Middle East Tour d’Horizon
Advice for Obama and Kerry as they plan their next trips abroad.

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One


Clifford D. May

Egypt: “The people of Egypt liberated themselves in eighteen days without a single IED or suicide bomb,” then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry declared two years ago. That liberation turns out to have been short-lived. The government of President Mohamed Morsi now appears intent on establishing a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. The good news is that millions of Egyptians are courageously standing up to him. Morsi must be made to understand that American support is not an entitlement. It’s true that Morsi has not abrogated the peace treaty with Israel, but that’s not because he wants to sing “Kumbaya” with his Jewish neighbors — it’s because he’s smart enough to know that a war against Israel is not winnable, at least not now.

Iran: The 900-pound camel in the Middle Eastern tent. Iran’s nuclear-weapons program is a threat to the region — and beyond — which is why the Arab/Sunni members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait) last week “categorically rejected as a “provocation” Iran’s proposal that its talks with the P5+1 — the U.S. and five other Western countries — due to take place in Kazakhstan on February 26 be watered down with discussions of other issues. Policy recommendations: (1) Continue along the diplomatic track even though it is unlikely to make progress. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said earlier this month, “I’m not a diplomat; I’m a revolutionary.” Believe him and remember that a bad deal is worse than no deal. (2) Toughen sanctions to the point where they cause the collapse of Iran’s currency over the next 18 months. (3) Make the American military threat credible. That’s probably not how it looked as Khamenei watched Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings on his flat-screen TV. (4) Give the Israelis military capabilities they don’t now have. That will allow them to exercise more patience, while making Khamenei more nervous. Taken together, such policies would send this message: One way or another, the world’s most threatening regime will be prevented from acquiring the world’s most lethal weapons. Ordinary Iranians need to understand that they are suffering for no good reason.

Turkey: The only Muslim-majority member of NATO, Turkey has become increasingly Islamist since the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002. And note that Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently declared that Turkey is actually a NATO “owner.” President Obama’s trust in and reliance on Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan merits reconsideration.

What about Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Algeria, and Morocco? Leave those for later trips. I’ll leave those for later columns.

 — Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.