Obama II, Fight or Flight?

With his 2008 victory President Obama appeared the opposite of George W. Bush. Intelligent and self-assured there was hope at home and abroad that stability might return to America, sanity to our foreign policy.

If a century of Republican and Democratic presidents had failed to pass a more equitable healthcare system; if Obama would not quit until it passed, that represented a policy I could endorse. Maybe I questioned him spending his entire first year on this instead of tackling the economic disaster inherited from Bush; but he must have assumed that with this success behind him, bipartisan support for the economy would follow? But Obama’s success in passing healthcare was followed by his failure to explain and promote “Obamacare” to the public, and initiative slipped from his grasp leading to public backlash. Enter Big Money’s Middle Class populist stooge, the Tea Party.

From 2010 it was legislative gridlock, political stalemate and economic stagnation.

I suggest Obama’s failures clearly visible that first year were the paradigm for the remainder of his presidency. His first and critical meeting with Netanyahu was, to all appearances in May, 2009, an utter failure, apparently due to “presidential pique.” And that atmosphere of failure has carried through to the present. The president came to the meeting with the ambition of being the man to untie the Gordian knot of the Two State Solution. But Netanyahu arrived with the existential threat of an Iranian bomb at the top of his list. Whatever the chances of achieving peace between those parties, it is unlikely to result from an over-ambitious outsider forcing himself on the parties, precisely the gargantuan mistake the inexperienced president made: Settlements as a precondition to talks.

As for Iran, seven years of American avoidance by Bush would not be changed by Obama.

Once Obama committed to his “settlements first” position deadlock ensued: Although the parties had for years met over the years without that “precondition,” in fact had apparently arrived at understandings regarding the settlements, Abbas now dug in his heels. How, he explained, could he talk with Netanyahu after the US president laid down the precondition?

Of course the expectation that, after a century of conciliation between Arabs and Jews, the American president would pull the rabbit out of the hat was chimerical. What Obama did achieve was to introduce concern in America’s only reliable regional ally, both in the political and public spheres, regarding his commitment to the long-standing “special relationship.” And to the Palestinians he demonstrated failure that he was prepared to apply pressure on Israel into “compromise” favoring them. As with Healthcare, the president overreached and, as a result, again came up short, appeared weak.

No need to go through Obama’s history of regional failures.Except for Egypt, a partial list will serve: Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria. Egypt will serve as example in some detail.

When Obama intervened on behalf of street demonstrators protesting against Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, he did so as an act of conscience, America’s mission to provide democracy to those not yet so blessed. But who did Obama and his advisers believe might replace the secular Mubarak regime if not the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood? Perhaps, despite warnings from Israel and Saudi Arabia, the president truly expected a MB democracy would style itself after the much vaunted American model. Perhaps the president was truly inspired by his speech to Cairo’s students and the Arab world the year before, owed it to the protesters to rid Egypt of its tyranny.

How did the president respond to the MB President Morsi, barely winning the election (51% to 49%) soon after imposing a dictatorship even more severe than the one deposed by Obama? Where was our president when those same students and secularists were fired upon by the Islamist president? Where was he when so many were killed and  injured? Not even a word of protest, of understanding for the victims of MB tyranny?

For two weeks Susan Rice, Obama’s representative to the United Nations and unofficial presidential designee to replace Clinton at State, was subjected to derision and vilification as payback straw dog for the president. Why, one might ask, if he intended her to be his secretary of state, send her to Capital Hill without even endorsing her? And why, having subjected her to that, why abandon her to return in disgrace to her UN post? Not exactly an act of political bravery.

In a way Obama and Bush are cut from the same cloth, brave only when they assume a “slam-dunk.” Of course they are not identical: where Bush got himself into trouble, as in Iraq and Afghanistan he remained in place, confused and blind to escape. President Obama is far more certain: Egypt, Susan Rice: cut and run!

Presidential arrogance is no substitute for confidence and ability. Any weakling with a gun can impose his will. The damage done to the Middle East is significant. And perhaps Israel and the region will eventually recover from the disaster. But the damage a United States in retreat imposed on the region, beginning with Iraq and continuing through the list itemized above; today’s unstable and now Islamist Egypt; ten years of Bush/Obama avoiding the challenge posed by Iran: For Nixon the motto of failure was, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. For Obama, given the model of discarding Rice, of discarding America’s loyal and long-time ally Hosni Mubarak: For Obama that motto would read, when the going gets tough, the tough take flight.


Shortly before the deployment of two American Patriot missiles manned by 400 US servicemen for defending Turkey against Syria was announced Thursday, Dec. 13, Washington quietly recalled from Syrian waters the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready group and the 2,000 Marines on their decks.”

There may be a perfectly sensible reason for the president abandoning the Syrian coast while the Russian fleet is still docked at Tartus supporting Assad. But it suspiciously fits the pattern described above of failure of nerve. In the present instance American sources have for weeks described Syria preparing a Gotterdammerung finale to the insurgency, arming bombs and warheads with nerve gas. Is the withdrawal of Obama’s fleet a sign that, rather than confront the threat and follow through America’s obligations to its allies, that when the going gets tough, the president retreats?

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.