Obama’s spine, Kerry’s obsession

US Middle East policy under President Barack Obama can best be characterized as political theater for the Bush-bashing far left-wing of his own party. Take Obama’s Iraq War retreat, for example. The Iraqi election of 2010 was the finest example of Arab political democracy in the whole history of the Arabs. If anything, it strongly reinforced the vision that President Bush had originally laid forth: A democratic Iraq as a stepping stone toward a democratic Arab world. Of course, it took seven long years and much American blood and treasure to get there, but by 2010 the Iraq War had achieved a modicum of success.

The political party with the least sectarian agenda, Iraqiya List, took the most seats in parliament (91) and should have been allowed first crack at forming a coalition. But Obama never took command of the war that he had inherited yet never supported. Instead of showing a firm commitment to a political process which was working, the president hesitated.

Instead of supporting Ayad Allawi and his quest for a non-sectarian Iraq, Obama would have had to admit that President Bush’s democratic agenda for the Middle East was successfully on track. The far left-wing of the Democratic Party would never accept the truth about Iraq: that Ayad Allawi was the finest choice and the most principled of all Iraqi politicians. Iraq under Allawi would have been fair and just. Sectarianism and extremism would have receded, and Iraq could have begun its all-important regional role as a buffer state between Iran and the Sunni majority to the east and south.

However, to placate the far left-wing of his party, Obama left the door wide open for Iran. It was Tehran and not Washington that held sway in the corridors of power in Baghdad. Iran pushed the Iraqi political process forward by insisting that PM al-Maliki’s State of Law Party (89 seats) be first to attempt a coalition. In fact, after ten long months of negotiations (Allawi was never given a chance to cobble together a majority) Iran finally convinced the Sadirist faction to join al-Maliki in what has now become (by 2014) a nearly failed state on the verge of civil war.

But without Iraq as a democratic success toward which the US could point, the so-called Arab spring caught the administration flat-footed. Neither Assad in Syria nor the Saudi royal family had welcomed the truly democratic nature of the Syrian rebellion, which had begun in March of 2011. Obama’s reaction was tepid. As the murderous Assad regime began to mow down non-violent protesters all across Syria, the US was engaged in the final stages of the withdrawal process from Iraq. This was a tricky time for Obama. With presidential elections a little over a year away, the “peace president” was not about to engage strongly in any policy which might alienate the far left-wing of his party, certainly not in the Middle East. This was most unfortunate. For the democratic forces in Syria (like Iraq) were promising. In fact, the entire world marveled as the protests against the Syrian tyranny persisted in the face of some of the most extreme brutality that a non-violent movement had ever seen.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the negotiations for the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) between the US and the al-Maliki government was being orchestrated by Iran. Tehran had seen in Obama a US president without the political courage to confront the far-left isolationists within his own party. Iran was firmly opposed to the SOFA. The last thing that Tehran wanted was a residual force of ten thousand or so US troops to cement the fledgling democracy in Iraq. Also, continued US air power in Iraq would have meant that Assad’s forces in Syria might not have been so easily reinforced by Iranian air cargo. Tehran’s design for the region was hegemonic. With the Americans gone, even with the rebellion in Syria, the Shiite crescent across the Levant remained a serious possibility. The fundamental goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran is the annihilation of Israel and the defeat of the conservative Arab regimes which support the US. The complete pull-out of forces in Iraq by the Obama administration was a move that played directly into the hands of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

By US election night in November of 2012, four very important things had happened: The Syrian rebellion had morphed into a regional-sectarian proxy war, Iraq’s hopeful democratic moment had been crushed by Iran’s manipulation of the al-Maliki government, the US had declared its intention to alter its Middle East policy with a pivot to Asia, and the “peace president” (Barack Obama) had won re-election. Enter John Kerry. The new Secretary of State was by far much more bewildering than his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. At least Hillary had the good sense to advocate for some kind of US material support for the democratic opposition in Syria. John Kerry, on the other hand, had bigger fish to fry than a region careening out of control, or real and tangible support for Arab democracy in Syria or Iraq. Kerry’s idea was to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Unbelievably and simultaneously, the secretary also hoped to create a rapprochement with Iran, the self-declared arch enemy of the Jewish state.

Come again? You heard me right. The Secretary had analyzed the Arab Sunni-Shiite divide and had come to the conclusion that if only the Jewish state would return to the 1967 lines, all problems could be solved. This delusion believes that once Israel retreats, Iran will magically change policy and all will be well with the Middle East. After all, this is but a variation on what has been the far-left mantra since the days of the Carter Administration. If only Israel would stop its unholy occupation of the West Bank, the Islamic holy war against the Jewish state would stop. Repeat ad nauseum.

Kerry would never admit that it was Barack Obama, his boss, who had lost the War in Iraq. For the far-left, it was their arch villain, George W. Bush, who lost the war. According to the peace purists of the Democratic Party, Bush had done everything wrong. Forget the fact that the surge in Iraq had worked politically. Forget the fact that the Iraqi election of 2010 was a success. Forget the fact that Barack Obama chose not to support the Iraqiya List or insist on a SOFA. Forget the fact that from the very inception of the Obama Administration, Iran understood that all options weren’t really on the table. Forget the fact that in the Middle East, “spine reading” is the number-one spectator sport. And over the years, Iran had taken close measure of the Obama spine.

But the same faulty logic that guided Obama’s Iraq policy was employed for US-Israeli relations. Bush’s peace effort was certainly no exception. The far-left propaganda machine churned out the misinformation. It said that the two-state solution could work, if only it was taken out of the incompetent hands of the pro-Israel, conservative Republican Party. Never mind that it was the Bush Administration who had helped to persuade Israeli PM Ariel Sharon (hated by the left) to declare his support for a Palestinian state. Never mind that it was on Bush’s watch that serious negotiations between Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli PM Olmert proved that the gulf between the two sides was far too wide and unbridgeable. Never mind that the Sunni Arabs were now more concerned about the dire effects of an Obama Middle East regional policy and its tilt toward Iran. Never mind that for the first time in history, Arab Sunnis see in Israel an important element in the regional balance of power.

No, Secretary of State Kerry has his agenda and his far-left obsession: peace at all costs. Red lines are drawn. Then they are blurred. And finally, they are allowed to be crossed entirely. Take, for example, the Iranian claim that they have the “right to enrich” under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). Yet six UN Security Council resolutions say the exact opposite. These resolutions are the very basis for what had been a sanctions policy that Obama himself had worked very hard to put in place. In fact, the sanctions policy has been a great Obama achievement. But now, because of the far-left obsession, both the prohibition on enrichment and the sanctions policy have been put at serious risk. The new interim nuclear deal with Iran would appear to have a secret 30-page addendum, and the administration has refused to disclose its contents.

Rumor has it that the UN red lines on zero enrichment have been crossed. Not to worry, a final nuclear deal with Iran can still be accomplished. So what if Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state? Won’t Israel and the Palestinians be at peace? And don’t President Obama and his allies on the far-left of the Democratic Party have the Jewish state’s back? Meanwhile, the sanctions regime is unraveling before our very eyes. The new Russian barter deal for Iranian oil will no doubt inspire copycat versions. A French business delegation is also scheduled to visit Tehran next month. Oil-for-gold schemes are also in the works, now that the restrictions on precious metal trading have been lifted.

Enough is enough! Moshe Yaalon is right. When both Arabs and Jews can’t for the life of them figure out US policy, it’s time for a change. Let the 2016 elections start today. Let’s hear from Hillary and Chris or any other potential candidate smart enough to call the administration out on its failed policy in the Middle East. Let the far-left be warned: Peace at all costs is not a foreign policy.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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