Bush had his War on Terror. Obama has a War on Reality. Which will prove more costly?
Obama has doggedly pursued negotiations aimed at restricting Iran’s access to a nuclear weapon even though the mullahs in Tehran have done nothing to prove their peaceful intentions. They have continued and even expanded their proxy wars throughout the Middle East, while also refusing to answer questions about their presumed development of advanced weapons. In the talks, they have conceded almost nothing.
Notwithstanding Iran’s intransigence, the United States, which is orchestrating the talks, has apparently backtracked on demands that Iran shut down most of its centrifuges, ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country, close or permanently disable its once-secret underground facility at Fordo and answer questions raised by the IAEA about its research on possible delivery systems.
Certain of these demands were considered non-negotiable, and critical to refusing Iran a nuclear weapon. Even though Iran’s economy has been crushed by international sanctions, it is clear that Obama is the more desperate party.
The self-imposed deadline of yesterday for a preliminary agreement has come and gone because Tehran has refused to comply with the demands of the P5+1 group. The good news is that the U.S.-led coalition did not settle for a meaningless deal, and the talks will continue. However, the damage already done by these one-sided negotiations is profound.
Relations between Israel and the United States have arguably never been worse. And, more alarming, the Obama White House may have ignited a nuclear arms race in the unstable Middle East – an outcome that decades of diplomacy had sought to prevent.
How on earth did we get here?
Recently, former Defense Intelligence Agency head (under Obama) Lt. General Michael Flynn described the president’s policy in the Middle East as the product of “willful ignorance.” Maybe, but naïveté and extreme over-confidence have been at work as well.
Mr. Obama entered the White House believing that by dint of his background and personality, he alone could resolve centuries of animosities between Muslims, Jews and Christians, bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the bargaining table, discredit the radical terrorists, encourage the spread of democracy and help build vibrant economies in the Middle East.
He believed that the troubles of that war-torn region stemmed mainly from the misguided policies of George W. Bush; as he said to the U.N. General Assembly in 2009, “America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.” He saw himself as the antidote to his predecessor and as the hope of the world. He also said this to the U.N., “I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world.” No false modesty there.
Obama’s approach was two-fold. He would end the War on Terror, unilaterally, and he would extend an olive branch to the Muslim world. His 2009 speech in Cairo was the starting point. President Obama said he sought “a new beginning” and emphasized that the United States was “not at war with Islam.”
He professed sympathy for the Palestinians, and called for a halt to Israeli settlements, hinting at a more balanced role for the U.S. in that conflict going forward. He made numerous promises of aid to Islamic nations, including a vow to “expand exchange programs and increase scholarships,” to “invest in online learning,” and to create “a new corps of business volunteers” to collaborate with Muslim counterparts, for instance.
Unfortunately, the visit to Cairo was also the end point. The Obama White House, typically long on promises and short on delivery, failed to undertake most of the proffered initiatives. Worse, most in the Middle East expected that a softening in our support of Israel would lead to progress in peace talks with the Palestinians. Faced with political realities, Israel followed its own compass; Obama confessed in a later TV interview that achieving peace in the Middle East was “hard.”
This was apparently a surprise.
Over the past several years, Obama’s s (and America’s) standing in the Middle East has swooned. In Egypt, for example, our “favorability” rating in 2009 was 27 percent; by last year that had dropped to 10 percent. (During the Bush years, it was solidly north of 20 percent.) In Jordan, approval has tumbled from 25 percent to 12 percent -- in Lebanon, from 55 percent to 41 percent.
At home, Obama has taken his licks as well, as he has soft-pedaled the Islamist terrorist threat and equated today’s barbaric Jihadists with the Christian Crusaders of past centuries. Consistently declining to identify Muslim radicals as the predominant source of terror in the world is yet another play to keep Obama’s embrace of Islam alive.
Having failed to close the divide between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry focused their energies on achieving a deal that would restrain Iran’s presumed quest for a nuclear bomb. Their determination to achieve a legacy deal with Tehran has been costly. It’s possible we don’t know how costly. Have we ignored Russian aggression in Ukraine to gain Putin’s support for a deal? Is that the cause of Obama’s astonishing recent snub of the new head of NATO? Are we backing off our demand that Assad step down as head of Syria for fear of antagonizing Iran? Have we not responded to pleas for assistance from Jordan or Egypt for the same reason? What will be the ramifications of our fall-out with Israel – international sanctions on our ally?
Not only has Obama’s desperate desire for a legacy deal overtaken our interests elsewhere, it has also arguably meant greater tolerance for Iran’s meddling in Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
The world will be safer if a deal prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It will also be safer if the President of the United States becomes more hardheaded about what might constitute such a deal, and less focused on making history.
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