Politics & Policy

Mideast, Getting Colder

A tale of two damaging American presidents.

Winter is “fast approaching” in the Arab world, Ruthie Blum warns.

One U.S. president “enabled the rise of and spread of a pernicious form of radicalism that threatens the globe to this day.” That president was Jimmy Carter, who “opened the door to this radicalism in Iran three decades ago.” But it is our current president, she contends, whose “policies are laying out the welcome mat for it to flourish in the rest of the Middle East today.” Blum talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about her new book  To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the “Arab Spring” — and about the Mideast’s past, present, and future.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Was the presidential election in the United States a disappointment for Israel?

RUTHIE BLUM: It was certainly a disappointment for all those in Israel — including, no doubt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who understand how bad President Barack Obama has been for the West as a whole. Since Israel is on the front lines of the global war against the West, all Jews and Israelis should have been disappointed by the results of the American election. But this is not the case. In fact, most American Jews supported Obama, as did the Israeli Left. Nor is “disappointment” the issue here. I am convinced that the U.S. presidential-election results are bad for Israel and for America.

LOPEZ: We do seem to be standing by Israel for the moment?

BLUM: It is true that the Obama administration did not throw Israel under the proverbial bus during the recent Gaza operation. It was, indeed, a pleasant surprise. Less surprising is its having elevated Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi to ill-deserved international respectability. Even worse, by brokering a cease-fire between Israel and a terrorist organization, the United States placed the two sides of the imbalanced conflict on a par. So I don’t really see America as standing by Israel at the moment any more than I see it standing by itself.

LOPEZ: What was the recent flare-up in Gaza about? Will the cease-fire hold?

BLUM: The flare-up was the result of Israel’s finally having had enough of the Iran-backed missile fire from Gaza, and Israel’s targeted assassination of one key terror master. It is highly unlikely that the cease-fire will hold, since Hamas has no compunction about making deals and breaking them. Furthermore, Hamas’s aims are neither local nor based on territorial issues with Israel. No temporary truce for media or State Department consumption will put a dent in the terrorists’ ultimate goal of global jihad.

LOPEZ: You saw Morsi’s power grab coming, didn’t you?

BLUM: As much as I love being right, in this case, it doesn’t make me happy, since I consider it dangerous. Morsi is a Muslim Brotherhood honcho. His election following the ouster of Hosni Mubarak was the manifestation of what the so-called Arab Spring is all about — the radical Islamization of the entire Middle East. As for Morsi’s additional power grab following the cease-fire: Well, what can you expect? The United States of America gave him a major stamp of approval, in addition to a commitment to provide him with massive amounts of money. That his response to this was to clamp down on the Egyptian judiciary, to make it impossible for the legal system to overrule his decisions, makes perfect sense in the radical-Muslim mind-frame.

LOPEZ: What does Egypt’s future look like?

BLUM: There is speculation that the renewal of demonstrations in Tahrir Square — this time against Morsi for stealing even more power than he already had — will bring about his ouster. I highly doubt it. Nor are the crowds protesting his latest moves a gathering of democracy-seekers. In fact, while all these ostensible Facebook users were out in the streets of Cairo this week, they managed to get in a lot of molestation of women — something that happens every time there is a rally in Egypt. Freedom is not what they’re after; it is, rather, a continual struggle over which group gets to become the robbers of the freedoms of other groups.


LOPEZ: Where did “leading from behind” come from, and could it ever work?

BLUM: This is something that Obama bragged about, when he let NATO do the work of helping the rebels in Libya to topple Moammar Qaddafi. It is appalling that the leader of the Free World should boast about taking a backseat to other nations. But then, this is the president who told the world that America is not special and that each country considers itself special in its own way. In any case, we have already seen the abysmal consequences of such an attitude. Qaddafi was sodomized to death by mobs who relied on NATO. And now the U.S. administration is involved in a major cover-up surrounding the slaughter of the American ambassador and others in Benghazi. LOPEZ: Would the world be better off with Qaddafi still around?

BLUM: At least Qaddafi had been put in his place by a former U.S. president — George W. Bush — to the point where he had relinquished his nuclear-weapons program. When he saw what America did to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, he figured he’d better not push the United States too far. In addition, when you take into account that the Arab League was on the side of NATO in fighting Qaddafi, you can understand that you’re not talking about good guys versus bad guys.

LOPEZ: Who suffers the most in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”?

BLUM: The Iranian people who tried to topple the mullah-led Ahmadinejad regime. They are the biggest losers here. They watched helplessly as Obama abandoned them in June 2009, when they were being gunned down in the streets by the Islamists who had taken over in 1979 — with the help of Jimmy Carter. They then witnessed the U.S. president supporting protest movements in Arab countries that were clearly about to fall into Islamist hands. The other key groups suffering are Christians throughout the Middle East.

LOPEZ: Should the global Christian community, such as it is, care more about what’s happening to Christians post-“Spring”?

BLUM: I assume that the global Christian community is greatly concerned about what is happening to their brethren in Muslim countries. The problem lies with those Christians who blame Israel for the plight of Christians rather than recognizing the true culprits.

LOPEZ: Is the second Obama administration going to be the second Carter administration that the world never saw?

BLUM: It is even worse than that. Unlike Iran during the Carter years, Iran today is about to possess nuclear weapons. And unlike the Soviet Union — with which Carter was trying to negotiate over its weapons — Iran is run by ayatollahs who, as Professor Bernard Lewis argues, are not deterred by death but rather are buoyed by it. As for domestic damage that Carter could have wreaked in a second term, Obama has an even bigger head start. What he is doing to health care will change the face of the American economy beyond recognition.

LOPEZ: How does the “Arab Spring” pose “a serious threat to the very ideals that the United States and Europe insist are at its root”? Do you have a prophecy that assures you of this?

BLUM: All anyone has to do is pay attention to the writings, teachings, preaching, and stated goals of political Islam. I have always believed that one should respect the ideology of one’s enemies. They say what they mean, and they mean what they say. Then they act on it. I don’t need a prophecy to assure me of this. I live in Israel.

LOPEZ: Your next line is no casual one: “And basing foreign policy on such fantasies is serving to hasten the spread of the most pernicious form of extremism since the Third Reich — only this time it is equipping itself with long-range nuclear missiles.” Isn’t that a bit much to predict?

BLUM: As was the case with Hitler and Stalin, the Iranian regime has global aims and an ideology that goes beyond borders. Enabling the spread of ideas that run counter to the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is the basis for democracy, is suicidal. Do we have to reach the point at which millions of people die before waking up to the reality that there is an evil force that has to be defeated?

LOPEZ: But didn’t we all say “Never again”?

BLUM: Yes we did, and we meant it. The trouble is that not everyone considers the current situation in the world comparable to the pre–World War II period. When the phrase “never again” was coined, it was not accompanied by an instruction manual for detecting when danger is nigh.

LOPEZ: What is Obama’s “dim view of American greatness,” and is there any indication or hope that he’ll change?

BLUM: Obama has made it clear from the get-go that he believes America is not superior to any other country. Meanwhile, he has made it his mission to help Muslims “feel good about” themselves and their achievements, according to his NASA administrator. I see no indication that this will change. But if it does, I will be the first to eat my hat — as I was when Mitt Romney lost the election.

LOPEZ: The “point of no return has passed where Iranian weapons are concerned”? Where does that leave a realistic U.S.?

BLUM: If the United States does not bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, Israel will have to do it. A free world is something that has to be fought for when it is under attack. It’s pure and simple. If, as some military experts claim, this is not a viable option, then the West will lose, and I don’t even want to contemplate what will happen to Israel.

LOPEZ: What’s your most optimistic thought about the near future for the Mideast?

BLUM: That God will intervene and open our eyes to the difference between good and evil, and cause us to stop confusing the two.

LOPEZ: What’s your greatest worry about the near future?

BLUM: That there will be a nuclear holocaust. But I’d prefer to look on the bright side . . . 

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


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