Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Obama-Media's Tipping Point: The Middle East

From Walter Russell Mead, "MSM Tipping Point On Obama in the Middle East?":

Letterman Burn
The repercussions from 9/11/12—the day the roof fell in on the Obama administration’s Middle East policy—continue to rumble across the diplomatic and political landscapes. Before that day, much of the country’s political and media establishment had been studiously ignoring signs of trouble in the Middle East or, when problems were too serious to ignore, studiously refraining from drawing conclusions about the overall state of US policy in the region.

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

The New York Times and the Washington Post are both thoroughly alarmed by the state of the region after 9/11/12 and the reporters if not the editorial pages have moved on from the “Blame Bush” approach. The latest article by Helene Cooper and Robert Worth in the Times cites some pretty biting criticism about the President’s approach to the Arab Spring from (unnamed) top aides and associates. It even quotes an Arab diplomat who sounds nostalgic for the good old days of W to illustrate a criticism of the President made by an (unnamed) State Department official who said, speaking of the President:
“He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him … But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”
This supposed cold fish is the man, we should remember, who came into office hoping that his personal magnetism and sincerity would heal the breach between the United States and the Muslim world. But here’s the (unnamed) Arab on The One:
Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.

“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.
To be fair to President Obama and his team, the Middle East is a challenge, and no president and no policy could solve all our problems there. There are plenty of armchair strategists around who will claim that there are easy and simple answers to America’s Middle East problems. This is delusional; American interests, values and ideas don’t work particularly well in this region and Middle Easterners and Americans have continually surprised and annoyed one another since Thomas Jefferson tried and failed to negotiate a peaceful solution with the Barbary Pirates.

The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s first and most fundamental mistake in the region was that he thought that he was an exception to this rule: he was the man for whom the Red Sea waters would part. His sincerity and sympathy would win him an initial hearing; his ability to pressure Israel to stop settlement building and reach a fair compromise with the Palestinians would restore such friendly relations between the US and the peoples of the Middle East that the terrorists would dwindle away—even as his sincere approach to Iran would induce the mullahs to lay down their nukes.

Right from the beginning this policy was doomed. As the Cooper/Worth story in the New York Times illustrates, Obama has lost the confidence of the Saudis. The peace process has largely given up the ghost on his watch. The Libya adventure was a costly sideshow that left the administration without viable policy options in the much more vital (and bloody) Syrian civil war. These things have been apparent for some time, but until the last couple of weeks there has been little appetite in the MSM for suggesting that the administration’s overall record in the region was one of failure and incompetence.

This is all changing six weeks before the election. While the MSM is still not interested in hammering home the picture of an administration reeling from one failed policy and faint hope to the next as it drifts inexorably toward a war with Iran it seems unwilling to fight and powerless to avert, the mainstream narrative has shifted decisively away from the old picture of cool-headed competence restoring order and promoting freedom and building peace. The turbulence in the region is impossible to miss, the problems for American interests and even security are disturbing to contemplate, and the failures of the Obama administration can no longer be ignored.
Continue reading.

Cartoon Credit: A.F. Branco at Legal Insurrection.