W Gets A Third Term In The Middle East
Published on: August 22, 2011
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  • John Barker

    I have been wondering about the anti-war movement and the place of the radical left in this country. Will they just disappear or come back to plague a Republican administration in the future? I would hate to see us lose any part of the American tradition. It is easy to forget the poor and helpless or to become convinced that a single world view explains complex events.

  • Gene

    The world hates Obama less than it hated Bush because they know that a) he’s less likely to act aggressively and b) they know the US can’t afford to do so for much longer. The antiwar movement has gone quiet not because of Obama’s strengths but because that movement carries a large number of hypocritical partisan hacks in its membership. Wait until the next Republican president dares to continue the Obama administration’s foreign policy–the US will once again magically become an “evil, genocidal” force on college campuses all over North America.

    I’ve spent the better part of my life hearing the worst sort of confrontational, condescending, reason-free and downright hateful anti-American rhetoric from foreigners unhappy with every aspect, down to the most trivial, of the United States–people unwilling to ever acknowledge the benefits this country’s existence has meant for their own. Frankly I couldn’t care less if such people were offended by the so-called confrontational rhetoric of the Bush administration, rhetoric which of course was far more civilized than that spewed every day by ordinary people in the streets of Europe and the media they consume.

  • gubbish

    Why would you want to cut the legs off the anti-war movements at home?

  • Bush was hated by leftists because he was (nominally) a conservative. Obama is loved by leftists because he’s a Marxist. This, not the posturing of either, is the reality of the political landscape.

    It wouldn’t have mattered if Bush had personally discovered a cure for cancer, the left would have still hated him. The only response from the left would be silence because they could think of nothing bad to say, followed by a string of arguments explaining how the extended lifespan this discovery created was yet another reason why the destructive policies of the left needed to be implemented.

    Obama will be loved and supported by the left pretty much no matter what he does. Some on the left are unhappy with him now, but not because 90% of his policies have been catastrophic failures, but because he hasn’t been successful enough in dragging our nation over the cliff of socialism.

    Pretending that leftists would have treated Bush any differently had his public attitude been different is as irrational as the leftists themselves. They hated him for the ideas he represented. He was their boogieman. This is the same reason they hate Palin and Perry. Conservatism is anathema to them.

    In fairness there are people who feel the same way about Obama and other leftists such as Reid or Pelosi. No matter what these guys do, some people will complain about them. The difference is that these attitudes don’t define mainstream conservative or libertarian politics. The nutter fringe hate Obama because he’s Obama. Meanwhile the heart and core of the leftists hated Bush for being Bush and continue to look for ways to blame him for bad things happening.

  • Luke Lea

    “Big countries like China can balance the needs of innovation and control in ways that third class nepotistic hackocracies cannot.”

    That remains to be seen.

  • Luke Lea

    You need to give Europe more credit here. Assuming things work out for the better.

  • jb

    Sadly, Libya will likely be seen as proof that only the possession of nukes renders safe the realm from attacks by the West.

  • WigWag

    Here’s what we know; Adam Garfinkle’s prediction about the fall of Tripoli has so far not come to pass. Here’s what Adam said,

    “Now what does this mean in the Libyan case? It means that if the rebels centered in Benghazi are going to overthrow by force of arms the Gaddafi regime, they are going to have to fight for Tripoli, possibly down to the last square block of the regime’s stronghold. Gaddafi and his tribal loyalists and allies will not surrender peaceably. There is therefore going to be, quite possibly, a crimsoned slaughter of the civilian population of Tripoli.”

    We shall know soon whether Adam’s prediction of a whole sale slaughter of civilians becomes a realty. So far, thankfully it hasn’t. The entire blog post can be read here,


    I have only a tiny quibble with Professor Mead’s argument. Speaking of assorted dictators, he says,

    “They can be strung up in the streets like Mussolini, they can kill themselves in their last redoubts like Hitler, they can go to The Hague like Milosevic, or they can go to Saudi Arabia like Idi Amin. (Not acceptable: going like Baby Doc to the south of France.) But they need to go.”

    Actually Baby Doc is no longer in the South of France; he’s back at home in Port Au Prince. While he has been charged with corruption it is increasingly unlikely that he will ever face a trial and Baby Doc is more popular in Haiti than he’s ever been. Haiti inaugurated a new President whose administration has numerous ties to Baby Doc; in fact, the new President, Michel Martelly has publically expressed an interest in amnesty for both Baby Doc and former President Aristide. Daniel Supplice, who leads President Martelly’s transition team, is a close childhood friend of Baby Doc.

    Here’s an interesting article from the Miami Herald on Baby Doc’s increasing popularity in Haiti,


    While I agree with Professor Mead about the terrible influence of the Duvalier family on Haiti, a large number of Haitians, perhaps a majority disagree. If Baby Doc ran for President of Haiti tomorrow, the chances are good that he would win.

    This makes him very different from Assad, Hussein, Mubarak or assorted other Arab dictators.

  • Will

    I was thinking along the same lines, Gene. I think that Obama, himself, comes across as pretty anti-American and this resonates well with Europeans. They are able to forgive him for Bushlike behavior simply because he denounces Bush and apologizes for being American. Bush was a threat to Euro-machismo and reminded them of their own shortcomings.

  • 986trfocxjhz7u5wjt

    Why isn’t Saudia Arabia on the list of bad guys? Because of the fiction that they are our allies? Because of a common emeny like Iran? The Saudis are funding islamization around the world. They are much greater danger to the US national interest than libya, or syria. They supplied the 9/11 terrorist. The Saudis are not good guys.

  • The False God

    How exactly was Bush’s stance “posturing” when it was put into use and worked? His being “tough” is the only reason Obama’s ambivalent stance towards everything passes: Bush has already done all the work, taken all the risks, and borne all the abuse from his detractors.

    Obama simply rides his work, claims the credit for adopting “a new policy toward our allies,” and his sycophants slobber all over him.

    People hate Bush and what he stood for, yet acclaim the results he achieved. Cognitive dissonance does not survive reality’s harsh lessons.

  • Akaky

    Euromachismo? Is there such a thing?

  • BuddyPC

    Gene and The False God nail it.

    The Transnational Left’s, and Europe’s (but I repeat myself) resistance to Bush had nothing to do with terrorism, Geneva Conventions, Iraq, preemption, aggressive interventionist foreign policy, cowboy diplomacy, or whatever excuses they gave; and their continuance and embrace of regime change, violence, rendition, assassination of unarmed revolutionaries w/o due process, and blood for oil proves it.

    That was all a smoke screen of details over the single, eternal struggle of control of the Treasury, with the relaxing of punitive taxation and a perceived threat to the gravy train; and all they did was extend the culture war and domestic politics beyond the nation’s shores.

  • Anthony

    “The truth is that the United States has become more powerful in the Middle East today than at any time….” WRM, is objective fact result of Bush/Obama Middle East foreign policy or regional consequence of historical dynamic changes facilitated by our Iraq, Afganistan, and Libya power politics?

  • Ariel

    There are some major problems in this article. A friend emailed me, “I usually agree with Mead but I don’t know what happened here”. The statement that the US is the most powerful in the M.E. in its history is very debatable. Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah and even the Saudis have begun ignoring obama (when they sent troops into Bahrain).

    You say that Obama is pushing a democracy agenda another friend says: what about in Iran, Lebanon, Syria.

    Obama went back and forth and only adopted regime change in Egypt when it was already a done deal. In Syria is seems likely to happen again. And in Libya it was mostly the Europeans doing the regime changing at a rather slow pace.

  • “That truth is that the United States has become more powerful in the Middle East today than at any time since the early 1950s.”
    I very much would like this to be true, but I don’t know of any serious analyst who thinks it is.
    Prof. Mead claims that the US looms large in the calculations of Middle Eastern regimes — well, let’s wait e.g. for the Egyptian elections, which will bring to power Amr Moussa as president, and a parliament in which the Muslim Brotherhood will be either the or at least a dominant force, and anti-Americanism will be a very popular theme in one of the Arab world’s most important states.
    As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, it seems that they feel nothing but despise for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy — I mean, even the Saudis have recalled their ambassador from Syria, while the US ambassador is still there…
    All too obviously, destroying the Iran-Syria alliance would be of the greatest interest for the US — but all too obviously, Obama has so far studiously avoided to further this vital interest in any way, just as he did his very best to avoid anything that could have helped Iran’s protest movement some 2 years ago. Even in a weak country like Lebanon, the Obama administration was unable to prevent a Hezbollah takeover there.

    Prof. Mead has written in a different context that Obama has a unique talent to hit the sour spot — this is most definitely also true for his Middle East policy.

  • Muy Hombre

    @ Akaky: Euro-machismo in action: DSK–“The Great Seducer”–Make it with a maid!

    Then, after making it so ugly you’re thrown into jail, today’s cutting-edge Euro-macho has his Euro-trash heiress wife bail him out, and is sure to drag his Ivy League daughter along for the ride to Court to show off those impressive cojones.

    Contemporary Euro-machismo: what’s not to envy? (After all, we can’t all be studs like Berlusconi…)

  • Caradoc

    The “rhetoric” of Bush had nothing to do with people not liking him. The enemies of America would react the same way to any strong American leader. They don’t find Obama “easier to work with” because of some reluctant warrior persona he’s playing — he’s not playing on. He’s “easier” because he’s not really interested in protecting our interests and everyone knows it. The dictators are more than happy to “work” with him and build bombs off the media radar. Other enemies outside the middle east have no problem spitting in his wimptastic face (putin, chavez, etc) .

  • “That truth is that the United States has become more powerful in the Middle East today than at any time since the early 1950s.”

    I believe this statement is false, the US is not seen as a power bloc or any source of influence in the Middle East/North Africa.

    Petra points to the strongest coalition in teh region which Washington needed to break. I would say that almost as important is the connection between Iran and Eritrea. Since that strategic location, Eritrea, puts Iranian military in an overwatch position to all the traffic which goes through the Red sea.

    The Middle East and North Africa are about to become more than a headache for the Western world.

  • Y.

    US is stronger than ever in the ME? There are a series of changes and crises in the ME< and US ability to influence the outcome seems more limited than ever: Obama's attempts to use the bully pulpit have failed completely, no economic incentives in this climate, no threat of military force (Libya is the max USA can do now – there'll be no UNSC res in the future, and airstrikes won't do for the other issues), and USA allies have started ignoring it on critical issues. It seems America is weakest in the ME it has ever been since the end of the Cold War.

  • Tim Fitzgerald

    Interesting that fans of Reagan point to the 1980s US military build up as the death blow to the Soviet economy–i.e., the Soviets tried to keep up but did not have the economic resources to compete.

    Looking at the capital we are spending on military adventures, especially in the middle east, it would be easy to construct an argument that the 21st century US is on the same path as late 20th century USSR.

  • Roland Martin

    I am impressed by the civil, even erudite, comments on behalf of all of the responders. Not an ad hominum or four letter attack in the lot. It gives me hope that reasonable types, such as these, will rise above the trash talking yahoos who seem to dominate in this Facebook, Twitter leaning world.

  • @ #10:

    “Why isn’t Saudi Arabia on the list of bad guys?”

    That may well be the $64,000 question. In my view the Saudis are definitely the greater LONG-TERM threat to the US national interest than either Libya or Syria. But that doesn’t mean they’re anywhere near as great a threat to certain global corporate interests. Interests that may (increasingly expect to) be pulling more and more of the strings behind – can you imagine it? – EVEN OUR national politics, in the years ahead.

    Imagine I’m a geo-economic strategist for some big oil company (I know, I know – try suspending disbelief for a few seconds). Why should I or my clients necessarily fear the greater Wahhabization of large parts of the world? Even if that same process weakens the hold of local or national cultures in various places, and with them local or national political allegiances, just how does that interfere with MY agendas? People who hate or despise their immediate physical neighbors on religious grounds are likely to have much less investment in – indeed far more antipathy towards – both the local cultural and the national political life of their countries in which they live. The question then becomes, just how do they protect their purity and spiritual superiority from the unwashed masses? Just where do, and how can, holier-than-thou insular minorities take refuge from all the filth and idolatry around them? Nobody can be in a mosque or other place of worship all the time. On the other hand, might not that surplus energy, that can’t possibly be plowed 24/7 into worship and prayer, be all the better channeled into greater, more intensive (and more entrepreneurial) participation in the global economy? Far be it from me to suggest that my Wahhabi Muslim neighbors, when away from the mosque, are not out there hustling to beat the band. I.e., pursuing their various spiritually superior versions of the American Dream.

    But now suppose, say, in some corners of Central Asia where Wahhabism (or Talibanization?) is spreading like wildfire – suppose there’s growing mutual animosity “on the ground,” leading to massive breakdowns of social trust. And with it levels of social, economic and political instability such as the region hasn’t seen in maybe hundreds of years. What of it? How does that necessarily prevent hardy, enterprising organizations from getting the stuff that lies UNDER the ground? And might not the spreading social breakdown – leading in places to a “re-frontierization” of no-man’s-lands, renegade groups, extremist militias, etc – actually make those regions so much easier to exploit by the truly strong and well-resourced? AKA, in a world of global opportunity, the truly deserving? Remember UNOCAL’s initial – and by some accounts more than initial – enthusiasm for the Taliban?

    Not to get hysterical, of course. Just a thought.

    “Because of the fiction that they are our allies?” Frankly I don’t see how any stretch of imagination can dress up the Saudis as our allies. To the contrary. From a corporate- (notice I didn’t say NATIONAL-) interest standpoint they are something much more valuable than allies: They are economic partners. You know, like our trustworthy-through-thick-and-thin neighbors and friends China and Mexico. Where would we be today without THEIR loving support? (And so much better – don’t you think? – than having anything to do with those awful, racist, crypto-neo-imperialist Anglo-Saxons. Who for all we know are just waiting for an opportunity to drag us down into some sanitized version of European social democracy.)

    “That truth is that the United States has become more powerful in the Middle East today than at any time since the early 1950s.” At least we can pray and hope. And also that – assuming it is happening – it’s happening in such ways as will make Middle Eastern COUNTRIES stronger, more representative and more economically diversified. At least in the long run. As opposed to merely strengthening the leverage of certain insular religious movements and minorities within those countries. Anyhow, many thanks to WRM for a well-thought-out essay. “The destruction of the bond between Syria and Iran” is, I think, America’s most important IMMEDIATE strategic goal, even if it does mean having to share allies (e.g., in Lebanon, Syria) with those vile Saudis. He’s also given us, it seems to me, a much-needed counterpoint to a lot of the over-pessimistic hype out there regarding America’s role in the Middle Eastern future.

  • RPD

    @Tim Fizgerald;
    I have to disagree with you a bit here. In the cold war the Soviet Union had a much smaller GDP than most people realized, and spent a far larger proportion of their GDP on the military as it was, so that increasing it took them past the breaking point. The US on the other hand is spending something like 2-3% of it’s GDP, a level that’s indefinitely sustainable.

    On the other hand unfunded entitlement commitments are more likely to break us.

  • Tom Kinney

    There is a huge issue looming with what has accurately been labelled the policy of “liberal interventionism” and it will continue to be a problem for decades to come.

    Liberal interventionism is a seductive proposal. In it, we invoke our endless good will to repeat our successes in Germany and Japan after WWII by bailing out today’s newly failed states and then guide them to redemption among the global society of nations. We model for them the institutions of democracy; they see how wonderous it all is, and adjust accordingly. Soon we have a new nation friend with whom we trade goods while sharing tales about our mutually heroic past histories. And all is great and good.

    The problem, though, exists in these countries even before we arrive. That of vast cultural discrepancies that seem quaint and often lovely from a distance, but appear not so welcoming as we descend into the cultural weeds with them. A place from which we rarely reemerge intact. And it’s usually worse for them, since we are hoisting on them our values and culture.

    Like many, I fell for this siren call in Iraq. Looking back, perhaps the difference with Germany and Japan was that of being first atomized by all-out war, a process that perhaps served to tenderize them before we introduced them to our magificent toys; free markets, free speech, free angst and four TVs for every household. But for whatever reasons, it hasn’t worked out so well since the Marshall Plan triumphs.

    There is such a phenomenon as natural consequences and we should it is as an immutable law of nature. It’s how we learn most things. It is also the bain of all that modern progressives stand for; central planning, dependence on government, and enough other silly ideas to fill an ocean. But it’s a concept we now should take another look at.

    When we intervene willy nilly in sovereign states, we trigger a whole series of events whose outcomes we cannot predict. Too often, our cures have been worse than the disease.

    Nonetheless, the media will continue to bring atrocities into our living rooms and we will continue to be moved to action by them. We like to think that speaks well of our compassion, but does it really? For all we know, we could be doing nothing more than fashioning Congo clones everywhere we go.

    Perhaps we should consider a semi-isolationist like moratorium on interventions and reassess our outlook on how and whether we can do them right…or not at all.

  • richard40

    Its kind of ironic that the only area where Obama has had limited success, foreign and military policy, he has essentially followed the policies of Bush. It also illustrates the moral bankruptcy of the left that they have not called him to account for following policies that they had previously loudly condemned. On the other hand, criticism of Obama from the right on foreign policy has also been fairly restrained, both because his policies are the same as Bush, and because they are generally working.

  • don

    Revolution in Egypt? I beg to differ, the ruling military is still the boss. If not for a leading from behind president and the tender attention of NATO (those old colonialist poachers in sheep’s clothing now playing the game wardens), the Libyan mission creep from preventing a possible “genocide” to removing a tyrant for oil would never happen. Iraq was doing the revolution thing not too long ago, but the democrats (the party of Che and Castro) couldn’t stomach it. Victory in Libya? I wouldn’t count your secular chickens until all the Islamic eggs have hatched. It’s certainly an interesting thing to watch an atrocity going down on the ground during the ostensible effort to prevent one through a “humanitarian intervention” from the safety of the air. Now that is slick, although “slick Willie” did Kosovo from the air in 89 days with no UN or congressional authorization.

  • Viator

    “The United States had very little directly to do with this deterioration in the circumstances of the dictators”

    Except for The Internet, Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, QE2 induced food inflation, globalism, fiber-optic cables, satellite TV, space satellite development, US centered expatriate communities.

  • Jack Kalpakian

    While the historical analogy is certainly seductive, it is not fulfilling. President Bush had the broad picture correct, like Truman, but he also grossly over-estimated United States power and misunderstood the need for an honest casus belli based on precisely that which would irritate some of our supposed friends in the region: humanitarian intervention. He also did not understand that the populations of these countries were groaning from wars and oppression and wanted both freedom and peace. In no small measure, his father’s failure to support the Iraqi Shiite uprising helped create the need for a more involved intervention in 2003. In contrast, Obama understands that the only people who can construct a different sort of Arab world are the Arabs themselves, but that such an effort may need a hand up — such as indirect support through sanctions and airstrikes. In the end however, success and failure will belong to the Arab peoples. Their new regimes must choose whether they want a peaceful future where they co-exist with the other and harvest the fruits of that peace or a war-filled future where they will be served the bitter fruit of civil disturbance, foreign wars and economic collapse. Unlike the Democrats with Eisenhower and containment, the GOP has done all it could to attack the credibility of the Obama Presidency on Libya. I believe that the Republican party should and will pay a heavy price for this in 2012.

  • Corlyss

    @ Gene “The antiwar movement has gone quiet not because of Obama’s strengths.”

  • Corlyss

    @ Gene “The antiwar movement has gone quiet not because of Obama’s strengths”

    Remember where the women’s lobbies were during the Lewinsky affair? They were the same place the anti-war left is: in the land of the dumb (as in silent) because they do not make the same sorts of criticisms of their own that they do of Republicans. Like the women, they are situational ethicists. What they would spend hours of staff time, ink, and bytes on if a Republican did it, they ignore as if it never happend if a Democrat does it. At least many of us principled conservatives blistered GW Bush for his failures of leadership and vision. Lefties are too “loyal” (read “hypocritical,” or “toadying”) to do that to theirs.

  • Haim

    The problem with WRM’s thesis that American power in the ME is strong is not that it is in itself false. US is a dominant military force in the Med and the Persian Gulf, it is a global nexus of social networks, it is acknowledged leader of the West. The problem is that the American President refuses to acknowledge his country’s true role and responsibility. He does the right things, in the end, when all other options are exhausted. He does not articulate American interests. He does not demand, when he must. As a result, we now have an Egypt itching to break the peace treaty with Israel. How a new war between those two will factor into WRM’s rosy picture?

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