8 years of foreign policy failure by an American president is coming to an end. Those years have seen red lines crossed without penalty, the abandonment of responsibility, and even the paying of a ransom.
In August of this year Mr Obama denied the latter charge saying “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future.”
This was in response to a Wall St Journal story which said that in earlier in the year $400 million in cash had been put on pallets and flown to Iran as part of a deal to get 4 American prisoners released. The Administration admitted that the cash delivery had happened, but said it was not ransom money. Few believe this. What an ignoble end to an ignoble reign.
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. Seven years later, 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 last year Charles Krauthammer listed some of the most flagrant failures. “In October 2015, Iran test-fired a nuclear capable ballistic missile in violation of Security Council resolutions. Obama did nothing.”
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.)
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. Even the war against ISIS in Mosul is not going well. Ex-Prime Minister Maliki was a disaster, 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.
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.
Four years ago the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front came to prominence, three years ago ISIS began to make headlines. Obama did little. The President’s Secretary of State John Kerry compared Assad with Hitler. Obama’s inaction encouraged Iran and Russia to step in to prop up Assad. When Assad imposed his “surrender or starve” sieges, Obama did nothing. When Russia intervened with its bombers in September 2015 to save Assad and bombed schools, hospital and markets, Obama sat like an impotent spectator at a football match.
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 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.
In the meantime, America’s allies in the Gulf had 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.
Last week Obama was said to show toughness when he apparently told President Vladimir Putin to “cut it out” following allegations that Russia conducted cyber-attacks against the United States. In my book this is a mild telling off.
Over the 8 years President Obama became increasingly irrelevant. Few take him seriously anymore.
Nehad Ismail is Senior Analyst at Wikistrat