Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2012/ 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5773
Obama's foreign policy undercut U.S. credibility in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and across the Middle East
By Mort Zuckerman
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Mitt Romney took a low-key approach during the last presidential debate on foreign policy. It baffled that he didn't continue to press on the hot button issue of the murder of our ambassador in Libya. The ambassador had asked for extra security and didn't get it, so he and three other Americans died in a well-planned terrorist assault, not by the random violence of a mob supposedly offended by a stupid video.
President Obama was judged to have won the debate. But grave consequences for the long term have been seeded by the administration's Middle East policies, especially our relationships with Egypt and Iraq.
Let's return to the popular uprising that began in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in January 2011 with crowds protesting the Hosni Mubarak regime. The administration sent a former ambassador to Egypt bearing an impeccable reputation and credibility with President Mubarak—Frank Wisner. He was given specific written instructions of a defined settlement to work out with Mubarak. In outline, Mubarak would agree not to run for office in September so as to facilitate an orderly peaceful transition to a new regime.
Ambassador Wisner swiftly accomplished his mission. But back home, in a press conference, Obama publicly called on Mubarak, our longtime ally, to resign, and to resign "now." The following day, his press secretary was asked what the president meant by "now." He responded that "now" meant "yesterday." But "yesterday" was completely inconsistent with the settlement Wisner had faithfully agreed upon with Mubarak. So carelessly did we abandon our ally.
Wisner left Egypt in dismay. His own president had cut the ground out from under him, and we lost a settlement that would have been far more constructive for American interests than what was to transpire.
The ambassador was not alone in his bewilderment. The Arab world shared it. In an encounter I had with a leading Saudi in Europe at the time, he expressed his shock: "Mubarak was your longest and most loyal ally in the Middle East. He worked with you on every counterterrorism measure over the last 30 years; he kept the Suez Canal open; he supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Camp David peace agreement arranged by his predecessor, Anwar Sadat; and he continued to support efforts to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian compromise, and to that end he even helped blockade Hamas in Gaza. Yet in the first week that Mubarak was in trouble, you backstab him." What all the regional leaders in the Middle East now believe, he says, is that "the minute I get into trouble the same will happen to me."
That word—backstab—has haunted me ever since. The Saudi was saying we'd breached the code of international relations long adhered to in maintaining peace in the volatile Middle East. That code is simple: You support your friends, especially long-term allies such as Mubarak, and you don't abandon them when they are in trouble, and especially through the public words of a press secretary. The code seems to have been completely beyond the understanding of the Obama administration, and there will be consequences. The Saudi official closed his comments as follows: "Do you think we are ever going to rely on the United States again?"
Shortly thereafter, the administration had to address a different issue of critical importance to another longtime ally, Saudi Arabia. There had been an uprising of Shiites in a neighboring island of Bahrain, a few miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The protests were nourished by Iran, which was anathema to the Sunni regime in Saudi Arabia. They considered it a threat to their national security so they had sent a military mission. While this was going on, Obama intervened to tell Saudi King Abdullah, in a private conversation, that the Saudis should exercise restraint. The result was a deep fissure in the long-standing U.S.-Saudi relationship, and instigated a loss of cooperation from yet another key U.S. ally in the region.
We compounded the problem by our attitude to the political transformation in Egypt following Mubarak's ouster. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, publicly called for a violent "jihad" (that means "resistance") against the United States. He was resisted only casually by the United States. As Andrew McCarthy pointed out in the National Review, "on Planet Obama, the [Muslim] Brothers are oxymoronic 'moderate Islamists': members of a 'largely secular' organization that seeks 'change' through 'dialogue' and the 'political process,' not violence." This is the same Muslim Brotherhood that issued fatwas supporting terrorist strikes against American troops; the same Brotherhood that incited suicide bombing in Israel; the Brotherhood whose leader, in October 2010, exhorted Muslims to "remember Allah's commandment to wage jihad for His sake…so that Allah's word will reign supreme and the infidel's word will be inferior." He exhorted his followers to jihad as "the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny." Could there be any peaceful interpretation of these words from a deeply hostile enemy?
Naively, the administration was determined to seek a relationship with this same Brotherhood. One of Obama's officials actually put forward the notion that the administration would be "satisfied" with a Muslim Brotherhood victory if the elections were free and clear, in the face of an Islamist policy of intimidating, even brutalizing, Egypt's 8 million Coptic Christians.
The Brotherhood leader, Khairat el-Shater, made it absolutely clear in Arabic that his organization's fundamental principles do not change, only the tactics, and that their objective is an Islamic hegemony—that is, a caliphate ruled according to Sharia. When he was forced out of the presidential election by the Egyptian military, he was succeeded by his deputy, Mohamed Morsi (now Egypt's president), who repeated the objective of a Sharia-compliant state. As he put it: "The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path, and death in the name of Allah is our goal." He also put forth his view that the Camp David accords with Israel should be subject to approval by popular vote, which is tantamount to rejection.
Their role model was Turkey, where Recep Erdogan, the Islamist prime minister, said, "Democracy is just the train we board to reach our destination." The Islamists in Egypt won their election by an overwhelming majority, which earned its description as a democratic election of a totalitarian government. Morsi quickly dropped any pretense of moderation. He took control of the "constituent assembly," the body charged with writing a new constitution, as well as the civilian government. He dismantled the power of the armed forces by purging 70 generals in the Egyptian army, neutralizing them as potential opposition to Islamist rule. Obama has stated that Egypt is neither ally nor enemy, yet we are still proposing to provide direct aid in the hundreds of millions of dollars on top of supporting billions of dollars in international loans to Egypt, all with minimum conditions.
Iraq represents another failure. Obama announced the end of America's war in Iraq in December 2011 with the words, "we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people," and called the withdrawal of the military a "moment of success." No longer. The government does not represent the people, and it is not sovereign, stable, or self-reliant. Iraq is now working against the United States, including helping Iran evade economic sanctions and backing Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Iraq sides with Iran, not Washington, and Obama's policies have failed in our national security goals there.
In addition to ignoring international economic sanctions, Iraq also acts as a way station for prohibited commerce with Iran. It opposes the United States, the United Nations, and almost all of its Arab neighbors who'd like to see Assad depart and the killing stop. It allows Iran to cross its air and ground space to send military supplies, advisers, and trainers to help Assad. For good measure, Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has also expressed support for Iranian-backed Shiite revolutionaries in Bahrain.
The negative results of our sacrifices for Iraq follow the administration's failure to negotiate a long-term military relationship. Iranian influence is growing within Iraq and threatening American interests even more, and al Qaeda has now established a foothold in Iraq. In fact, if Iraq is bound to Tehran, it is now almost impossible to restrain Iran.
In effect, we have not only lost the support of Egypt and Iraq, but we have also lost credibility throughout the Middle East, dramatically diminishing our position as the great Western power in the region. This strategic decline has received too little attention in America and has been wholly absent from the presidential debate.
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Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report.
Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report.
© 2012, Mortimer Zuckerman