Exclusive to the Trib: Obama's foreign affairs radicalism carries a heavy cost
By John Bolton
Published: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Under Barack Obama, American influence in the Middle East has sunk to levels not seen since before World War II. From Israel to Saudi Arabia, from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates, our friends are shaking their heads, wondering why we have seemingly taken leave of our senses.
Across this vital region, Obama is effectively empowering our opponents and turning his back on U.S. supporters and allies. He has openly courted implacable adversaries like Tehran's ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood, allowed Chinese penetration to reach unprecedented levels and restored Russian clout to pre-1979 proportions.
And Obama is far from finished.
The U-turn he is engineering in America's international influence is global in scope but its most visible manifestations are emerging in the Middle East. Two long-standing U.S. allies — Egypt and Saudi Arabia — seem determined to separate themselves from key U.S. policies unless Obama reverses course. And if these pillars supporting American interests in the region crack, other regional friends — notably Israel and the Arabian Peninsula's oil-producing monarchies — will face major adverse consequences.
Sensing these schisms developing even before they emerged publicly, both Russia and China moved decisively to fill the vacuum Obama is creating.
True, neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia is a Jeffersonian democracy. If Obama were supporting real “liberals” (if they existed in strength), there might be more justification for spurning both countries' current regimes. But Obama is doing no such thing. In Egypt, he is implicitly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, an overt opponent of Western values of freedom of conscience and representative government. In Syria, Obama's indecisive and unstable policies have allowed Bashar Assad to regain his footing, thus bolstering a key Iranian surrogate. Moscow, already Assad's most important non-regional ally, now is the major outside player there, right alongside Iran.
Obama has stumbled repeatedly in Egypt, leaving almost no one willing to defend America publicly, ironically not even the Muslim Brotherhood, which most Egyptians believe he supported, and certainly not the military, despite 30-plus years of extensive assistance.
Egypt has invited Russian President Putin to visit, which he will likely do in November. Putin knows his history. The possibility to supplant the United States in Egypt (as the Soviet Union did in the 1950s), and thereby reverse the humiliation of Anwar Sadat expelling the Soviets in 1979, is too good to pass up. Russian arms sales, and even military bases, could well follow.
Saudi Arabia is so frustrated with Obama's Syria and Iran policies that it recently rejected a non-permanent U.N. Security Council seat, an unprecedented slap at Washington and the United Nations. Riyadh's military aid to Syrian opposition forces is directly related to its hostility to Iran, so much so that it blinds the Saudis to the terrorist inclinations of many in the opposition.
Differences with the United States here, absent the major concerns over Obama's Iran policy, would be manageable; combined with Obama on Iran, they have become toxic. Ultimately, it is Obama's appeasement of Iran which most troubles the Saudis, other Gulf Arab states, and most definitely Israel.
In addition to Egypt, the Saudis and others could also shift their arms purchases to China and Russia, from which some, including Riyadh, have previously procured weapons systems. Indeed, there are reports that even Turkey, a NATO ally, is considering the purchase of long-range, anti-aircraft defenses from China, a major departure from NATO's key requirement of “interoperability” among its members' military equipment.
Not just weapons sales are at stake but also the close relations between the Pentagon and many Arab regimes that for decades have been so important for America's interest in regional stability.
Obama's support for the Muslim Brotherhood — and, indirectly, its subsidiaries like the Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip — reflects either a strategic misreading of political forces in the Arab world or a conscious desire to align Washington with the Brotherhood's revolutionary agenda.
Negotiating with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program is similarly either an act of monumental naïveté or a conscious policy that a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred. No responsible observer can legitimately conclude there is the slightest chance the ayatollahs will renounce their decades-long quest for deliverable nuclear weapons. And yet that is Obama's stated policy.
Americans must realize that we are seeing not merely a series of separate U.S. policy failures or a run of bad luck in the Middle East. Obama is presiding over declining American influence and prestige because he thinks we are too powerful, too dominant in the world. And so, by extension, are our allies in the region, especially Israel.
The indisputable evidence demonstrates that Obama's guiding ideology is as radical in international affairs as in domestic policy. Just as he wants to “spread the wealth around” domestically, so too he is at ease in “spreading” U.S. power around internationally. We will pay for Obama's radicalism for years to come.
John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His exclusive column to the Trib appears the second Sunday of every month.
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