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The unfolding disaster

The key argument to be made is that President Obama has a distinctive understanding of international conflict and of the Middle East in particular. Further, the argument is that this understanding is fatally flawed. As a result, instead of being the framework for solutions to the conflicts in the region, it is in fact making the problems in the region worse (see The Weakness of Obama’s International Leadership #1 ).

Although some of the gloss has worn-off, there are many who still love President Obama. His words have a wide appeal. But to love him for his words and to ignore that everything he touches in the region is going badly wrong is to be too easily satisfied.

His policy of getting tough with Israel over settlement building and the public battering of Netanyahu by Obama, Biden and Clinton, has predictably hardened the attitude of the leaders of the PA towards returning to negotiations; they can hardly afford to look softer than the US president. At the same time, looking over their shoulders at Hamas, they are pleased at the golden opportunity to look tough. In any case, why do they need negotiations when it looks certain they can get far more by letting the US, UN and Europe impose tougher terms on Israel than they could possibly get themselves?

An imposed solution?

Seen from the Israeli side, it is easier to make concessions when it feels safe and secure in doing so. Currently, with unprecedented pressure on Israel for an imposed ‘solution’, this is not the case. The solution favoured by the US, UN and EU is the establishment of a Palestinian state on the bulk of Judea-Samaria/West Bank.

According to Obama this will satisfy the justifiable national aspirations of the Palestinians and the justifiable security needs of Israel. In reality, however, there are ample grounds for considering that neither Palestinian aspirations nor Israeli security needs will be solved by this arrangement and as a consequence it will be neither peaceful nor sustainable. But the US, UN, EU and other supporters of the 2-State Solution choose to ignore these concerns (see Driving Force of Palestinian Politics #2).

Therefore, it is impossible for Israel to have full confidence in those who seem ready to force it into a very dangerous and unstable position which will be neither peaceful nor sustainable. As long as Israel fears that it will be sacrificed like Czechoslovakia in 1938 this will be resisted.

Wider dismay at US leadership

But lack of confidence in Obama is not confined to Israel. His weakness and indecisiveness over the Iranian drive for nuclear weapon capabilities is generating alarm amongst friends of the US throughout the region. An unusual sign of this anxiety was revealed by a statement made by the Saudi FM. Speaking publically at a joint news conference with Hillary Clinton in Riyadh in February, Prince Saud al-Faisal said:

“Sanctions are a longer-term solution…..But we see the issue in the shorter term maybe because we are closer to the threat…..So we need an immediate resolution rather than a gradual solution.”

To put this differently, without anything more than occasional, mild objections the Arab states have lived for over 30 years with the belief that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. They know that Israel does not possess the will conquer them nor the military and economic means to do so; its military needs are fundamentally defensive. By contrast, the drive of the Iranian leadership for nuclear weapons is seen as a real threat.

The totally inadequate response of their US protector multiplies this fear. Obama has allowed two deadlines over the Iranian nuclear weapons program to pass without any action. His belated expression of a mild rebuke at the crushing of the pro-democracy movement that followed the rigged Iranian presidential elections elicited was shrugged away with contempt. And his repeated overtures to the Iranian leadership have been met with open derision. The Iranian leaders have no fear of Obama. The only success for his overtures so far has been to make the Iranians bolder (see Eliminate Iran’s Nuclear Weapons).

April Fool

Further, the new US policy of ‘engagement’ with Syria and the stated desire of the UK to engage with Hizbollah have effectively told the pro-western forces in Lebanon that they cannot rely on the US and its allies. This leaves them with no alternative but to attempt to appease Iran and Syria and seek the best terms possible with them. As a result, the new Lebanese PM Hariri and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt go cap-in-hand to the Syrian murderers of their fathers.

In a total misreading of the situation, the Obama administration thinks that Syria’s ‘best interests’ are to end its close links to Iran in favour of the development of peace in the region – hence the new US approach to Syria in a bid to woo it away from Iran. Unfortunately, Syria doesn’t see it like this. As a result, within days of the US initiative, a jubilant meeting between Assad, Ahmedinejad and the Hizbollah leader Nasrallah openly ridiculed the attempt.

News today (April 1st) reports that John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has just had a three hour meeting with Assad. Following the meeting, Kerry announced to a press conference that Syria is committed to engaging in peacemaking. In other words, hot on the heels of the snub following the earlier opening of high level relations between the US and Syria, the US leadership retains its misguided notions about Syria. By contrast, Syria makes no attempt to disguise its enthusiasm for its axis with Iran.

What does the US leadership think it is doing?

President Obama’s stated intention is to engage with enemies and make a new start to build better relations. At least, that’s the message he seems to think he’s conveying. The snag is that this is not the message being received. Anyone who pays attention to actions – and inactions – rather than words is picking up an entirely different message. This is that:
The US is prepared to allow Syria to continue to fund and equip Hizbollah (in violation of UNSCR 1701 that it be disarmed) which wants to overthrow the pro-western democratic government of Lebanon and destroy Israel;

  • The US will not punish Syria and Iran for promoting attacks against its forces in Iraq – as bitterly complained about by the Iraqi government and Obama’s top generals in Iraq;
  • The US will not take decisive steps to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities.

These messages tell Syria and Iran that they will not be punished for bad behaviour. As a result, far from being on the verge of being wooed away from its axis with Iran, the Syrian leaders believe they have nothing to fear from the US. Consequently they have no inclination to break with Iran. In fact, from the Syrian perspective things are looking quite rosy:
Its chief ally Iran is having tremendous success at intimidating the US and looks certain to become a nuclear power.

Lebanese leaders are again being drawn into the Syrian grip and Lebanon itself is edging ever closer to domination by Hizbollah.

The giant strides made towards Islam by Turkey have brought it into open alliance with Syria, Iran, Hamas and other anti-American anti-democratic and anti-Israel forces.
As a result, the minority Alawite dictatorship of Assad is riding a wave of confidence and feeling unassailable. The notion that the US can somehow sweet-talk Syria out its alliance with Iran is thus pure wishful thinking. It makes grim news but Senator Kerry and President Obama have yet to realise that Iran and Syria are laughing their socks off at them.

Enemies Rejoice – Friends Tremble

In short, the US transmits that it wants to be friends with the greatest enemies of peace and stability in the region and that it is no longer willing to fight them. By contrast, the Iranians, Syrians, Hizbollah and Hamas brazenly transmit the exact opposite: they don’t want to be friends and they are absolutely willing to fight. It would be hard to think of a better recipe for disaster.

Even worse, there seems to be absolutely no sign that the Obama team recognizes this. On current form, few now believe that Obama can be counted on to protect them and few believe he has the stomach to stop the Iranians acquire nuclear weapons. To date, the indications are that President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize winning achievement will be completely eclipsed when he goes down in history as the man who allowed Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. This realization is changing the whole balance of power in the region(see The Weakness of Obama’s International Leadership #3).

Naturally, all this creates glee and confidence amongst the enemies of the US. Simultaneously, it causes consternation and uncertainty among friends. This inevitably gives rise to the question: who can now feel safe relying on the current US leadership for protection? If Arab allies of the US see that the US can even contemplate abandoning its whole-hearted support of Israel, what reliance can they put on US commitment to Arab security?

Best interests

The answer is that they will be driven by their own best interests to make sure they are on the best terms they can get with the strongest power in the region. That is, they will define their own best interests as they believe them to be rather than the imaginary best interests attributed to them by the Obama Administration. Given the weakness exuded by Obama; it looks a fairly good bet that the strongest power will be Iran.

At the same time this means that the Arab states will be bound to sound tougher on the Palestinian issue to avoid being seen as inadequately militant in comparison to Iran.
Obama’s sreams of a final status agreement

If Iran succeeds in acquiring nuclear weapons, an immediate consequence will be that every anti-Israel, anti-western and anti-American fanatic in the region will acquire a supercharged boost of confidence and feeling of invincibility. With this prospect in view, the chances of Abbas and the PA reaching an accommodation with Israel as a final settlement of the conflict have fallen from near zero to absolute zero. In any case, even if it were true that the PA actually wanted a final-status peace agreement, how could they possibly make it stick (see Driving Force of Palestinian Politics #1)?

In sum, after over a year of Obama’s transformational politics, absolutely nothing has been achieved in the region. Instead, all the tensions are aggravated; everything is worse. Dismay spreads with the realization that the US scorns friends and appeases enemies. This is disastrous. Friends need to be kept on-side and protected and enemies need to be scared and deterred. As it is, only friends tremble at this administration. In short, Obama’s whole approach is a disaster unfolding before our eyes.

Israel under pressure

Constant international diplomatic hostility also puts Israel in a position where it feels insecure and under pressure. US declarations of eternal commitment to its security made immediately after the unprecedented public drubbing of Netanyahu by Obama/Clinton/Biden have a shaky and ritual ring about them. Consequently, it is now even harder for Israel to make the one-sided gestures and concessions that Obama believes are needed – especially when similar US anger and demands on the Palestinians and Syrians are noticeably non-existent. Defence Minister Barak’s backs-to-the-wall comments that Israel makes its own determination of its interests reflects this uncertainty.

More immediately, the public result is that Israel’s government has determined to continue building in Jerusalem as before. Apart from a fringe of left/liberal and Arab activists, this has widespread support in Israel. Obama has thus managed the amazing feat of making both Israel and the PA dig their heels in. As a result, the resumption of the negotiations he says he wants is now even less likely after a year of his involvement than before.

Hope & reality

In other words, sounding and looking good to a sympathetic and well-meaning public is insufficient for effective political results – although looking good is one area where Obama has enjoyed amazing success. This has included the enthusiasm of a large majority of US Jews who traditionally support the liberal wing of US politics in and around the Democratic Party. Additionally, the bulk of US Jewry belongs to the liberal Reform and Progressive wings of Judaism.

Naturally, this well-established liberal constituency strongly prefers a liberal solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sadly for this perspective, Iran, Syria, Hizbollah, Hamas and the PA are not liberals and not remotely inclined towards liberal solutions (see Driving Force of Palestinian Politics #2).

In short, the failure to acknowledge this means that instead of pressuring the genocidal anti-Semitic enemies of democracy, the policy of being tough on Israel has sent a disastrous signal that has emboldened and encouraged the fanatics. Instead of providing transformational leadership, President Obama has managed to make the whole situation worse. He looks like a dangerously incompetent amateur completely out of his depth in a role to which he is entirely unsuited. At least, that’s one way of looking at such serial ineptness. But in reality, as shown in Part 2 of this article, there is a far deeper explanation for it.


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