The Middle East and the Obama factor Posted by: McQ
on Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Barry Rubin of the Jerusalem Postfairly neatly distills the real concerns about a possible Obama presidency - and what it will mean in the foreign policy arena - by concentrating in his area of expertise, the Middle East:
So let's sort it out. The first issue must be whom you trust to deal with the Middle East. The question is definitely not Israel, or even Arab-Israeli issues, in isolation. The next American president will face a lot of other problems, too, including, at a minimum: Afghanistan, attempts to take over states, Egypt's post-Mubarak president, Hamas, Hizbullah and Lebanon, Iranian expansionism and nuclear threat, Iraq, oil supply and prices, radical Islamist movements, the stability of relatively moderate Arab regimes, Syria and terrorism.
The overriding question is a struggle between a well-organized radical alliance (HISH: Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran, in Iraq both insurgents and radical Shi'ites, and Syria) and a relatively moderate though completely uncoordinated set of states. In addition, there are radical Islamist forces that don't work with the HISH bloc but seek revolution in their own countries. Failure to recognize that reality is extraordinarily dangerous.
Facing this very tough situation, it is hard to believe that Barack Obama has the experience, understanding or world view to manage the virtually continuous crisis the region faces. The critical point here is not whether he says the "right" things, but whether he understands things the right way.
Speaking as an analyst, my main concern is not whether or not Obama is elected, but that if he becomes president he will do the best possible job. The best-case conclusion - a combination of wishful thinking and sober assessment - is that sooner or later he will reach what I will call the default position for US Middle East policy.
In other words, he might start out convinced that he can persuade the Iranian and Syrian governments, along with other enemies of the United States, to play nice. Along the way, one hopes, he will learn that this does not work. The main problem is that they don't just object to US policies (or values even, at least if those stay confined to America) but that they rightly see the US as a barrier standing between them and a Middle East filled with Islamist states under their hegemony.
All presidents need to learn in office. In relative terms, though, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are pretty much ready now. Obama is going to need two or three years. So the good news could be that Obama will eventually understand what needs to be done; and the bad news is what happens during his learning period.
Given current trends, it is quite possible that by the time he gains the needed comprehension, Iran will have nuclear weapons, Lebanon and Iraq will be satellites of Teheran, and Hamas will run the West Bank. In addition, conceiving of Obama as naive and appeasement-oriented - not my invention but an inevitable perception in the region - will embolden extremists and make relative moderates rush to cut a deal with what they will see as the winning side.
The major areas of focus for any president is foreign affairs and national security. You can talk about domestic issues and the economy until the cows come home, but that area of greatest impact and importance to any president are those two. Rubin very neatly points to the major concerns anyone should have with a president who is as woefully inexperienced in those areas as Barack Obama. There is indeed a very steep learning curve for the position, however, in the time it takes to learn the lessons which inevitably lead to the default US position (one Obama is sure he can change, btw, so he will obviously resist the trajectory) the damage done in the region could be irreparable and an increased danger to the national security interests of the US.
We're not choosing a community organizer here. We're giving the reigns to the most powerful political office in the world to someone who is going to be tested and tested mightily and often by other world leaders and factions. And based on his answers and ideas to date, I suggest we cannot afford the type of OJT a Barack Obama will need to bring him up to speed in those areas. Not if we're interested in actually enhancing our national security and improving our foreign policy instead of seeing both reduced to a reactive state driven by our avowed enemies.
One key failure we have typically demonstrated is a failure to stick by our commitments. Pulling the rug out from under the Shah, South Vietnam, Samoza, Batista, etc. Typically this has been done by a politician who wants to make things nice in some third world country, and ends up making things worse and reducing American influence in the region. Further, it also tells our friends that they can’t rely upon us long term, and it tell our enemies we don’t have the stones to fight them to the finish.
" In relative terms, though, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are pretty much ready now. Obama is going to need two or three years"
The first year or so of the Willie Clinton adminstration was an example. The incompetence in even minor administrative matters was stunning. I actually enjoyed it, partially at least, because it was just so dadgummed funny. Just one hilarious foulup after another from the world’s best politician and his team of superstar political stooges. Monty Python would have been funnier, but then John Cleese is G*d.
In a footnote to a motion last week seeking to exclude some government evidence against Rezko, his defense lawyers disclosed for first time that prosecutors have alleged that Rezko paid a $1.5 million bribe to Iraq’s former electricity minister to obtain a contract in that country. The alleged bribe was paid from an escrow account held by Bryan Cave, prosecutors said.
So Barack "let’s not got to war with Iraq" Obama’s real-estate buddy had ties to folks in Saddam Hussein’s government.