A Middle East Policy in Shambles
As President Obama launches another war, he knows no one is going to demagogue him the way Senator Obama did President Bush.


Victor Davis Hanson

Almost every promise, almost every reset proclamation from Barack Obama about the struggles against, and those within, the radical Muslim world has either been withdrawn or proven bankrupt.

On the day the president announced his reelection bid, his administration renounced its loud promises to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a New York civilian court. While blaming Congress for the flipflop, Team Obama conceded that it had no public support for such a sensational courtroom drama — and knew that the trial of the mastermind of 9/11, a few blocks from the site of his mass murdering, might have endangered the president’s reelection.

Consider the rest of the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, all of which Senator Obama demagogued and promised to overturn, or at least curtail, if he was elected president. Yet Obama has now embraced military tribunals, kept Guantanamo open (and will probably put new prisoners in it), left the Patriot Act largely untouched, vastly expanded the Predator targeted-assassination program, continued renditions, declared preventive detention and the suspension of habeas corpus legal and necessary in the case of terrorists, surged in Afghanistan, and kept to the Bush-Petraeus-Maliki agreements on scheduled troop withdrawals from Iraq. President Obama assumes two facts: Such policies are critical in keeping us safe; and they can be embraced without worry over demagogic attacks by the likes of Senator Obama.

Candidate Obama’s campaign opposition to all of the above, except the war in Afghanistan, weakened American credibility at a critical juncture in the war in Iraq, and helped propel him to victory over Hillary Clinton as a more passionate and leftward critic of George Bush. That he has now simply copied Bush’s anti-terrorism agenda, gussied it up with some ridiculous euphemisms, and banned descriptive terms like “war on terror” and “radical Islam” exposes him as hypocritical, naïve, and weak. Hypocritical: If these measures were bad in 2008, why are they good in 2011? Naïve: Did Obama really believe that campaign rhetoric was synonymous with the responsibility of governance? Weak: Why boast about ending Bush’s protocols only to give up on repealing them at the first sign of political pushback?

For most of 2009–2011 the two countries receiving most of Obama’s rhetorical distaste were democratic Israel and democratic Iraq — the region’s only constitutional states. The former is often portrayed as a rogue aggressor at the heart of all unrest among hundreds of millions of Muslims in the Middle East, the latter, a mistake not worth the cost of its founding in American blood and treasure. Yet despite all the Obama administration’s outreach to the region’s autocracies, only Israel and Iraq have largely avoided mass demonstrations calling for transparent and representative government. Arabs are killing each other from Syria to Libya, from Bahrain to Tunisia, without much worry over the ethnic makeup of the Jerusalem suburbs.

Almost immediately upon taking office, Barack Obama made two controversial moves in reaching out to Iran and Syria. He gave serial deadlines to Iran to cease its effort to acquire nuclear weapons (stop it by the U.N. summit in New York, stop it by the G-20 summit, stop it by the preliminary meetings of envoys). All were ignored. Obama turned his back on a million protesters in the streets of Tehran, with bizarre promises not to “meddle,” coupled with vague apologies about American behavior more than a half-century ago. A golden opportunity to help topple a vicious anti-American theocracy was turned into a buffoonish effort to appear multiculturally sensitive.