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January 4, 2011 8:28 pm

Little to Cheer in First Two Years of Obama’s Middle East Policy

avatar by John Bolton


U.S. Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., meets with tribal sheikhs in Ramadi, Iraq, July 22, 2008. Photo: Cpl. Erin A. Kirk.

President Obama has had two bad years in the Middle East. Unfortunately, that means that America’s friends and allies have also had two bad years, with every prospect that the next two will be as bad or worse.

Across the region’s range of troubles, Obama’s inexperience, naivete and strategic incompetence have all cost the United States dearly. Consider just a few key issues.

Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are now at their lowest point in two years, largely because of Obama’s failed efforts to pressure Israel into making substantive concessions. By trying to force Israel to halt all Israeli settlement construction on the West Bank and failing, Obama has the worst of all worlds. He did not deliver up Israel, but he did undercut Mahmoud Abbas.

Accordingly, we have a Palestinian Authority with no authority, no legitimacy, and no hope except the vain idea that the United Nations will declare Palestinian “statehood.” Obama has taken a complex, confused and dangerous environment, and made it worse.

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Doing nothing would have been more conducive to progress between Palestinians and Israel. Now, ironically, Hamas radicalism, and its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, threaten more instability in Arab lands than in Israel.

Similarly, Obama has allowed Iran’s nuclear weapons threat to become more serious. His naive belief that Tehran could be talked out of its nuclear program has cost the United States and its friends in the region, Israeli and Arab alike, precious time and opportunities. Iran continued to make progress toward obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons, and suffered only minimal economic sanctions as a result.

Obama’s fallback is apparently that a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred, similar to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This is almost certainly wrong, since Iran’s leaders do not see human life the same way that Moscow’s atheists did.

Moreover, even if Iran could be deterred, the nuclear threat would not end there, since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others will almost certainly seek nuclear weapons once Iran possesses them. The Middle East could thus quickly see six or more countries with nuclear arsenals, a prescription for regional nuclear Armageddon.

Moreover, Obama has done essentially nothing to restrain Iran’s support for terrorism. The president seems unwilling to criticize Iran’s leaders for fear of being seen as anti-Muslim. This is curious, since Iran’s leading critics are found in its Muslim neighbors. Read the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks if you have any doubts.

Obama’s inaction has allowed Iran to rearm and resupply Hezbollah in Lebanon, and continue to support Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran aids terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan whose principle aim is to kill Americans, and the president seems unwilling to do anything.

The U.N.’s Hariri assassination prosecutor will shortly issue indictments against those who murdered Lebanon’s former prime minister, almost surely naming senior Syrian and Hezbollah officials. Those indictments could precipitate a renewal of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, perhaps this time also involving Syria. Obama is simply absent without leave on this issue.

On Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama seems determined to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces according to rigid timetables. By ignoring the actual strategic situations, these withdrawals will lead to greater instability in both countries. This will enhance Iran’s influence and the risk that Taliban and al Qaeda will resume power in Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan’s democratic government. And if Pakistan, and its substantial supply of nuclear weapons, falls to the radicals, the risk of nuclear terrorism in the region and worldwide will rise exponentially.

Those who longed for Obama’s election, and the end of U.S. “arrogance” and “imperialism,” should reconsider. They may discover that what is truly provocative in the world is not American power, but American weakness.

Weakness inspires our adversaries, and dispirits our friends, invariably to our collective disadvantage. And in that sense, Barack Obama is truly one of the most provocative presidents in American history.

John R. Bolton is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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