Obama’s New Middle East Crisis Tests
by Michael Widlanski
It’s not every day that events make Vice President Joe Biden seem smart or even kind of prophetic, but four years ago, he foresaw that Barack Obama would be sorely tested by foreign policy crises after his election.
“Mark my words,” said Biden in October 2008, “it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking.”
War exploded this week on the Israeli-Gaza frontier, while civil war inside Syria spread to the Israeli-Syrian frontier in the Golan. So, the world is indeed watching to see if Barack Obama passes Joe Biden’s test.
At Wednesday’s press conference, President Obama dodged questions on foreign policy and terror. Meanwhile, he also told Israeli leaders that Israel has a right to defend itself but needs to be careful about civilian casualties.
Those are not good signs that Obama is doing well on Biden’s crisis test. Obama cannot just talk the talk, he must also walk the walk.
The President is still evading telling us the truth about events in Libya and at the CIA, and he is going back to the standard State Department language of cautioning Israel not to hit back too hard when it is attacked by terrorists. Real leaders admit error and help allies.
From past clashes, it is clear Israel’s leaders and soldiers are very, very careful about civilians. But the Arab bloc in the United Nations and many in the European community soon form a chorus to condemn Israel for unimaginable (and untrue) claims of aggression and brutality.
That is the usual script. It happened before and will happen again. The only question is whether or not Barack Obama will step up and protect Israel from the diplomatic backstabbing, or will he continue his record from his first term when, like Jimmy Carter, he cast only one meager veto to defend Israel from the Arab Amen Corner.
Obama’s second term really began the day after Election Day 2012. We must hope he does better in the second term than he did on the foreign policy and terror crises he faced in his first term, including:
· The terror in Libya he helped to enable and then covered up;
· The Islamist upheaval in the Arab world he encouraged, especially in Egypt;
· The cave-in to dictatorial Russia on arms control issues, undercutting Poland and the Czech Republic;
· The weakening of our forces in Afghanistan with a surge in and a surge out—timed to his campaign clock—leading to huge rise in U.S. casualties;
· The sandbagging of Israel in talks with the PLO, thereby freezing the talks for the first time in 15 years and isolatingIsrael;
· The “engaging” and emboldening of Iran by not helping Iranian dissidents or pressing hard against Iran’s nuclear bomb program;
This is only a partial list but it shows that Biden was right about Obama facing crises.
Israel is not the only place President Obama faces a test, but Israel is one of America’s best friends, and it is sorely beleaguered. It is a chance for Obama to pass the Biden test and also to keep a promise he made of “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.
Israel is being attacked on at least three fronts, and Iran is waiting to join in:
· The terrorists in Gaza have escalated rocket attacks on the southern third of Israel, confident that they have the support of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and dubious that Obama will intervene strongly;
· In the north, forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad have begun shelling Israel in the Golan Heights;
· In the center, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas has thumbed his nose at written agreements and at the Obama Administration, and he is pushing UN recognition of a PLO state—an act that will weaken and isolate Israel.
Israel has no choice but to take firm military action on its southern front.
As Mr. Obama’s second term proceeds, there will be other tests.
Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups have already increased their world-wide attacks, fanning out from Pakistan and Iraq to Yemen, Sudan and elsewhere.
Iran will step up its nuclear arms development and exporting terror—which reached several countries in Africa and Asia this year.
President Obama’s one real foreign policy success in his first term was ordering the killing of Osama Bin-Laden, but he does not want to use large-scale force overseas, fearful of Vietnams or Iraq-like traumas. He has also not been strong defending allies.
The question is, will President Obama meet the newest tests or, as he did as a state legislator in Illinois, merely “vote present?”
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat just published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and The Jerusalem Post, and he served as Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security.