obama’s malign neglect.