Way harsh assessment of Obama’s Mideast performance

Jennifer Rubin, the house conservative at the WashPost, calls my attention to this way harsh assessment of President Obama’s performance in the Mideast, from (not too surprisingly) Elliott Abrams, who served in both the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations:

There’s always Tunisia. Amid the smoking ruins of the Middle East, there is that one encouraging success story. But unfortunately for the Obama narratives, the president had about as much as to do with Tunisia’s turn toward democracy as he did with the World Cup rankings. Where administration policy has had an impact, the story is one of failure and danger.

The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained….

That wasn’t quite enough for Ms. Rubin, who got in another couple of licks:

Add to that a new Rand Corporation study showing terrorist groups’ activity has increased 50 percent in the last three years and the near-collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation architecture and you have a truly troubling conflagration: more terrorists, fewer functioning central governments and the potential widespread possession of weapons of mass destruction (already used multiple times with no consequences by Bashar al-Assad)….

Yeah, I know, consider the sources. But I’ve become somewhat jaded myself with the president’s policies, or lack thereof, over the last couple of years. So I resonate a bit to these messages…


15 thoughts on “Way harsh assessment of Obama’s Mideast performance

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and before some of my friends say, “Aw, you’re just disappointed with the president because he doesn’t want to go to war every five minutes,” let me pre-empt that by making this point: I don’t care what approach he takes — diplomatic, trade policy, sanctions, what have you. I’m not reacting to the chosen methods. I’m upset at the results

  2. John

    Elliot Abrams’ take on “largely at peace” in 2009 is sure different than mine. The Global Terrorism Database (http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/) says 2009 was the third worst year for the Middle East since 1970 up until that point. Things have gotten worse since then but it is clearly a case of terrorism continuing to grow, not just some bucolic peace turning bad.

    It’s really interesting to use that database to look at the regions where terrorism has fallen since 1970. If those count as places antiterrorism strategies were successful then we really should examine their histories to see how things were settled down. Assuming we want to learn from history, that is….I’d like to see that discussion.

    1. bud

      Good points John. These neo-cons are really the ones who kicked off this colossal mess by getting us into Iraq. As for Iran, the neo-cons wanted to go to war with them! Are these the folks we want to trust with foreign policy?

      1. Bryan Caskey

        “These neo-cons are really the ones who kicked off this colossal mess by getting us into Iraq.”

        I’m pretty sure we were all minding our own business on 9/11.

        Saddam was a state sponsor of terrorists. The world is a better place without him. Could the aftermath have been handled better? Of course. I’m not sure i agree with Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn” rule. We could have gone over there, knocked Saddam off, left, and then said “Hey, don’t make us come back over there. You’ll get worse next time.”

        The military is good at killing people and breaking things. Building countries – not so much.

        The world was pretty messy place all along. But I guess if it rained tomorrow, you could figure out a way to blame the “neo-cons” for it. Who are they anyway? People who voted to support the Iraq war? I think that’s a lot of people.

        1. Brad Warthen

          “The military is good at killing people and breaking things. Building countries – not so much.”

          Tell that to MacArthur in Japan.

          I believe in the Pottery Barn rule. You make a mess, even for the best of reasons, you stay and clean it up…

          1. Silence

            I have a theory that we never actually stopped occupying Japan and Germany after WWII. We still have military bases there, of course, but what if they aren’t really self governing? If their entire system of government is merely a ruse, perpetrated to conceal our continued occupation and management of their national affairs?

          2. Bryan Caskey

            Well, MacArthur had the backing of the emperor, and the infrastructure of the Japanese government remained largely intact. Without either both of those, governing post-war Japan would have been much more difficult.

            Remember, the emperor came out and told his people to submit to the Americans. Had he been deposed, I think the Japanese people would have been openly hostile to the American occupation.

            To compare Iraq to Japan isn’t quite a perfect analogy.

            As for the Pottery Barn Rule, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. In general, it’s probably the right way to go. I’m just saying that maybe there are some exceptions to it.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              A good argument for monarchies — they can confer instant legitimacy on an enterprise, in a culture that believes in its monarch.

              For instance, the king giving his blessing to the military coup in Thailand went a long way toward making that go smoothly…

              We Americans tend to think monarchies are all bad. But they’re not. Their mystique, a people’s faith in what westerners would call the “by the grace of God” aspect, can avoid a lot of strife and bloodshed.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              And when the people LOSE that faith — as the English did in 1649, the French in 1793, and the Russians in 1918 — all bets are off.

              To save y’all trouble looking up those dates, I refer to when those peoples murdered their monarchs.

  3. bud

    POTUS is doing just fine. No new wars. No additional nuclear proliferation. Chemical weapons in Syria have largely been eradicated. No major attacks on the homeland. Iran has taken a small step back from developing a nuke. OBL is dead. Our enemies are largely fighting each other, ISIL vs Assad. American soldiers are dying in far lower numbers than before. POTUS is really just allowing other nations to work out their own problems. With oil and gasoline prices stable and the stock market setting new records on a daily basis I don’t really see any evidence of an imminent collapse of world trade or a widespread international depression. And after all aren’t our national interests are really about keeping our citzens safe, healthy and prosperous. It’s hard to see how anything that’s going on on the world stage is really adverse to our core national interests. To say that you’d have to just make stuff up.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I get confused when people write ISIL instead of ISIS. I had to look it up just now. I see that it refers to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an alternative name for Islamic State in Iraq, and Syria or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām.

      At first, ISIL seems like a politically incorrect version, since referring to “the Levant” instead of the national name of Syria, Lebanon, etc., harks back to what British colonialists might have called the region. You know, like saying “the Ukraine” instead of “Ukraine,” which has Soviet overtones.

      But… it may be the more accurate version, more faithful to the actual intentions of the terrorist organization, which wants to undo the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which shaped the colonial and therefore post-colonial map….

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Speaking of ISIS, did y’all see this?

    When Lionel Messi scored a 91st-minute goal to give Argentina a victory over underdogs Iran in Saturday’s World Cup game, he seems to have picked up some unlikely fans.

    Iran’s Mehr News Agency, as translated by the Brookings Institution’s Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani, reports that online supporters of ISIS, the Sunni militant group currently fighting in Iraq and Syria, congratulated Messi for defeating their Shiite enemy Iran and invited him to “join the jihadist call.”…

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