The Obama administration is losing control of its Middle East policy and with it, Washington’s credibility. Yesterday the State Department and Pentagon gave conflicting accounts of the administration’s Syria policy before a bewildered Senate Armed Services Committee. While Secretary of State John Kerry reported working “very, very closely” with “the moderate, legitimate opposition” in Syria, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said the ability to “clearly identify the right people” in the opposition is “actually more confusing…today than it was six months ago.”
The committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), asked Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and General Dempsey if the United States’ policy objectives in Syria are failing:
“Well, it hasn’t achieved the objective obviously,” Mr. Hagel said. “That’s why we continue to look for other options.”
General Dempsey said: “It has never been our goal to see a prolonged conflict. So on that basis I would agree.”
This is not a scene the United States wants Assad, the mullahs in Iran, and our allies in the region to see: an admission of confusion and failure from the Pentagon as the State Department makes dubious boasts of success. The contradictory testimonies bespeak an incompetent and vulnerable leadership at precisely the time Washington should be projecting strength and resolve.
But confused and failing Syria policy is only the half of it. The same day as the committee hearing, a group of former senior US officials, including many who recently left the Obama administration, issued a scathing assessment of the President’s Iran policy, claiming the White House’s two-pronged strategy of sanctions and diplomacy has produced unintended consequences without achieving strategic objectives:
As the pressure has increased, the group concluded, sanctions have “contributed to an increase in repression and corruption within Iran” and “may be sowing the seeds of long-term alienation between the Iranian people and the United States.” […]
“I fundamentally believe that the balance between sanctions and diplomacy has been misaligned,” said Thomas R. Pickering, who was one of the State Department’s highest-ranking career diplomats …
The President’s Middle East policies are spinning out of control. Those who have left the administration are publicly criticizing the White House; those now in the administration appear nonplussed. What we’re left with is a stalemate: 70,000 dead in Syria, Assad lives, Iran’s nuclear program advances, and the Pentagon continues “to look for other options.”
The President is faced with an unenviable set of questions and crises, but the least his administration can do is get its story straight. Public displays of confusion make military conflict in the Middle East more likely for the United States, not less.
[Image of President Obama at Cairo University in 2009 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]