Obama’s unfortunate Middle East legacy was predicated on six flawed assumptions:
(1) a special relationship with Turkey;
(2) distancing the U.S. from Israel;
(3) empathy for Islamist governments as exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt;
(4) a sort of non-aggression agreement with Iran;
(5) expecting his own multicultural fides to resonate in the region;
(6) pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let us examine what has followed.
Obama’s special relationship with Recep Erdogan proved disastrous from the get-go, as Erdogan immediately began to provoke Israel and promote Islamist revolutionaries. Turkey today not only dislikes the U.S., but also poses an existential problem for the West. It is a NATO member that is antithetical to everything NATO stands for: the protection of human rights and constitutional government against the onslaught of aggressive totalitarian regimes. Turkey is now operating like the old Soviet Union in using murderous proxies to enhance its own stature; for example, it finds ISIS useful in whittling down the Kurds. As a rule of thumb, any enemy of Erdogan’s Turkey — Israel, the Kurds, Greek Cyprus, Greece, Egypt — is likely to be far more friendly to the U.S. and NATO than are other nations in the region. If Turkey were attacked by ISIS, Syria, Iran, or the Kurds, would Belgium or Greece send in its youth under NATO’s Article V?
What did ankle-biting Israel accomplish other than giving Hamas a green light to send rockets into the Jewish State in hopes that we might do something stupid like slow down scheduled arms shipments to Israel or shut down Ben Gurion Airport for a day? Israel has nothing to do with the slaughter in Libya or Syria or Iraq, but it is a constant reminder that the United States is indifferent to its friends while it courts its enemies. As Obama’s new policy against ISIS is shaping up, Iran is emerging as more of an ally in his eyes than is Israel.
Our once-close relationship with Egypt is ruined. All that is left is U.S. foreign aid to Cairo, largely because we have no idea of how not to give a near-starving Egypt assistance. Obama, under the guidance of Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Susan Rice, gyrated from Mubarak to Morsi to el-Sisi, as the U.S. went loudly full circle, from disowning the pro-American kleptocrat to embracing the anti-American theocrat to humiliating the neutral autocrat.
Obama kept quiet when a million Iranian protesters hit the streets in 2009 to show their disgust with theocratic corruption. Apparently the American president thought the pro-American tendencies of the young protesters were proof of their inauthenticity. Or perhaps he saw them as sort of neocon democracy-pushers who would ruin his own chances of using his multicultural gymnastics to partner with Teheran.
Our serial deadlines for stopping uranium enrichment proved empty. Ending the tough sanctions has brought nothing but delight to the ayatollahs. In the view of Iraq and Syria, somehow the U.S. has become a de facto ally of the greatest enemy to peace in the region. Obama did not wish to stay in Iraq and work with the Sunni minority by pressuring the Maliki government. He threatened the Iranian puppet Assad and then backed off, and he ridiculed alike the dangers of the savage ISIS and the potential of the Free Syrian Army. Meanwhile, the U.S. is sort of bombing on and off to save the innocent and thereby helping the Iran–Assad–Hezbollah alliance.
In order to win over the Islamic street, Obama has tried almost everything to remind the Middle East that America is no longer run by a white male conservative from a Texas oil family. His multifaceted efforts have ranged from the fundamental to the ridiculous. The Al Arabiya interview, the Cairo Speech, the apology tour, the loud (but hypocritical) disparagement of the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols, the new euphemisms for jihadist terror, the multicultural trendy pronunciation of Talîban and Pâkistan, and references to his father’s religion and his own middle name resulted in American popularity ratings in many Middle Eastern countries lower than during the Bush administration. In the Middle East, the only thing worse than being unapologetically proud of past U.S. foreign policy is being obsequiously ashamed of it.
There were no Americans dying in Iraq when Barack Obama pulled the remaining troops out in order to win a reelection talking point. Iraq was a functioning state, saved by the successful U.S. surge. That’s why both Obama and Joe Biden praised the post-surge calm. When Obama bragged that he had ended the Iraq War (which was ended in early 2009) and then brought our troops home, he gave the Maliki government a green light to hound its Sunni enemies and reboot civil strife in Iraq, in a way that soon birthed ISIS. The same sort of Saigon 1975 scenario will follow in Kabul early next year, if Obama goes ahead with recalling all U.S. peacekeepers from Afghanistan. In just two flippant decisions, the prophet Barack Obama sowed the wind, and now we are reaping the whirlwind that followed from perceptions of U.S. decline, foreign-policy indifference, and a new void in the Middle East.
At this late date, amid the ruins of the last half-century’s foreign policy from Libya and Egypt to Syria, Iraq, and Iran, the U.S. should hunker down and distance itself from its enemies and grow closer to its few remaining friends. We need to arm the Kurds, and help them to save what is left of Kurdish Syria. We should inform Erdogan that either he joins the fight against ISIS or we will welcome a large and autonomous Kurdistan and would prefer that Turkeyleave NATO, as it should have long ago. We should forget the “peace process” and recognize that Hamas is an existential enemy of America and almost all our friends, and instead encourage an alignment of Egypt, the Kurds, Jordan, Israel, and a few of the saner Gulf States against both ISIS and the new and soon-to-be-nuclear Iranian Axis.
A final note. In this period of fluid jihadism and changing alliances, we should make it extremely difficult for anyone from most Middle Eastern countries (except the few friendly nations mentioned above) to receive a visa to reside in the U.S., a first step in reminding the region that its cheap anti-Americanism has at least a few consequences. And just because ISIS is primordial does not mean that Assad and Iran are not medieval. They are not our friends just because they are enemies of our enemies; they simply remain our enemies squabbling with other enemies.
The present chaos of the Middle East was caused by our withdrawal from Iraq and a widespread sense that the U.S. had forfeited its old responsibilities and interests, and was either on the side of the Arab Spring Islamists or indifferent to those who opposed them. Tragically, while order may soon return, it is likely to be as a sort of Cold War standoff between a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese — and very nuclear – Iranian bloc, and a Sunni Mesopotamian wasteland masquerading as a caliphate, run by beheaders and fueled by petrodollars, with assistance from Turkey and freelancing Wahhabi royals from the Gulf.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.