Thursday, October 27, 2011

The New Middle East

While Barack Obama is basking in the glow of his latest foreign policy success, it is worthwhile, as always, to take a deep breath and take a closer look at what has been happening in the Middle East.

For now Obama has earned considerable street cred for having killed or been instrumental in killing three major terrorist leaders: Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Moammar Qaddafi.

These executions are surely a good thing. Assassination makes for great political theater, and more than a few people, on the left and right, are cheering Obama’s grand performance.

One cannot exclude the possibility that these are merely pre-election heroics, designed, above all, to make the commander in chief look commanding. At the least, they make him look like a brave defender of American interests.

Yet, offing a terrorist leader is not the same thing as implementing policy. In the past, when people spoke of terrorism, they spoke of draining the swamp that bred it. That swamp has been and still is Islamist ideology.

Those who are cheerleading the Arab Spring are persuaded that the swamp is being drained. Others are much less optimistic.

Whether by intention or inadvertence Barack Obama has changed the map of the Middle East. If we ask ourselves whether it has changed for the better, in terms of American interests, the situation becomes more murky.

Here’s the problem. Say what you will, but Hosni Mubarak and Moammar Qaddafi were American allies. As was the former leader of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine bin Ali.

They were not good guys, but they were our guys. The little I know about foreign policy—and I do not pretend to any expertise—has taught me that forging and nurturing alliances matters more than grand theatrical gestures.

Most Americans may have missed the fact that America just eliminated three allies, but the Saudis have not missed it. They have learned that being an American ally is not good for your health in the age of Obama.

For now, the Saudis are busily crafting new alliances with Russia and China, the better to protect their own influence and maintain their own power.

Nor have the Saudis or the Israelis missed the salient point that the group that has gained the most from the rebellions in North Africa has been the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mubarak and Qaddafi were tyrants. They were oppressing their people. But they were also suppressing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood.

We all know that the Muslim Brotherhood is a fever swamp that has bred more than its share of terrorism.

As a new Islamist dawn rises over Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, there is cause for caution, if not concern.

Supporters of the fiction of an Arab Spring think that it’s all growing pains and that a new birth of liberal democracy is inevitable.

Others say that it’s too early to know whether the new regimes in those countries will be hard line Islamists or moderate Islamists.

It seems clear, however, that they will be Islamist, and thus, no friends to America. It is also clear that by the time we find out it will be too late to exert any influence.

The learned Max Boot tells us not to worry about the advent of Sharia Law in Libya and Tunisia. An Andrew McCarthy counters that we have just replaced an American ally, however flawed he was, with groups that adhere to Islamist ideology.  To top it off, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is already whining that things in Libya are not turning out as he had predicted.

McCarthy and others have pointed out that the Libyan insurgency arose in Benghazi, which was also an exceptionally fertile breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.

While America’s allies in the region are not doing so well, its enemies are not doing so badly. When the Green Revolution came to Iran, the Obama administration said nothing. The mullahs and they allies were given free reign to murder, torture and rape. They suppressed the nascent rebellion.

When it comes to the current uprising against in Iran’s great ally, Syria, the Obama administration has been all talk, and no action.

Most importantly, a monumental diplomatic failure  will now force America to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The winner in this fiasco is surely Iran.

The administration is saying that it has accomplished its mission in Iraq, but few observers doubt that continued American troop presence in Iraq would have served as an impetus to Iraqi democracy and as an impediment to expanding Iranian influence.

If you look at developments in the Middle East in terms of American interests and American alliances, things have not been going so well.

Does the new Middle East enact the vision of the leftist American president? Was Obama simply so inexperienced in foreign policy that he could only rely on leftist instincts that had been marinating in a mythic world where the people rise up against fascist tyrants and autocrats?

At the least, neither Obama nor his vice president nor his Secretary of State seems especially concerned with protecting American allies or American interests in the region.

History will render a verdict on the Obama policies, but it will probably wait until after the next election.

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