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.