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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A damning indictment of Obama's 'strategic thinking'

Newsweek's Niall Ferguson has a damning indictment of President Obama's 'strategic thinking' in the Middle East (although he attributes a major portion of the blame to former National Security Adviser James Jones).
The contrast between the foreign policy of the Nixon-Ford years and that of President Jimmy Carter is a stark reminder of how easily foreign policy can founder when there is a failure of strategic thinking. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, which took the Carter administration wholly by surprise, was a catastrophe far greater than the loss of South Vietnam.

Remind you of anything? “This is what happens when you get caught by surprise,” an anonymous American official told The New York Times last week. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt moves from stability to turmoil? None.”

I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration’s strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries. It is only by doing these things—ranking priorities and gaming scenarios—that a coherent foreign policy can be made. The Israelis have been hard at work doing this. All the president and his NSC team seem to have done is to draft touchy-feely speeches like the one he delivered in Cairo early in his presidency.

These were his words back in June 2009:

America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Those lines will come back to haunt Obama if, as cannot be ruled out, the ultimate beneficiary of his bungling in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains by far the best organized opposition force in the country—and wholly committed to the restoration of the caliphate and the strict application of Sharia. Would such an outcome advance “tolerance and the dignity of all human beings” in Egypt? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Grand strategy is all about the necessity of choice. Today, it means choosing between a daunting list of objectives: to resist the spread of radical Islam, to limit Iran’s ambition to become dominant in the Middle East, to contain the rise of China as an economic rival, to guard against a Russian “reconquista” of Eastern Europe—and so on. The defining characteristic of Obama’s foreign policy has been not just a failure to prioritize, but also a failure to recognize the need to do so. A succession of speeches saying, in essence, “I am not George W. Bush” is no substitute for a strategy.
Note one objective that Ferguson doesn't list: Settling the Israeli-'Palestinian' dispute. It's a curious omission, because, as I have written dozens of times over the last three years, the establishment of a 'Palestinian state' is the one foreign policy goal that genuinely seems to interest Obama.

Imagine if over the last two years, even a fraction of the effort that has been put into a 'Palestinian state' had been put into edging Egypt toward democracy or pushing out Iran's fascist government (which beat demonstrators on Monday). The world would be a different place. Instead, the world seems to be quickly moving backward toward its Middle Ages domination by Islam.

What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing.

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At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama is a naif but the world sometimes is driven by circumstances beyond the control even of Presidents. Would today's critics of O preferred that he come down like a democratic hammer on Mubarak a year or two ago? Or that he insist the army cool the situation a week ago? But with Mubarak gone, the army has locked Egypt down anyways. Maybe a better test is how O manages the relative if transitory stability of the new Egyptian thermidor & if he can restrain destabilizing interventions intended to appease hypothetical Islamic radicals--like the counterproductive thumping for a Jerusalem/settlement freeze.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Russ said...

It strikes me more and more that liberalism is more about ideas than dealing with reality. Example: none of the people pushing for a Pal state have ever put any effort into ending tyrrany in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. however, they are the ones jumping up and down telling the world "Aint democracy grand?!"

"the world seems to be quickly moving backward toward its Middle Ages domination by Islam."

This is because people are more concerned with popular ideas than the reality on the ground. If they really believed in democracy, equal rights, etc. we would have global protests against oppressive Islamic regimes...

At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

..unfortunately the likelihood of President O screwing up Middle East sanity eluding his feckless tongue-bath outreach to the ROP is further indicated by the Homeland Security Assistant Secretar CAIR designate Juliette Kayyem (sue me) calling for Qatar/MB front Al Jazera to be welcomed by American cable networks:


"Yes. No doubt, if I watched long enough, I would find viewpoints expressed by commentators on Israel or the role of women that I find objectionable. But that basically describes my relationship with most cable news hosts, yet there they are, night after night."

No doubt.


Here is Al Jazera "reporting on"/pimping for Al-Awlaki calling on "Muslims around the world to kill US citizens[because] fighting the devil doesn't require consultation or prayers seeking divine guidance. They are the party of the devils."


No hint of criticism of this call for jihad and a nice poster-boy graphic of the Al Qaeda terrorist smartly dressed (to kill).

But hey, the O-team doesn't actually read or listen to the anti-American media it promotes anymore than it scrubs the details of the telephone-book size legislation it throws of the back of the truck.

We can argue about the circumstances of regime change in Egypt the regime that desperately needs a changing (putting to one side the monetary policy cobbled together from Weimar and the Confederacy's greatest hits) is right here in America.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

You're right Carl - Obama's shabby treatment of its Arab ally has shown other Arab leaders they can't count on America in a crisis.

And they'll ally themselves with the perceived strongest horse in the region - Iran.

What could go wrong indeed


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