January 6, 2013

Obama and the Middle East - the first four years

The "fiscal cliff" debate is now behind us ( الحمد لله ) and we are about to begin the second term of the Obama Presidency. Looking at the various crises in the Middle East, it would appear that the President has inherited a mess. Unfortunately, most of it is a mess of his own making - the days of blaming the previous president are over.

Let's take a look at how the Administration has done in the past four years. I have omitted Israel from this article - that deserves a separate accounting. If you are looking for good news, there is little to be had here.

President-Elect Obama began the transition to his Administration with the commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba, to end the war in Iraq and begin the "responsible" end to the war in Afghanistan. So let's start with these three promises.

The detention facility is still open with no foreseeable end to its operation. If you believe the Administration's rhetoric, the mere existence of the facility generates anti-American hatred in the Middle East and is a recruiting tool for Islamist groups.

The President would prefer to transfer the prisoners to federal facilities and try them in federal court. Obama wrote that the "prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation and must be among the options available to us." I doubt most rational people believe that any potential terrorists are deterred by the threat of having a court-appointed lawyer make a circus of the American justice system while he enjoys much better treatment than he would get at Guantanamo.

That said, if the President is correct, he has failed in one of his key promises. I'll score that an F.

The President vowed to end the war. What he really meant was he vowed to end the American commitment to the Iraqis. He quit, he walked away, despite a provision in the status of forces agreement to keep American forces there if the security situation warranted. No analyst (except any who are fans of the Obama kool-aid) was of the opinion that conditions in the country pointed to a stable future without an American troop presence.

Soon after all American forces were withdrawn in 2011, violence exploded and thousands of Iraqis were killed as the various sects and tribes rekindle old animosities. The Shi'a-dominated government of pro-Iranian prime minister Nuri al-Maliki seemed to start take its marching orders from Tehran. The Iraqis began allowing Iranian aircraft to overfly Iraq in an effort to resupply Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad.

Walking away - that gets him an F from me, but probably an A- from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Announcing a withdrawal schedule is a recipe for disaster. You have told the enemy how long they have to wait before they will have the opportunity to operate without the threat of American military might being brought to bear.

Combine that with low-balling your commanders' requests for resources while opening secret talks with the Taliban - this is not leadership worthy of an American president. Mr. Obama is turning Afghanistan into another Iraqi "solution." We're quitting and going home, saying to President Karzai (arguably one of the most corrupt leaders on the planet), "You're on your own, Hamid."

I'll score that a D- for now, but suspect that in the end, it will be an F.

Having failed on all three of his campaign commitments, how did the President do in some of the other trouble spots in the region?

I have been fairly vocal about my thoughts on President Obama's policy on Iran. After four years, the President has been able to secure an Iranian commitment to agree to talk about having talks about its nuclear program. During this four years, the President has made repeated attempts to open a dialogue with people who have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not wish to talk to him.

While spurning his advances, the Iranians have unceasingly carried on its aggressive uranium enrichment program and what many of the world's analysts believe is a nuclear weapons program (again, except those intelligence analysts who favor the Obama kool-aid).

However, you say, we have imposed the strictest sanctions on Iran ever. True, all over the objections of the President. For his inability to recognize Iran's successful efforts to play him for time, he gets an F here as well.

Where do I start? Libya is the birthplace of the Obama "leading from behind" strategy." In all of my years in the military, I never once heard of this strategy. I never heard of it because there is no such thing. There was so much that could have been gained by engaging the Libyan opposition early on, giving us a position from which we might have been able to influence future events in the country. If we had been able to temper the rise of Islamism in the eastern part of the country, the debacle of Benghazi may not have happened. Benghazi and the loss of four talented Americans should haunt this administration for years. D-

The Obama Administration's lackluster support for the Syrian opposition will result in another potential Islamist-dominated state in which we have no influence. There will be change in Syria - do we want to stand by and watch as the Islamists gain the upper hand? Or do we want to engage the opposition leadership and attempt to mitigate the role of the Islamists? I suspect what we are seeing is either more "leadership from behind" or even worse, the head-in-the-sand strategy. D-

I will have to give the President good marks here. As we saw the shift of al-Qa'idah operations out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia and into Yemen, the Obama Administration quickly deployed military and CIA assets to the region and began supporting the Yemeni government and armed forces in their operations against al-Qa'idah. This has included missile strikes from drones and other launch platforms. As I have always said, the way to deal with these committed true believers is to hunt them down and kill them. It appears we are doing just that. I give this performance a solid A.

I was tempted to give the Administration a pass on Egypt. It happened fairly quickly and the outcome was not clear. Most of us are unhappy that the Egyptian electorate - those that voted - elected a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government, but the situation is far from resolved. That said, we need to hold President Mursi's feet to fire - demand protection for minorities, especially the Coptic Christians, better protection for women, and adherence to international treaties and obligations.

Key to our continued support to the Egyptian armed forces should be predicated on the new leadership's behavior. As I said, I was willing to give the President a pass on Egypt - then I learned that President Obama plans to send 20 F-16 fighter jets tot he country, paid for by American taxpayers with no requirements placed on Mursi to act responsibly. It send the wrong message. Here, I have to go with D-.

Overall, I will give the President and his Administration a solid D-.

This isn't Chicago - this is the big leagues. While you might be the master of the leftist elite, in the Middle East you are regarded as weak and ineffective. If you'd like to turn it around, call my office - I'm easy to find.