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Middle East Mess
What's Plan B?

Somewhere, somehow, someone wasn’t keeping their eye on the ball. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general announced that Iran was now invited to the Geneva peace conference on Syria, leaving the United States with a bit of a mess on its hands. State Department officials issued strongly worded threats about the invitation having to be rescinded, but it’s not clear whether those threats will amount to anything. The New York Times:

American officials said they had been in regular communication with the United Nations over the requirements Iran would need to meet to be invited, but they appeared to have been caught off guard by Mr. Ban’s hastily organized news conference.

Whoops! Just one among many troubling signs that our Middle East diplomacy is not going well.

Meanwhile, in David Remnick’s big New Yorker profile on Obama, the most startling single statement was the following:

Obama told me that in all three of his main initiatives in the region—with Iran, with Israel and the Palestinians, with Syria—the odds of completing final treaties are less than fifty-fifty.

It’s hard to think which is more surprising: that the President thinks his key initiatives in the Middle East are all headed for failure, or that he shared this insight with a journalist in an on-the-record conversation. Did President Obama think that success will become more likely if Secretary Kerry and all his negotiators know that the President thinks that the efforts will likely fall short? How much faith will the Saudis and others now put in an American diplomacy which, apparently, the Americans themselves think is a long shot? And what Palestinian or Israeli leader will put their careers and quite possibly lives on the line for a peace initiative that the Americans think will fail?

The question also arises: “What’s Plan B?” Presumably the US has contingency plans if, as the President says he thinks is likely, one or all of his current initiatives sputter out short of success. Bomb Iran? Live with its nukes? Let Syria fester in endless, terrorist-enabling war? Walk away from Israel-Palestine? Readers of Remnick’s piece will walk away wondering where the United States is headed in the Middle East. They will also understand Robert Gates’ frustration with a President who launched an Afghan strategy that he didn’t believe in a bit better. Secretary Kerry cannot have enjoyed reading this public statement by his chief that he thinks Kerry’s diplomacy isn’t going to work.

President Obama’s first set of Middle East policies imploded as Libya fell into ruin and the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was overthrown. He doesn’t think his second set will fare much better.

It is hardly surprising these days that America’s opponents fear us less and our allies have less faith in us than before.

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  • rheddles

    Plan B should be impeachment, but it seems as likely as success in Plan A, so what is Plan C? Assume fetal position for 3 years?

    • Kavanna

      Impeachment should have been Plan A. It will take years to recover from this disaster of a presidency. Unfortunately, Americans will have to free themselves from the mainstream media to get there. It’s not like the 1960s or 1970s, when we still had, you know, journalism going on. Now it’s junk food and news blackouts.

    • Corlyss

      Forget it. Until the nation does it on a more regular basis, in order to get over the seemingly national trauma just the thought of it produces, it’s a non starter. And there’s no way our amateur Affirmative Action pres. would EVER be impeached. He embodies the ambivalence many people feel about the issues he confronts and usually kicks down the road for someone else to deal with.

  • ljgude

    I think his Middle East policy imploded when he ditched Mubarak and backed the Muslim Brotherhood because he backed the founding organization of Islamism which is and always has been unashamedly and unflinchingly totalitarian. He is a gold plated postcolonialist – a student of Edward Said. He is also a postmodern who ‘privileges’ narrative over reality. Or as Hillary said. “Perception is everything.” Tra la. Tra la.

  • RedWell

    This isn’t all on the administration, which made it’s position clear. We could just as easily blame Ban for misreading clear cues from the US or succumbing to some other source of pressure. If the talks fall apart, that’s on him.
    Also, Obama needs to project a more positive aura about Middle East politics, but I think we should laud a president who admits that we can only manage or contain the region’s problems, we can’t solve them.
    Finally, I’m an avid VM follower, but this ongoing critique of Obama’s Mid East diplomacy seems to directly contradict Mead’s older argument in “Special Providence.” There, Mead holds that Americans haven’t been the most calculating or sophisticated diplomats in the room. In fact, the US has succeeded quite well with apparently ad hoc policies and seemingly amateurish policy makers. Obama doesn’t need a Plan B, and the US doesn’t need to “head” somewhere in the Middle East. The more overt or specific a plan, in this case, the more brittle it becomes.
    Further, does the US really need to impress others with its reliability and strength? First, where else will they go? To Russia? China? Right. More importantly, governments everywhere know the ledger, and they know quite well US capabilities and its overall reliability as a third party. Why else are they constantly clamoring for US participation on key issues? The strong arm as well as the weak arm are likely to undermine US credibility, but only at the margins.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “It is hardly surprising these days that America’s opponents fear us less and our allies have less faith in us than before.”

    It’s not America that our enemies don’t fear, and our allies don’t respect. It’s the incompetent clown Obama. Both our enemies and our allies will have to reevaluate America when Obama gets replaced, just like when the weak Jimmy Carter was replaced by Ronald Reagan.

    • Corlyss

      Do you see anyone in the S*tup*id party being able to pull off a win in 2016? I’m looking for any faith promoting rumor. I’d back Christie but I he will survive the swarm of Democratic lawfare being launched against him. Dems go for the jugular; Republicans go for the capillaries.

  • TommyTwo

    “State Department officials issued strongly worded threats about the invitation having to be rescinded”

    What?! But surely involving Iran in the process is a good thing, encouraging its willingness to be a responsible stakeholder and building on its cooperation on the nuclear front… Why is this bellicose Administration so eager to provoke Iran instead of engaging it?


  • Joseph Blieu

    I used to be sure that America was strong enough to survive 8 years of any type of failed president. I was wrong. I remember the German General who said Men who are brilliant and industrious are destined for high staff work, Men who are brilliant and lazy are destined for high command as they will find the efficient way. Men who are stupid and lazy can find employment in the front line. But men who are stupid and industrious must be eliminated immediately, they will diligently plant the seeds of distruction. Our current pres is in the fourth class.

  • Ethan Rosen

    It gets even more bizarre. Within minutes of Ban’s invitation to Iran, the only rebel coalition that will be attending the conference, the Syrian National Coalition, announced that they would suspend their attendance at the conference until Iran’s invitation was rescinded. Now, even after Iran’s invitation has been rescinded, the Syrian National Council formally pulled out of the Syrian National Coalition, which cost the Coalition 45 out of 112 members. The Council was a founding member of the coalition and a key component of the coalition’s existence.

    Between the pullout of the council and the fact that the Islamic Front, which is arguably the biggest rebel coalition in Syria will not be attending (and of course Qaeda linked Jahbat al Nusra and ISIS will not be attending) it makes you wonder what the point of the conference even is.

    We’re covering all of this at the SyrianCivilWar reddit:

    • TommyTwo

      What about the People’s Front of Judea? 🙂

  • gabrielsyme

    “What’s Plan B?” … Bomb Iran? Live with its nukes? Let Syria fester in endless, terrorist-enabling war? Walk away from Israel-Palestine?

    Actually, it’s all too easy to predict: No, yes, yes, and Obama can probably slow-walk his feckless search for an Israel-Palestine peace treaty until the end of his term.

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