Politics & Policy

Obama’s Ludicrous Middle East Policy

Rebel Yemeni tribesmen on a battlefield east of Sanaa. (STR/AFP/Getty)
President Obama flirts with chaos.

The Middle East is in meltdown.

The Syrian civil war is unrestrained. Tens of thousands have died. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are considering direct intervention. Syria’s mayhem threatens to spill into Lebanon, and in Beirut, Iran and Hezbollah wage terrorism against their political opponents.

Jordan is overwhelmed by a refugee crisis of staggering proportions.

Iraq teeters on the brink of collapse. Its government remains divided and weak. Unsupported by America, the Sunni tribes are wedged between the jackboot of Iran and the horrors of ISIS.

Yemen is a Mad Max battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iranian-supported Houthi rebels (and nationalists, separatists, and al-Qaeda).

‘We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research.’

But while the operative cause of this disaster is authoritarianism and the rot of political Islam, President Obama’s strategy is certainly catalyzing the catastrophe. And now, thanks to his delusion, the chaos is about to get a thermonuclear injection. Just read what one Gulf leader currently visiting Washington told the New York Times: “We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research.”

The Saudis have made themselves clear. As I explained in February, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear capability will lead to reciprocal action by the Saudi government. After all, Saudi Arabia’s long-term financial support for Pakistan’s nuclear program has never been just about Islamic beneficence. Instead, that funding was a down payment for future opportunity.

This speaks to the great failing of President Obama’s Middle East policy: its narrow focus.

President Obama believes rapprochement with Iran is fostered by his tangible support for the more moderate elements of that regime. But he neglects two undeniable facts. First, Iran’s policy toward the United States is shaped not only by deep mistrust but also by outright hatred. To be sure, President Obama has forged trust with more-moderates like Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani. Yet he has neglected the simultaneous need to deter regime hard-liners who hate America and hold great influence over the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Today, those hard-liners are empowered by President Obama’s strategic hesitation.

Don’t believe me? Just look at what they’re doing.

Two weeks ago, Iran seized a Marshall Islands–flagged cargo ship. Last week, an Iranian general said, “We welcome war with the Americans.” This week, the Iranians sent a cargo ship to Yemen to test whether Obama would prevent them from supplying the Houthi rebels. Yesterday, the Iranians fired on a Singapore-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. Navy’s response? To send an unarmed plane that arrived too late to do anything. As CNN noted, “The Pentagon recently stopped escorting commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, and it’s not clear if those operations will resume.”

Of course, Iran’s growing hostility was entirely predictable. It’s why I argued a couple of months back that President Obama needed to send another carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf.

Instead, the Obama administration chose to ignore reality. And it still does so. Take John Kerry’s patently ludicrous defense on Tuesday of the Russian-brokered WMD deal with Assad. In return for avoiding U.S. retaliation for his August 2013 massacre at Ghouta, the deal required Assad to surrender his chemical weapons. He hasn’t. Instead, as the Obama administration is well aware, the agreement has not prevented Assad from continuing to burn the lungs of Syrian children. Still, to Kerry, it’s a victory. As he put it, “We have seen what happens when Russia and the United States work together.”

These failures — so brutal and so unambiguous — are the tombstone of U.S. credibility and of our ability to stall the Middle East’s descent into chaos. Iran knows it, and so do our allies. And this, in essence, is why Saudi Arabia will go nuclear. American guarantees are no longer reliable. While President Obama doubles down on vacuous words, others are choosing nuclear weapons.

— Tom Rogan, based in Washington, D.C., writes regularly for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and holds the Tony Blankley chair at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets.


Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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