By Guest Writer Nehad Ismail.
In 2009, President Obama’s eloquent and idealistic speech to the Arab world at Cairo University elevated expectations for quick
action with clear and principled American leadership. Almost seven years later, to the disappointment of many, the Obama administrations’ Middle East strategy has proven to be short-sighted, ambiguous, incoherent and contradictory.
In the Middle East and even in Europe Obama is perceived as a weak and dithering president. Writing in the Daily Telegraph recently Charles Krauthammer listed some of the most flagrant failures. “In October, Iran test-fires a nuclear capable ballistic missile in violation of Security Council resolutions. Obama does nothing.”
Then on Dec. 30, the White House announces a few sanctions. Is there any red line left? Asks Krauthammer.
The administration insisted that there would be no nuclear deal unless Iran accounted for its past nuclear activities. (It didn’t.) It said Iran must allow inspection of its
Parchin nuclear testing facility. (It was allowed self-inspection and declared itself clean.)
Three weeks ago, the Revolutionary Guards conducted live-fire exercises near the Strait of Hormuz. It gave nearby U.S. vessels exactly 23 seconds of warning. One rocket was launched 1,500 yards from the USS Harry S. Truman. Obama’s response? None.
Failure in Iraq:
In his 2011 speech at Fort Bragg Obama said the US would leave behind “a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Events since the Iraqi withdrawal proved Obama wrong. Iraq has witnessed sectarian violence, suicide-bombs and mass murder. Ex-Prime Minister Maliki was a disaster in the making, a corrupt bully who implemented divisive policies at the behest of Iran, whose sectarianism backfired dramatically in 2014 when the Iraqi military disintegrated as ISIS attacked Mosul. Obama failed to stand up to Maliki. Iran removed him and replaced him with Haider al-Abadi. Obama failed.
Obama’s weakness was starkly reflected in his refusal to take a tough stance against the Assad regime which is Iran’s ally and client. According to Washington sources Obama was afraid action against the Syrian regime would alienate Iran and derail the nuclear talks.
Obama was determined to let Syria’s brutal dictator off the hook. Assad has been murdering, barrel-bombing, gassing and maiming the Syrian people since the eruptions of peaceful protests in 2011. Whilst Obama turns a blind eye, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias are providing military support to the Syrian regime.
Back in August 2011, the Washington Post reported that President Obama for the first time explicitly called on President Assad to step down, a symbolically significant step intended to ratchet up pressure. He said “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” Obama has failed to follow up his threats.
Four years ago nobody had heard of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. Before August 2013 few had heard of ISIS. This is not the fault of the Syrian people or the Free Syrian Army, but primarily the fault of the divided and ineffective UN Security Council, the indifference of the international community, and a weak, dithering American president.
Assad seems to be winning and the White House’s claims of success on the chemical weapons front are contradicted by Secretary Kerry’s acknowledgment, in mid-October 2015, that Assad’s government recently used chlorine gas several times.
The Iran nuclear agreement, finally reached in July last year between and Iran and the great powers, was hailed by the administration as a landmark deal making the world a safer place. The deal is supposed to allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iran’s military sites. The IAEA suspected that a decade ago Iran may have carried out explosives tests at Parchin that could be relevant to the development of nuclear weapons capability.
Many analysts believe Iran was the winner. The US negotiating team had been the weakest link giving away more and more concessions whilst the Iranian team remained firm. The Iranians were aware that both President Obama and John Kerry were desperate to sign. In June 2015 news leaked that Obama had written letters to Iranian President Rouhani virtually begging him to sign a deal.
The Iranian leaders celebrated by announcing that the world super powers had acknowledged Iran’s right to become a nuclear power. Obama’s pro-Iran advisors told him that such rhetoric was for local consumption.
Iran got virtually everything that it asked for in return for ostensibly slowing down or deferring portions of its nuclear weapons program for the next decade.
It made no commitment to end its support or use of non-state proxy actors to destabilize its neighbours, or to curb attempts to project power into its periphery. Moreover, the idea that the deal would set the stage for a general rapprochement with the United States was given short shrift when Tehran, in cooperation with Russia, increased its support of the Assad regime and committed additional troops to fight on behalf of the Syrian government.
In the meantime, America’s allies in the Gulf have interpreted U.S acquiescence to a nuclear armed Iran as a de facto acceptance of growing Iranian hegemony in the Middle East in general and the Gulf in particular.
Obama’s state of the Union speech this week sounded hollow. Lots of words and no substance. He offered nothing new.