Iran continues to defy the world community, and the centrifuges keep spinning as furiously as ever, and the recent Benghazi attack, which the Administration had originally attributed to an anti-Muslim video, and not to a terrorist attack, is finally emerging into the daylight as the well-planned terrorist assault that it was, though we won’t know for sure anytime soon because the Administration is investigating the matter in slow-motion, lest voters learn before the election that hatred of America continues under Barack Obama, and that the Bin Laden hit and Obama’s drones didn’t put Al-Qaeda into retirement.
It is axiomatic that events do not occur in a vacuum; the past is always infecting the present, and pointing to the future. History, which has staggered along these last several years of Obama’s stewardship of the world’s lone superpower in fits and starts, has of late been busy shaping and conditioning the present for some certain but ultimately unknowable future catastrophe. That much seems certain.
Yet the present that is currently preparing such surprises for the future, also stemmed from a past. Hindsight always being the prerogative of those who write and read history, I propose here to explain here how the events of the present have been prefigured by the folly of the past, and that in viewing the Obama foreign policy in its first year, we may gain insight into the folly of the present, and what it portends for the future.
I) FORMULATING THE POLICY
The eight years previous to Obama’s election saw the breakdown of the Oslo peace process with Arafat’s rejection of the offers of statehood in July and December of 2000, the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the derailment of the Roadmap of 2002 due to the failure of the Palestinians to curtail terrorism, the unilateral (and unreciprocated) Israeli concession of a complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the subsequent loss of Gaza by the Palestinian authority to Hamas (for which Israel and America, admittedly, bore some blame), all of which were accompanied by the launching of some 8026 rockets and mortars into Israel between September 2001 and the end of December 2008—2473 rockets between January and June of 2008 alone.
Now consider, if you will, the situation in the fall and winter of 2008/2009, at the time of Obama’s election. The previous August Mahmoud Abbas had just rejected Ehud Olmert’s latest offer of some 97% of the West Bank and other far-reaching concessions on borders, water, and refugees, and, per the Palestinian custom, without even deigning to make a counteroffer; the following November, he reaffirmed his rejection. On November 4, 2008, the very day of Obama’s election, the Hamas terrorist group had disrupted the ceasefire put in place with Israel the previous June in a brazen attempt to kidnap yet another Israeli soldier, sparking a gunfight between the IDF and Hamas gunmen at the Gaza border near Deir al-Balah, and with Hamas firing a volley of mortars and rockets into Israel, eventually firing some 913 by the end of December, and a further 264 the following January. All efforts to constrain or contain the attacks being ineffective, on December 27 Israel commenced Operation Cast Lead, a three-week sustained military strike on Hamas’s terror infrastructure and rocket launching sites in an effort to thwart future attacks.
All of this, especially Abbas’ most recent rejections of Olmert’s offer of statehood, Hamas’ rocket attacks, and the Gaza war, should have dictated to the incoming Obama administration where the real sickness of the moribund “peace process” lay: the corruption, dysfunction, and rejectionism of the Palestinian authority, and the violent, lunatic irredentism of Hamas.
President Obama, however, discerned the problem to be elsewhere. Guided by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, and veteran diplomat George Mitchell, Obama concluded that the peace of the region was being held to ransom by Israeli intransigence, aided and abetted by Bush administration appeasement and excessive partiality, along with the building of settlements in theWest Bank.
George Mitchell was the driving force behind the need for a settlement freeze, and, indeed, he had prescribed the same course of action some eight years earlier when he was called on to investigate and report on the outbreak of the Second Intifada. While he had then duly called upon the Palestinians to “prevent terrorism and halt violence,” Mitchell further stressed in his 2001 report that “a cessation of Palestinian-Israeli violence will be particularly hard to sustain unless the government of Israel freezes all settlement construction activity.”
The centrality of the settlements as the cause and catalyst for the conflict and the principal obstacle they allegedly posed to peace had thus long formed the basis of Mitchell’s proposed diplomatic remedy to the conflict, and he, along with Biden, Rice and Clinton, all urged the President to make a freeze in West Bank settlement activity his highest priority in “restarting” the peace process. Put some daylight between America and Israel, give Israel some tough public talk about the settlements and a few other things for the Arabs to see and hear, obtain a settlement freeze, and then, voila!, we would regain the Arab trust that Bush and his cronies had so wantonly forfeited and frittered away, meaningful negotiations would ensue, concessions would be forthcoming, and there would be the peace.
In his January 20 inauguration speech Obama declared, “If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an open hand from us,” and a few days later he declared in an interview with al-Arabiya that in America’s future relations with the Muslim world, we would be “forging partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions,” and that we would henceforth “start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating.”
Underpinning this priority of the Obama policy was thus a mending of fences with Iran, the current tension with whom the Obama people chalked up to Bush Administration and neo-con bluster and intransigence, and on March 20 the President sent to the Supreme Leader of Iran a fawning video message marking the celebration of Nowruz, the Iranian new year, conveying a bouquet of good wishes for future relations between the two countries.
The courtship of Syria was also seen as the key to resolving some of the thornier aspects of the administration’s approach to Iran and Israel/Palestine. The Obama people saw Syria—poor Syria—with whom the U.S. had so rudely severed diplomatic relations following their involvement in the Harriri murder in 2005, and amid growing evidence of their complicity in terror attacks in Iraq, as yet another needless casualty of Bush/neo-con callousness and folly. Administration insiders explained to the NY Times the basis of their new rapprochement to Syria:
“By seeking an understanding with Syria, which has cultivated close ties to Iran, theUnited States could increase the pressure on Irant o respond to its offer of direct talks. Such an understanding would also give Arab states and moderate Palestinians the political cover to negotiate with Israel. That, in turn, could increase the burden on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, to relax its hostile stance toward Israel.”
Here, then, was the Obama path to peace, and the future salvation of a long-troubled region: Syria, who twice in the last decade rejected the return of the Golan for peace with Israel, who hosted and funded Hezbollah and Hamas, who was complicit in the Harriri murder, who, along with Iran, had spent the last five years arming and sending scores of terrorists into Iraq to kill thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, would “increase pressure” on its benefactor and partner in crime, Iran, to make nice with its mortal enemy, America, which, in turn, would persuade Palestinian “moderates” currently in hiding, to emerge from the shadows and reject their rejectionism, and this, finally, would induce Hamas to “relax” its genocidal hostility to the Jewish state.
II) THE NEW PEACE PROCESS
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, briskly sweeping in on her first foray into the region on March 4, 2009, trumpeted the new administration policy in a photo-op and press conference with Mahmoud Abbas at her side.Clinton blasted Israel’s decision to demolish illegally built homes in East Jerusalem as “a violation of its international obligations” and “unhelpful to Middle East peace efforts.”
“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,”Clinton said. “It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the government at the municipal level in Jerusalem.”
And Saeb Erekat, supporter and co-author of his government’s most recent rejection of statehood the previous November, advised Clinton that,
”The main point is that the Israeli government needs to accept the two-state solution and … that it stop settlement expansion,” and Mahmoud Abbas, the rejecter-in-chief himself, told Clinton that the Palestinian Authority would not agree to peace negotiations “unless Israel agreed unequivocally to a two-state solution.”
In a private meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Clinton further emphasized her master’s displeasure with the situation in Gaza. The President, she said, felt Israel “must do more to open the border crossings into the Gaza Strip to larger amounts of humanitarian assistance so that civilians there could get some relief,” and she lectured Barak that “it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the Palestinian civilians.”
When Barak told the Secretary of State that “since the completion of Operation Cast Lead, 127,000 tons of food, medicine and equipment was delivered through the crossings,” and that “more than 12 million liters of fuel was delivered to power the electric plant in the Gaza Strip,” Clinton responded that Israel should “consider whether the closing of the crossings may be more harmful than it is useful,” and further lectured those who had made the Gaza withdrawal and thrice offered statehood to the Palestinians in the last decade that, “We happen to believe that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel’s best interests”—as if it were Israel, and not the Palestinians, who needed convincing on the matter.
Later that spring, the Obama policy was showing results, though, it must be said, not the results they had been expecting. It had become abundantly clear during the Secretary of State’s visit to the region and afterwards, that the new Obama approach of humility in its foreign policy, that of listening and not dictating, and its “forging partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions,” did not apply to Israel, and at a State Department appearance with the Egyptian foreign minister on May 28, Hillary Clinton, speaking for Obama, said, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.’ That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”
Yet progress proved elusive.Syria was proving a most skittish and evasive interlocutor, and it was more than clear that Mahmoud Abbas had found the American “honest broker” of his dreams, and one who seemed to share his own estimate of exactly what he should be contributing to the current peace process: nothing.
On the same day as Clinton’s remarks, Mahmoud Abbas told the Washington Post on May 28 that his own role,
“…was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognizeIsraeland swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.
Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. “We can’t talk to the Arabs untilIsraelagrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution,” he insisted in an interview. “Until then we can’t talk to anyone.”
On the same day the Post reported Obama, who had talked the previous week with Netanyahu, as saying,
“In my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I was very clear about the need to stop settlements, to make sure that we are stopping the building of outposts . . . to alleviate some of the pressures that the Palestinian people are under in terms of travel and commerce.”
And while the President also noted that the Palestinians “also must improve security as part of their commitments under the 2003 “road map” for peace,” he commended them for the “great progress” they had made in such endeavors—which was more than he could say for Israel. Said the President,
“Time is of the essence….We can’t continue with the drift, with the increased fear and resentments on both sides, of the sense of hopelessness around the situation that we’ve seen for many years now. We need to get this thing back on track.”
The contrast here between Obama and Clinton’s agitated sense of urgency, along with their very public administering of the lash to Israel, with the utter absence of any such urgent exhortations or recriminations with regard to the Palestinians, is instructive. Their indifference to the relaxed, unabashed obstructionism by Abbas of their peace efforts (including his refusal to even assist peace envoy George Mitchell in gathering support from Arab states), and Abbas’ casual, openly expressed willingness to sit back, forgo any concessions of his own, and watch Obama squeeze Israel for them instead, are also worthy of note.
Several days later, came Obama’s Cairo Address, heralding his “new beginning” with the Muslim world. The President’s speech, like most of his forays into foreign policy speechmaking to date, was one of those pandering, something-for-everyone confections whose main purpose to was please and not offend. The speech contained some good things, to be sure—Obama denounced Holocaust denial, stressed America’s resolve to pursue Al-Qaeda terrorists and fight the war in Afgahnistan. The speech also contained two much–recurring themes that pervaded most Obama speechmaking in those days: an effusive celebration of his African-American identity and biography, and a harsh, preening excoriation of the policies of the Bush Administration, including a fulsome explication of his righting of their wrongs, and how an outraged Obama finally cleansed the temple of Bush/Cheney/neo-con perfidy and turpitude.
It only got worse from there, and once he reached the Israel/Palestine portion of his speech, he lapsed into a tidily air-brushed revisionist history of the conflict that oozed a noxious moral equivalence. Thus, in Obama’s telling, the creation of the Jewish state was not the return of a long-exiled people to their ancestral homeland where Jews had always lived, but a reparation, a sop, if you will, for the Holocaust, and one, mind you, that had been given to them at the expense of the Palestinians whose “displacement [was] brought about by Israel’s founding,”—and not by the Arab rejection of the 1947 UN Partition and the war of extermination that was waged by them against the Yishuv that followed. The Palestinians, continued the President, have “suffered in pursuit of a homeland,” have “endured the pain of dislocation,” and “the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation”—and not by the deliberate perpetuation of the refugee crisis by the Arabs to destroy Israel, and their refusal to make peace.
Obama then called everyone to their tasks:Israel was to stop the settlements, the Palestinians to stop violence, and Hamas, too, had a constructive role to play. Obama recognized that “Hamas does have support” among the Palestinians, and he enjoined them to “play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people,” and to “put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognizeIsrael’s right to exist”—this was the extent of his remonstration of Hamas. Something for everybody. But most important of all,
“Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, andIsraelmust take concrete steps to enable such progress.”
While the speech tried for some measure of even-handedness, it could not quite disguise the fact that Obama saw Israel’s entire founding and subsequent occupation of the territories as the sole culprit in the Palestinians’ dispossession and continued suffering and statelessness, and that he posited full blame for the “continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank” and the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” squarely on Israel’s shoulders, without so much as a word about the role of the PA’s corruption and Hamas’ terror and violence in both situations. The tenor and content of the speech were thus perfectly consonant with the administration’s gentle prodding of the Palestinians and its spirited hectoring of the Israelis in their conduct of the peace process so far, and made perfectly clear where the sympathies of this administration lay, and where they did not.
On June 14 came Netanyahu’s speech at Bar Ilan University, where he unequivocably called for a two-state solution, called for negotiations without preconditions, and offered to put discussion of current settlement activity on the negotiating table. Said the Prime Minister:
“I appeal to you, our Palestinian neighbors, and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. Let us begin peace negotiations immediately without prior conditions.Israelis committed to international agreements, and expects all sides to fulfill their obligations. I say to the Palestinians: We want to live with you in peace, quiet, and good neighborly relations. We want our children and your children to ‘know war no more.’”
The response of the Palestinian Authority was not long in forthcoming. “Netanyahu will not find any Palestinian to talk to under the conditions he imposed on the creation of the Palestinian statehood,” said Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian negotiator. Netanyahu’s speech, added Erekat, was a “slap in the face” of President Barack Obama’s plan to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So that was that. While the Obama Administration responded positively to Netanyahu’s speech, saying, ”The president welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech,” there was no comment by them on the Palestinians’ outright rejection of Netanyahu’s proposition (which they outrageously referred to as “conditions” that were “imposed”), and their continuing refusal to even come to the negotiating table, only,
”The President will continue working with all parties — Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and our Quartet partners –to see that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities necessary to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace.”
Several weeks later, Ynet News reported that Abbas had told an Egyptian newspaper on July 12 that he would not waive the right of return and would not surrender any part of the West Bank to Israel. Said Abbas,
“We demand a territorial continuity between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and will not give up the right of return,” Abbas told the Egyptian newspaper Oktober over the weekend.
Statements such as this—which flew in the face of everything that the Obama people were attempting to achieve with regard to a two-state solution, along with Abbas’ dismissive response to Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech, and his continuing refusal to even come to the negotiating table should, at the very least, have done for the Obama people by this time what Hamas’ rocket attacks, the Gaza war, and Abbas’ rejection of Olmerts 2008 offers of statehood failed to do the previous January: illustrated beyond any doubt to them that the reason for the gridlock and stagnation of the peace process lay with the rejectionism and the dysfunction of the Palestinian political establishment.
It did not. Indeed, Obama’s continuing incomprehension of the reality on the ground was on further display at a meeting at the White House on July 13—the day after Abbas’ most recent remarks, where Obama hosted a group of prominent Jewish-American leaders to discuss the peace process and other related issues. Malcom Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the president, “If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know that the United States is right next to them.”
Obama disagreed. “Look at the past eight years,” he said, referencing the Bush administration’s relationship with Israel. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight,Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”
It was a perfectly astonishing statement which indicated either the extent of his disingenuousness, his detachment from reality, or his ignorance of what had actually transpired these last eight years, and which, in any event, revealed his inability to discern, let alone understand, some of the most basic particulars of the task that was before him and his administration, and revealed for all to see the full extent of his administration’s diplomatic malpractice in this endeavor. The President’s statement, like so much of his administration’s conduct of the peace process to date, also betrayed no small measure of hubris and arrogance, and was heavy with the conviction that the actions of his predecessor had brought the situation to the present impasse from which, as with the economy and so much else, he was struggling mightily to extricate it.
There would be little profit in relating the events of the rest of the year, as they merely continued the same depressing pattern of American blindness and folly, met by Palestinian intransigence, followed by American diplomatic pressure and censure on Israel, resulting in the usual deadlock and the inability to simply get the Palestinians to the conference table.
In late September, Abbas and Netanyahu both arrived in New York to give their annual address to the UN, and George Mitchell somehow managed to shanghai Abbas into a meeting with Netanyahu at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel from which absolutely nothing of consequence resulted: Netanyahu spoke hopefully of future negotiations where all the issues could be discussed and settled “without preconditions”; Abbas said that “peace talks could only be resumed after they were based on the recognition of Israel’s need to withdraw to its 1967 borders,” and only “untilIsraelfreezes settlement construction.”
After much hectoring, the President duly obtained from the Israelis a 10 month freeze on settlement construction in theWest Bankat the end of the year. Predictably, it did not a whit of good; the Palestinians still refused direct negotiations despite the freeze, demanded an extension of the freeze when it eventually elapsed, and are still refusing direct talks in any event. Netanyahu had risked his center-right coalition by breaking with Likud tradition, and recognizing a Palestinian state, removed scores of security roadblocks to facilitate greater movement in the West Bank, and agreed to an unprecedented settlement freeze, only to have Abbas say: no, not good enough.
Nothing so illustrated the utter bankruptcy of the entire Obama policy than the failure of their signature initiative—a settlement freeze—to move the “peace process” so much as an inch, and so the year closed as it had begun, with diplomacy impotent, the region apprehensive and troubled, and the peace as elusive as ever.
IRAN: COURTING THE MULLAHS
In response to the “unclenched fist” overture in Obama’s January 20 inaugaural, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had responded with a fresh tirade of his own against the United States, demanding an apology for its “crimes” against Iran and saying he expected nothing less than “deep and fundamental” change from Obama.
Several weeks later, Iran’s Supreme Leader spat contempt on Obama’s March 20 peace-video message gesture. “He insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day,” he said.America, said the Supreme Leader to a well-attended “death-to-America” rally, “must apologize to the Iranian people and try to repair their past bad acts and the crimes they committed againstIran” and “must stop supporting Zionists, outlaws, and criminals.”
More importantly, though, in the week following his Cairo address, the Mullahs got a demonstration of just how far Obama was prepared to go to pursue his “engagement” with them. On June 12, the massive protests to the transparently rigged election of Ahmedinejad over the challenger Mousavi, were met by the regime with an equally massive crackdown that was savage in its brutality. The reaction of the Obama Administration, however, was one of silence and dutiful non-interference. Querying reporters were reminded that “the United States had once played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government” in 1953, and would not do so again, and Obama himself commented that he was reassured by a “reaction from the Supreme Leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.”
As the days wore on, however, and when images of demonstrators being shot, arrested, and having their skulls crushed, and journalists and activists being harassed and expelled began flooding the airwaves, the pressure began to mount on Obama, being the leader of the free world and all, to take some kind of stand on the matter. This finally occurred at a press conference on June 23—eleven days into the still-ongoing event. A testy, defensive Obama heatedly denied to querying reporters that he had been at all tardy in his response, and he spoke glowingly of the “timeless dignity” of the protestors, and the “heartbreaking” images of Neda, the young Iranian woman martyred in the streets protesting for her freedom. And the President sternly intoned, “In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to peaceful protests.”
Obama’s tough-sounding rhetoric on this occasion could not conceal the fact that he would impose no consequences on the regime for their behavior, that his engagement policy with the regime would proceed uninterrupted no matter how savage their behavior toward their own people, that he would not lift a finger to rally the international community on the matter, and that he had made the statements he had made today after eleven full days of silence, and even then only under the heaviest pressure and prodding, when he saw that his silence had become a political liability.
Obama’s supine reaction to the Mullahs’ crackdown was more than just a failure of leadership and nerve; it was both a moral and strategic disaster. In the first place, Obama did not seem to realize that the protests of the demonstrators were about more than just an unfavorable election result; they were both risking and sacrificing life and limb to protest the fundamental illegitimacy of the current regime, who had just arrogated to itself the right to nullify an act of popular will and sovereignty, and was enforcing this illegitimate action with wanton brutality. For years this protest against the corruption, tyranny, and misogyny of the Mullah’s theocracy had been simmering; now it had broken the surface, and it was spreading like a prairie fire. And where was the leader of the free world at this long-awaited, watershed event? He was silent.
Secondly, Obama failed to realize that his silence and his continued willingness to engage the regime was itself an assenting stamp of legitimacy upon the regime’s actions, that it was a mortal blow to the cause and exertions of the protestors, and that it taught the Mullahs and every other regional despot a clear lesson about what they could expect from Obama about any behavior of theirs in the future, especially with regard to Iran and its nuclear program, and that they had little to fear.
Third, Obama most signally failed to understand that when the United States demonstrates that it will forgo support for those fighting and dying for their freedom in favor of “engaging” those who, by force and fraud, murder and oppress them, we not only betray our deepest held principles, but forfeit any strength to our negotiating position in any future parley to come. Moral and humanitarian considerations aside, it makes for bad policy, and is a negation of our most basic strategic interests.
Obama’s indifference to the plight of the protestors, however egregious, was nonetheless perfectly consistent with his Secretary of State’s earlier declaration that human rights would be “off the table” in their dealings with the Chinese, and Obama’s later refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama, lest Beijing be offended. Even more troubling than Obama’s wilting reaction to the regime’s crackdown, however, was his growing blindness to the Iranian nuclear threat, for, here too, one saw the diminishing returns of Obama’s outstretched hand.
In late September, Obama received the bombshell revelations that Iranhad been concealing from the IAEA a uranium enrichment plant at Qom. Obama, however, thought it impolitic to mention the revelations and alert the world in his UN address, lest it interfere with his “engagement” with the Mullahs; instead, his address to the UN would cover his favorite subjects of world peace, Bush’s sins, climate change, and his “comprehensive agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”
The day after his speech, Obama presided over a meeting with the leaders of the 14 other nations of the Security Council—another unprecedented opportunity to focus attention on the danger of the situation, and rally those present to concerted action. But no. Like his speech to the General Assembly, here, too, Obama merely dreamed aloud his dreams of a nuclear-free world, and how the nations of the world—including theUnited States—would go about making it un-nuclear again.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, for one, was both incensed and utterly bewildered by Obama’s handling of the Qom revelations, and he and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had both urged Obama to use the Security Council meeting of September 24 to focus international attention on the issue, but Obama demurred. The President, said Administration insiders to the NY Times, “did not want to dilute the nuclear nonproliferation resolution he was pushing through the Security Council by diverting toIran,” and the Wall Street Journal reported insiders telling the French that the Administration didn’t want to “spoil the image of success for Mr. Obama’s debut at the UN.”
To repeat: in his quest to cure the world of nuclear weapons, the President felt that using his meeting with the 14 heads of the UN Security Council to focus attention on the recent progress made by a violent, lawless, terrorist-supporting dictatorship in illegally obtaining a nuclear weapon, constituted a diversion from his efforts to make the world free of nuclear weapons.
Though constrained by diplomatic etiquette, perhaps no one spoke more bluntly to the folly and blindness of Obama’s woefully misguided “engagement” policy withIranthan President Sarkozy. “We are right to talk about the future,” said Mr. Sarkozy in reference to the Obama’s arms control resolution. “But the present comes before the future, and the present includes two major nuclear crises,” i.e.,Iran and North Korea. “We live in the real world, not in a virtual one.” Sarkozy continued:
“We say that we must reduce. President Obama himself has said that he dreams of a world without nuclear weapons. Before our very eyes, two countries are doing exactly the opposite at this very moment. Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council Resolutions . . .
I supportAmerica’s ‘extended hand.’ But what have these proposals for dialogue produced for the international community? Nothing but more enriched uranium and more centrifuges. And last but not least, it has resulted in a statement by Iranian leaders calling for wiping off the map a Member of the United Nations. What are we to do? What conclusions are we to draw? At a certain moment hard facts will force us to make decisions.”
EPILOGUE: THE UNMAKING OF A FOREIGN POLICY
It is possible, I think, to see the first year of the Obama foreign policy in terms of Greek drama: the audience can see the truth, but the actors are blind; the chorus warns, but the warnings go unheeded, and the hubris of the protagonist leads him heedlessly to his nemesis.
In the Obama team’s utterly wasteful and futile pursuit of a settlement freeze, along with the failure of the freeze to effect a change in the dynamic of the current stalemate once it had been obtained, they did, in the end, achieve what can only be called a minor miracle of diplomatic incompetence: they had elevated what was previously an issue to be negotiated between the parties in a final settlement to a precondition for further discussions, given the Palestinians a new alibi for intransigence, and increased Israel’s diplomatic isolation as well as becoming the least trusted American President among both Israel and the Palestinians. Quite an achievement, that.
In what can only be seen as a fantastic misreading of the situation, they seem to have genuinely thought that by putting distance between the US and Israel, and criticizing the settlements, they would incur goodwill and concessions from the Palestinians. It did not. It merely raised their expectations about what Obama would deliver for them, increased their disappointment with him when he did not deliver, and intensified their intransigence. Obama’s whole approach was revealed to them for what it was: weakness to be exploited.
However much they may have welcomed the criticism of both Israel and Bush in his 2009 Cairo speech, the tribal-minded among them could not have failed to see the faithlessness of his treatment of his ally, or the self-serving cynicism in his disparagement of one of his own countrymen in a foreign land. There is an old Arab saying: it is my brother and I against our neighbor, and all of us against the stranger. The President was revealed as a feckless, faithless, ingratiating equivocator who could be played for the duration. He just did not understand: the Arabs respect strength and resolution, and they despise weakness like a cockroach to be stomped on a kitchen floor. The President, alas, had been seen as a weak horse. As a top adviser to Abbas later commented to the Washington Post,
“Around this time, an image was being created that it was pain-free to say no to the United States….There was no sense of awe around the president — and that is essential to the peace process. That is what informed Abu Mazen’s thinking about Obama.”
Rarely has the foreign policy of this nation been held hostage to such vanity, arrogance, and willful incompetence. The truth was that the Obama people had come airily into the treacherous jungle of Middle East peace-processing with a set of ideological assumptions that had been cooked up over the last decade in liberal university political science departments and left-leaning think-tanks that bore virtually no relation to the situation as it actually existed on the ground, and they stubbornly and arrogantly persisted with their assumptions and their approach long after actual events had rendered them both ineffective and obsolete. Unable and unwilling to discern where the real sickness of the peace process lay, the Obama people resembled nothing so much as a physician who had spent several months prescribing aspirin for a brain tumor.
As it was, they did incalculable damage to the existing situation at a critical juncture, and, by focusing the weight of their criticism and diplomatic censure on Israel, gave comfort and sustenance to the forces of maximalist rejection and terror at the very time when a President of the United States needed to be rallying the international community and focusing attention on exactly these problems, which alone had hitherto been stunting and impeding a meaningful settlement. Thus, in such an atmosphere, Israel found itself blamed, by its strongest ally no less, not only for the absence of peace in the region, which only served to aid and abet Abbas’ intransigence and the continuing dysfunction of the PA, but also for the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, which served only to strengthen the image of Hamas’ victimhood, and legitimize their violent oppression and war on Israel that were themselves the true cause of Gaza’s plight and suffering.
Obama’s courtship of the gangster-mullahs of Iran followed a similar trajectory. The problems with Iran, he was sure, stemmed from America’s hawkish and aggressive posturing, and all that was needed here was an open hand offering friendship and a soft word, and the mullahs, being rational, reasonable folks just like us, would overcome their distrust and hostility, see the errors of their ways, and get with the program. Engagement was the key.
Obama also sought to correct our blind and appeasing support for Israel, which he saw as one of the obstacles to Middle Eastpeace, and which has understandably put into doubt our integrity, our impartiality, and our good faith among the Arabs, and this must be remedied by the putting of “daylight” between our two countries.
The President’s worldview was thus a perfect snapshot of fashionable, left-leaning Western academic opinion: In sum, that the furies wreaking havoc both in and from the region come not from culturally and politically dysfunctional societies long wedded to a centuries-old pathology of violence, oppression, corruption, and cultural stagnation, but, rather from the bad behavior of the United States, and, of course, Israel, who behaves badly with our blessing.
Obama either ignored or was unaware that every administration since President Carter has sought to diplomatically engage this regime, to no avail. The Clinton Administration literally prostrated themselves before the mullahs for our alleged past misdeeds, in hopes of restoring relations. (Indeed, the Administration, through its third party contacts, even arranged for an “accidental” meeting between Clinton and then-president Khatami in 1998 outside the men’s room at the UN; Clinton apparently wandered the area for over a half hour before learning that Khatami had left the building and he had been stood up by his “date”—a perfect metaphor, if ever there was one, for the history of Iranian-American “engagement”). President George W. Bush, both directly and through third parties, made extensive efforts to engage the regime, again to no success.
The truth of the matter is that the Mullahs’ hostility toward us is beyond cure or diplomatic remedy. Hatred and hostility toward America and Israel is encoded into the regime’s DNA. That the Ayatollah Khamenei would ever, in the most fantastic of circumstances, clasp the unclean, infidel hand ofAmericain friendship, is a lurid fantasy. The Mullahs could only embrace us by not being the revolutionary Shi’ite fundamentalist theocrats that they are.
When one considers the behavior of the Obama Administration in their conduct of foreign policy in the first year, all of their otherwise inexplicable subsequent actions become perfectly intelligible: their hysterical, albeit manufactured, outrage at the discovery of an apartment complex being built in Ramat Shlomo in March 2010, and their insulting snub of Netanyahu when he visited afterward, which occurred alongside their forgiving indifference to Abbas’ rejectionism, and his continuing refusal to even negotiate; their ho-hum response to the Gaza flotilla of May 2010, to the Fatah-Hamas merger of may 2011, and to Abbas’ unconcealed rejection of the two-state solution, along with his continuing refusal to negotiate or recognize Israel’s legitimacy; Obama’s insistence in his 2011 AIPAC speech that future negotiations should begin with an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice lines.
More recently: the cold-eyed indifference to the bloodshed in Syria; the statement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he would not want to be “complicit” in an Israeli strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the Administration’s failure to rebuke him; the statement, communicated by Administration insiders through European channels to Iran that America would refuse to back an Israeli strike if Iran agreed not to retaliate on us, which coincided with an IAEA report that Iran had expanded its uranium enrichment; the solid, unmistakable conviction, evinced in countless actions and statements of this administration, that the admittedly punishing sanctions put on Iran will somehow browbeat the Mullahs into foregoing their nuclear program despite all past evidence to the contrary, and the belief that an Israeli strike against Iran’s facilities is a greater danger than Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon. The record is replete with evidence of hostile bias and disfavor, and the list of unfriendly and downright antagonistic acts is rather lengthy.
The Administration’s approach to statecraft has always been heavy with progressive notions of Western guilt, the conviction that conflicts are the result of misunderstandings that can be dispelled by patience and dialogue, and the belief that foreign policy, like all government, ought to be therapeutic. But above all, there has always been the subordination of foreign affairs to domestic considerations such as the President’s political standing and reelection; truth be told, the President does not care much for what occurs beyond our borders, and has always been wont to stress the importance of “nation building at home.” The diplomacy of the Administration has seen the mishandling of one diplomatic-strategic initiative after another, alternately alienating, confusing and dispiriting our allies, emboldening our enemies and adversaries, and negating our interests. It is a record of folly and error whose signature achievement has been the isolation and abandonment of a crucial, faithful ally, and the strengthening and appeasement of a dangerous and avowed enemy.