Egypt/Syria/Libya: An American Legacy

For several years I have described American actions in the Middle East as desperately seeking the exit door. Of course “the world’s only superpower” doesn’t just pick up its marbles and surreptitiously slink away. Without a clear exit strategy there is a sense of bumbling improvisation in American actions. Bush attacking Afghanistan at least had an identifiable objective since al-Quaeda, following 9/11, was protected by that country’s Taliban government. But even there the success achieved by US Special Forces and the CIA was never followed up by conventional forces.  Bush instead used those to invade Iraq. And the rest is history. Two wars with confused objectives and no clear exit strategy. Thousands of American military and tens of thousands of local civilians sacrificed in half-won turned to lost wars. More that a trillion borrowed (off the books) dollars to feed the fires of the global Great Recession.

To what degree presidential action is determined by America’s intelligence and military agendas rather than national policy interests is for future historians to work through. What conclude from the obvious disinformation represented by those National Intelligence Estimates of 2007 and 2011 describing Iranian military nuclear program as abandoned in 2003? How understand America’s military leaders, civilian and uniformed consistently warning of “unforeseen consequences” if even used as a threat to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Unless its purpose was to provide two presidents from having to make the “hard decisions” regarding reining in the Iranians. As Bush put it in the closing months of his presidency, with the NIE “disclosure” his hands were tied in carrying through on his “threats.”

The result has been, regarding Iran, a public charade, a ballet orchestrated in the White House and obligingly supported by Iran in which more than a decade of dead-end talks followed by yet another round and another. And the Middle East waits for Iran to test its first in-territory (suspicions at least one of those fizzled N. Korea tests was an Iranian test), triggering a regional nuclear arms race in response (the Saudis, who reportedly funded Pakistan’s Bomb, are said to already possess several bombs stored in Pakistan).

And so, beyond the rhetoric, the likelihood of an Iranian bomb and a regional nuclear arms race is the consequence of a confused American Middle East policy regarding Iran and the region. Regarding America’s commitment to spreading Democracy throughout the region most recently represented by Bush delivering Iraq from tyranny; forcing democratic Palestinian election to include an armed Islamist Hamas (wouldn’t have been “democratic” otherwise) opposition on Abbas and Israel (Bush would later try to reverse course and funded a failed coup against Hamas-Gaza); these actions certainly started the ball rolling towards that regional movement, the Islamist Spring. And President Obama, with the enthusiasm characteristic of a neophyte, held his nose and jumped right in! Searching for his own “tyrant” to overthrow Mubarak, already half-way out into retirement, became his poster child. And as Bush in all his wisdom to right injustice installed the Shiites as rulers, Obama repeated the gift, this time to the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course Iraqi Shiites were and are closely related to, and dependent on Iran, and the Brotherhood, parent to al-Quaida and Hamas. But at least Democracy was bestowed, and consequences… well, who could’a predicted?

And so we arrive at today to a collection of Middle East headlines with a common theme, defiance of a discredited American wisdom, authority and power:

Saudis, UAE take revenge for Mubarak ouster (Sub-headline: July 6, Arab press: The lightening coup which Wednesday, July 3, overthrew President Mohamed Morsi put in reverse gear for the first time the Obama administration’s policy of sponsoring the Muslim Brotherhood movement as a moderate force for Arab rule and partner in its Middle East policies)


Washington’s push against Egyptian, Israeli go-it-alone military steps. US marines deployed off Suez, Sinai (Sub-headline: July 1,The Obama administration is exhibiting strong disapproval of Israel’s independent military action against Syria and of the Egyptian army’s steps against the Muslim Brotherhood.)


Egypt’s Gen. El-Sisi tells visiting US official: Don’t bully Cairo by threats to suspend military aid (Sub-headline: July 15, Defense minister Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi Monday… implied bilateral military ties might suffer if the US suspended military aid to Egypt) 


Israel backing away from Bank of China terror financing case (Sub-headline: July 17, Netanyahu decision to keep Israeli official from testifying in case reportedly roiling relations with Obama administration)

And even when the superpower does assert: power:

Obama uses EU to confront Israel with tough interlinked choices: borders or a nuclear-armed Iran (Sub-headline: Instead of lining up with what is seen in the region as an ineffectual Washington, Israel struck out on its own to play ball with regional forces on the move, the Arab rulers of the Gulf and the Egyptian army.)


Israel scratching its head after US officials (again) leak Syria strike (Sub-headline: why twice in the past two months American media ran reports – based on tips from US officials – that could get Israel caught up in a military conflict with Syria.)

Passive-aggressive manipulation and threat by innuendo: What kind of “superpower” is that?

But that’s assuming the chaos that today reigns throughout the Middle East is just the detritus of policy confusion. I, for one, have long suggested the US is working from a policy script, a policy of withdrawal; that the appearance of “an ineffectual Washington” results from chance, another instance of, “well, who could’a predicted?” Egypt would throw out Obama’s “democratic” choice to replace the tyranny of Mubarak; who but the region could have produced a civil war in Syria just as the US was leaving?

If the US is content to abandon its traditional allies for its dogmatic foreign policy objective of a Gospel of Democracy, a fig leaf hardly covering its fig, then the region, hobnobbed by the “superpower” cover story and dealing with the avoided problems even created by US mismanagement is a great leap forward! Israel and Egypt jointly fighting Islamist terrorism; the Saudis and Gulf Emirates arming the rebels fighting Iran in Syria. And, just possibly, an understanding between the Sunni Arabs and Israel on an effect response, eleven years after the fact, to finally eliminate that other American-created threat to stability, the Iranian bomb.

And then there is Secretary Kerry on a “goodwill” if extremely naïve mission to bring peace to Israel, and statehood to the Palestinians. Smokescreen? Can it really be for real? Peace at a time when Israel is as threatened as since 1967; the Palestinians as determined as ever to arrive at a Hudna, a long-term truce until the day they can overrun Israel and create a state from the Jordan to the Sea.

And waiting patiently in the background, exit America, enter Russia.

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.