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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Middle East without American influence

By publicly attacking Israel, the Obama administration has signaled weakness in a region where one cannot afford to be weak. Obama has effectively telegraphed to Iran that he will not defend Israel or anyone else against Iran's development of nuclear weapons. And the lesson will not be lost on the 'axis of resistance' - Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbullah.
Some U.S. commentators have praised the Obama administration's recent condemnation of Israel for announcing, during Vice President Joe Biden's visit, that it intended to build 1,600 apartment units in East Jerusalem. The White House's response, they argue, sends a strong message that Washington won't be bullied. In the Middle East, however, there is nothing that reeks so much of weakness as beating up on an ally in public. Moreover, this tongue-lashing comes shortly after the White House swallowed the open taunts of its adversaries. At a recent Damascus banquet featuring Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah, and Hamas' Khaled Meshaal, Syrian President Bashar Assad openly mocked Secretary Hillary Clinton. He joked that he had misunderstood her demands that Syria distance itself from Iran, so instead, said Assad, he was waiving visa requirements for visitors from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, Washington shaming Israel will please the Arabs—even U.S. allies like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Cairo, Egypt, that cheered on Jerusalem when it took on Iran's assets Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, the Arabs have been compelled by the American strong horse to swallow their pride for decades. But given that Arabs do not air their own dirty laundry for fear it will make them look weak, our public humiliation of an ally will earn us only contempt.

But here's the most important thing: Even if you discount the centrality of shame and honor as operative principles in the Middle East, the Obama administration has blundered by jeopardizing not Israel's stature but our own regional interests and the Pax Americana that has been ours over the last 35 years. Our position in the region depends on every actor there knowing that we back Israel to the hilt and that they are dependent on us. Sure, there are plenty of times we will not see eye-to-eye on things—differences that should be resolved in quiet consultations—but should any real distance open up between Washington and Jerusalem, that will send a message that the U.S.-backed order of the region is ready to be tested. And that's exactly what the axis of resistance is seeing right now.

The recent U.S.-Israeli contretemps is not about progress on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. It is about Iran. The Obama administration has all but announced that it has resigned itself to an Iranian nuclear program and that it is moving toward a policy of containment and deterrence. We will extend a nuclear umbrella to protect our Arab allies in the Gulf, says Secretary of State Clinton, and we will continue to give Israel security guarantees. And, anyway, says Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, the Iranians are probably years away from building a deployable nuclear weapon. In rattling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cage, the Obama administration was warning Israel not even to contemplate an attack on Iran.

Of course, really effective deterrence would require us to make sure that our Israeli allies were perceived as highly volatile and unpredictable actors who might just take matters into their own hands and bomb Iran's nuclear sites. That scenario would have a better chance of cornering Iran and its allies, compelling them to seek relief from us, the rational senior partner. Instead, we've just pulled off the strategic equivalent of beating our pit bull on a street corner to show the neighborhood tough guys that we mean business.

Author Lee Smith goes on to postulate that President Obumbler is not seeking to deliberately weaken the United States' position in the Middle East. It is there that I must part company with him. Obama's behavior in our region and his treatment of Israel is similar (albeit more zealously and vindictively in Israel's case than in others) to his treatment of other former American allies such as Britain, Honduras, Georgia, Ukraine, Colombia and others. President Obama has, from the get-go, sought to draw America inward, weakening and degrading its power, and denying its exceptionalism. To the extent that Obama is willing to maintain alliances at all, they are with rogue states who will ask for nothing but the freedom to spread their mayhem - and Islamist terror - around the world.

Jennifer Rubin adds:
If Smith is correct, then it is inaccurate to say that the last week is a dangerous distraction from our Iran policy. Rather, this is our Iran policy. Hobble and humiliate an ally, embolden adversaries, provide breathing space to the mullahs (did someone say something about sanctions at the end of 2009?), and hope that allowing the revolutionary Islamic state to acquire nuclear weapons will not come to be seen as the most dangerous foreign-policy calculation since the Munich Agreement.

How deliberate all this all is may be a matter of debate. What’s less in dispute is the inevitable result of a series of misguided moves by the Obama administration — each reinforcing the notion that we stand not with our allies or for our own national interests but merely for the proposition that conflict avoidance is the highest ideal. Obama intended to address “our standing in the world”. Little did we imagine where this was heading — a more innocuous and less reliable America, which is fast becoming an easier mark for despotic regimes.
Actually, some of us did manage to imagine where this was heading, and we tried to warn the others. But the warnings went unheeded. The empty platitude of 'hope and change' was irresistible to so many.

What could go wrong?

Read the whole thing.


At 12:45 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Its going to lead to an eclipse of US power and influence in the Middle East. Who will follow Obama's lead? No one. And the "don't ask, don't tell" deal reached over construction in Jerusalem merely finesses the issue - it doesn't really address the central fact its the Palestinians who are holding up peace. And it won't happen in your lifetime or in mine.


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