White House Fiddles, Middle East Burns: Will Obama Make W Look Like a Bismarck?
Published on: June 19, 2013
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  • rheddles

    “We have no doubt that the administration wants a peaceful and stable
    Middle East that is moving toward greater democracy and greater respect
    for human rights. We share its desire”

    Unicorns too?

    Your analysis of Egypt is much better than your analysis of Obama. Egypt is heading south and there is really little Obama can do to stop it. Syria is a sideshow, the Spanish Civil War of the coming conflagration. Whatever Obama does in Syria will have little effect on Egypt. There is less to be done to prevent the coming war than there was with World War II. But like World War II, actions to prevent it had to take place in Germany, not Spain. And no one is talking about dealing with Egypt or Iran.

    So events roll on.

    • Corlyss

      “there is really little Obama can do to stop it.”

      Spot on. Even more so, if there were anything he could do, he’s too much in the grip of post Viet Nam Democratic paralysis when it comes to the use of military force. They spent so much energy trying to provide an alternative to muscular Republican policies they have convinced themselves that military power=evil. Remember back during the 2008 campaign when Mister Toothsucking Wisdom rushed in front of the cameras to ask the Georgians and the Russians to show some restraint? John Batchelor on his radio show apostrophized to Candidate Obama, “Mr. Obama, Russian tanks rolling in=bad guys; American tanks rolling in=good guys.” Apparently even that was too complex for the inveterate Lefty to grasp.

    • MoReport

      ‘Syria is a (relatively) unimportant sideshow.’ Fine, then there would be
      no effects beyond Syria (and Iran?)
      if Assad and the two most Islamist
      opposition leaders were killed by
      US drone strikes, to dissuade their
      successors from actions which
      would earn them the same fate ?

      The Middle East is heading South,
      and Obama did everything he could
      to hasten the move. Why not; The
      ensuing world economic collapse
      is a crisis that can be used to gain
      dictatorial emergency power in the
      US, which will be the only world power
      left standing afterwards.

  • Pete

    You know, Mr. Mead, when things in the world get too messy, too convoluted, it take a real war to straighten things out and establish a new order.

    • Corlyss

      Amen! We need some simplification.

    • James Jones

      Pete, your “real war” is not a re-run of Gulf War I or II with 300K to 500K American troops. Think instead of 3 – 5 million troops with the probable use of nuclear weapons. We can win any such war once to we decide to fight it, but we don’t want to have to fight wars like that because of bad strategic decisions. The Obama Administration’s incompetence is pushing us toward a regional strategic disaster that can only be fixed by a major war.

      • wigwag

        Exactly!

      • rheddles

        It would be more fair to say the OA’s incompetence is accelerating the onset of a major war. That there will be a major war is inevitable and is not directly due to the US, nor is there much the US can do to forestall it. It’s sort of like saying James Buchanan caused the Civil War.

        The collision of Islam with modernity is the source of this strategic disaster. Islam wants to rule all and modernity refuses to convert. There’s going to be a problem.

        (Wigwag’s comment is in agreement with James Jones, not me.)

        • MoReport

          The Hashashim had some
          considerable success in
          influencing other Islamic
          forces of their time.
          US drones, and their even
          smaller and deadlier successors will make excellent assassins.
          As long as there are no US casualties the US public will not object.

        • James Jones

          rheddles, I agree with your point that the foundational cause of the security threats in the ME (and many other areas) is Islam’s quest to rule all. However, how we deal with the various components of the Islamic threat can make a big difference in the scale and duration of the civilizational war with Islam.

          In this case, the Obama Administration had the opportunity to create a major setback to Iran and Hezbollah by overthrowing their Syrian allies. This would split the militant Shiite crescent running from Iran to Lebanon and isolate Hezbollah from large scale Iranian military support. It would also discredit Iran’s drive to become a regional hegemon as a champion of Shiite Islam. This could result in the fall of Iran’s current theocratic regime. (Probably not, but worth the effort because it puts additional external and internal pressure on the Mullah’s regime).

          If Iran wins in Syria and successfully develops nuclear weapons, all of the major Sunni states in the ME will build or buy nuclear weapons. The Sunni and the Shia may well fight each other first, but sooner or later those weapons will be turned against the infidels. And we’re right at the top of the target list for all varieties of Islam. It would be a very good move to defeat Iran before it develops nukes. Defeating them in Syria would be part of that strategy — if the Obama Administration actually has a strategy for defeating Iran.

          Best,

          James

      • Pete

        “The Obama Administration’s incompetence is pushing us toward a regional strategic disaster that can only be fixed by a major war.”

        I agree, James.

  • Thirdsyphon

    I don’t think that Russian and Iranian support for “Butcher Assad” is doing anything at all to increase the diplomatic prestige of those countries, which is already at rock-bottom in any case. I likewise don’t believe that Iran’s intervention on behalf of Assad’s brutal, criminal regime can or should be considered a success if the goal was to shore up public support for “the mullahs” or a hardline foreign policy against the west. I haven’t seen any polls on this subject, but I have a suspicion that Iran’s ill-advised meddling in Syria was one of the major factors that allowed the forces of moderation to prevail in this month’s election. We make a mistake, I think, if we assume that *only* the American people are tired of war.

    • Kavanna

      Yes. Both Russian and Iranian influence in the region are dropping. If things keep getting worse, they will continue to drop.

      The issue here, though, is *American* influence. A clear-headed and decisive US president might turn things around, although the situation is getting worse every day.

      It’s the implosion of American influence we should be worried about, not some imaginary surge of Russian or Iranian influence. The latter is confined to Shi’ite-istan, and even in Iran, the population is apparently getting restless. Russian influence in the region has been waning since the end of the Cold War and the Gulf and Iraq wars. It will continue to decline.

      • Thirdsyphon

        Good response. I agree that America’s ability to control events in the Middle East is declining, but that process has been underway since at least 1950, when the Saudis successfully claimed and seized joint control of Aramco. I do not agree, however, that it is *imploding*. As in most other regions, America’s influence in the Middle East has a slowly descending ceiling; but it also has a floor. Our interest in ensuring a steady and uninterrupted flow of oil from the region coincides with the interests of just about every other rational power on the globe (I excuse Russia from the charge of either sharing this interest or being rational, but not Iran). That’s the shape of the playing field we’re dealing with, and it’s not clear how any U.S. President, no matter how clear-headed or decisive, could do very much to fundamentally alter it. The Iraq War was a “hail-mary” attempt at changing the game, but I think we can all agree that it failed and that nothing remotely similar in scale will ever be attempted again, at least by the United States.

        • rheddles

          The Iraq war was not so much a failure as an unforced retreat. Failure to get a SOFA was a critical mistake by Obama. Were we still in Iraq, things would be going better there and in the ME in general. It took a long time to get Europe back on it’s feet to the extent they are. It would have taken at least as long with Iraq. But the American people had neither the patience nor the will, so they elected Obama to speak soothingly as they walked away from the task.

          • MoReport

            No mistake about it;
            If the US retained a
            Forward Operating Base
            in Iraq, operations in the region would be easier.
            Obama wanted such Ops
            to be more difficult, so he
            would have an excuse not
            to act.

      • wigwag

        Let me respectfully suggest that you read “The Strong Horse” by Lee Smith. He makes a convincing case that Arab nations are inclined to follow what he calls the strong horse; that is, whoever is winning. If Iran, Russia and Hezbollah prevail in Syria while the United States sits on tge sidelines, American prestige in that part of the world will collapse and Iranian and Russian influence will sky rocket. When the U.S. finally realizes this (whether during this Administration or tge next) and works to regain lost influence, violence and chaos will be the inevitable result; it is far better to act now.

        Here’s a blurb about Smith’s book,

        “In The Strong Horse, Smith reveals the Arab world to be defined by a tribal culture where support goes to “the strong horse.” Technology and democracy will not transform the Arab world, Smith convincingly demonstrates. Rather, Arab peoples and governments naturally align themselves with the strongest power, even when that power is the United States or Israel.”

        You you don’t need to be a neocon to learn from Smith’s book. It can be found here,

        http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0064XO75Q/ref=mw_dp_mdsc?dsc=1

    • Parker O’Brien

      I disagree. While the ‘west’ may look on in distain at the
      backwardness of Russian and Iran, pragmatic eyes see that Syria, supported by
      these states, is winning. This isn’t about feel good intentions, it’s about who
      brings home the bacon, especially during the rough patches. Look for weaker satellite
      states, especially autocratic ones, to reorient
      themselves towards these powers. An all too unwelcome prospect for the US.

      • Thirdsyphon

        “Bringing home the bacon” is an appropriate use of imagery, since that’s exactly how a leader’s decision to align himself with Iran would be viewed by Sunnis throughout the Middle East. Iran’s intervention in Syria has increased the risk for Sunni leaders of aligning with them even more. . . a thing which I had previously considered impossible.

  • Anthony

    “That is admittedly a high bar, but the trends are unsettling to say the least…. Syria would be a difficult problem under any circumstances, but it has now become a dangerous, no-win blind alley because of politically opportunistic bluffs the White House made for political effect…real trouble looms unless the administration can begin to engage in a much more serious and thoughful way.” At bottom WRM, you are suggesting safe guarding international flow of oil vis-a-vis global commercial interests to undergird geostrategic interest. That is, inferring from essay, Balance of Power interests impel United States Middle East involvement – yet we face complex choices. “Acts that shock the conscience of humankind are, we believe, America’s business. So are acts that…disrupt international commerce.”
    The Syrian civil war and Middle East nexus creates U.S. foreign policy issues that Obama administration cannot leave to others if WRM’s implied thesis (United States guardian of global commerce) has realist value strategically. “We do not live in an either/or world, but rather one of difficult decisions about how to pursue goals.” The world stage awaits.

    • juninhobaiano

      The Syrian Civil War in no way threatens the international flow of oil. It’s a sideshow far away from the Suez Canal which is what really matters.

      The Persian Gulf is QUIET compared to the 1980’s when Iran was much more active.

      As long as the US keeps the sea lanes open through the Straits of Hormuz, Gulf of Aden and Suez Canal, the people on land can flight ethnic wars as if they were living in the 7th century…

      • Anthony

        WRM posits tentative concern in essay and I queried premises. Given that NSC, DOD, CIA, DOS, et al, have pertinent intel, we outside of loop can only speculate. Thanks for reply.

      • MoReport

        As long as someone does not nuke and shut down the Suez Canal.

  • Atanu Maulik

    When people forget the lessons of history, history returns to teach them the lessons. It seems that Americans will have to re-learn the lessons of 1930’s and 40’s all over again. Americans have become too keenly aware of the “cost of war” over the past decade. They may have to re-learn that ” cost of peace” can be even higher.

    • fxmeaney

      Spot on.

    • juninhobaiano

      So is Iran somehow the Germany of yesterday that it all of a sudden going to invade every country in the Middle East? I doubt it…

      Syria is just a sideshow like the Spanish Civil War. The US sat out that conflict with minimal to no impact on its interets, just like in Lebanon 30 years ago…

      • azt24

        The way the Arab countries are going, Iran could see itself ruling them in the future…just as it did in various periods of the past.

        • juninhobaiano

          The 5th fleet is parked across the Gulf in Bahrain. Ain’t gonna happen this time

      • Parker O’Brien

        You mean the Spanish Civil war that was the precursor to WWII? Ya, there was no impact on US interests…

        • juninhobaiano

          The 5th fleet is parked in Bahrain as I just said, unlike after WWI when Wilson tried to stupidly outlaw war…

    • Without freedom, and its protection by those charged with governance in every nation, the only sure peace is that of the grave.

  • hanekhw

    I don’t understand? The media is proclaiming that Hillary Clinton was this magnificent Secretary of State who’s accomplishments ranked alongside such predecessors as Jefferson, Seward, Hay and Cordell Hull. How can that possibly jibe with the rapidly deteriorating situation in all the old hot spots? It seems more like she poured on gasoline to put out fires.

  • juninhobaiano

    Dear WRM:

    Didn’t a certain president in the 1980’s fiddle while the Middle East burned? Let’s see, Ronald Reagan kept the US basically on the sidelines while the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) claimed 90,000-+ lives in the Levant like the Syria of today, and the Iran-Iraq (1980-1988) claimed a MILLION lives.

    In the latter war, the Reagan administration actively funneled weapons to both sides to aid and abbet the killing while looking the other way when chemical weapons were used.

    Reagan only intervened militarily against Iran through Operation Praying Mantis to keep oil shipments safe in the Persian Gulf during the Tanker Wars.

    Reagan is considered a genius for not getting tied down in the numerous land wars and sectarian conflicts that were raging in the Middle East during his presidency. He also ordered the US military out of Beirut after the twin bombings there.

    There is no doubt Obama is borrowing from his playbook in protecting the sea lanes and to keep the oil flowing while providing military aid to allies like Jordan and the Gulf States in case a major blow up occurs.

    So, WRM, are you willing to substitute the word “Obama” in your article and insert “Reagan”? Their passive policies of non-engagement look eerily similar, don’t they?

    We’re all ears buddy!

    • MoReport

      Interesting, how Reagan is an All-Powerful Emperor when his actions
      are to be condemned by the Progressives,
      and only responding to Congressional
      pressure when his actions are approved.

    • stevedb

      I’m trying to think if there were any major differences between then and now but I can’t think of a single way in which the world was different.

  • baumann

    What if this is not fiddling or short-term thinking by the administration? What if they simply do not care what happens in the Middle East? What if they believe that whoever controls the oil will still be happy to sell to us? What if all they care about is their domestic ambitions? That would fit the pattern: cynical feints at responsible action in Afghanistan and Libya, masking a profound indifference.

  • Ron Reich

    Obama’s actions reveal only two goals: Weakening the USA, and redistributing wealth to Democrats. Oh, and maximizing hypocrisy too! -> http://youtu.be/zOAa1qTu3Jo

  • Beaux Weevil

    Obama’s only enemies are American.

    • azt24

      Certainly Americans (of the opposing political persuasion) are the only people Obama has ever called enemies.

  • George1111

    It is time to understand that the Middle East is unrecoverable and it is only going to get worse. The only solution is to prepare for the time they implode by increasing domestic exploration and drilling, also approving and speeding the construction of the pipeline from Canada to increase supplies from a trustful provider. The sooner we accept that the Middle East cannot be salvage the better

    • MoReport

      Are you willing to write off Europe as well ?

      • bannedforselfcensorship

        No, they can rapidly re-arm and mobilize their conscripts for their own defense. In fact, if they need help, they can buy US weaponry.

  • pnkearns

    Wow… the author admits the U.S. will be energy independent, but there is a danger the “Persian Gulf melts down and the oil flow stops”, and “we should never forget that many other countries depend on America’s ability to safeguard the flow of oil from the Gulf.”

    Seems to me like the other countries need to stand up, and pay up, to protect their own oil flows. Why should the U.S. take on that burden and expense? Why should the U.S. continue to support arbitrary colonial borders from a century ago and despot societies when the local people obviously want a different map? The days of the U.S. being world’s cop are over.

    • Given that at least some of those other nations – and most Middle East regimes – lack the respect for liberty that we have here (recent actions of the Administration notwithstanding) … do you REALLY want to encourage them to take over our “beat”?

      Be careful what you ask for. Our days as “cop” will only be over when one of two things happens …

      … tyrants worldwide are replaced by rights-respecting governance, or …

      … liberty is choked to death here.

  • Rick Caird

    Obama is all about empty threats. All Obama does is talk while dithering. Eventually, the dithering allows the talk to catch up to him.

    • azt24

      What else can you expect from a politician who rose by promising anything then moving onto the next job before anybody could call him on not delivering? This is the first time Obama has stayed in a job long enough to be expected to deliver results.

    • Wes Dorman

      Not entirely–his threats to audit his enemies were followed through on…

  • Mike G

    You forgot to add that the Obama administration has in essence surrendered in Afghanistan. The negotiations with the Taliban and the shoddy treatment of the Karzai government in Kabul send the message that we have surrendered. I’m sure this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Russians and the Iranians.

    • azt24

      Yes; the only thing I disagree with in the article is where WRM says Iran and Russia will conclude there are dealing with the second coming of Jimmy Carter. They already have concluded this and are proceeding accordingly.

  • Daniel Hutnicki

    The article is incorrect. The worse thing happening in the middle east is that the Israelis are building condos in E. Jerusalem. Why else would Kerry be flying there every month

  • BurkeanMama

    “Will Obama make W. look like Bismark”? I thought he already had.

  • Jack Kalpakian

    There is a simple problem: the U.S. population is against intervention. Have you been reading your Clauswitz, Dr. Mead?

  • ZeitTrash

    To answer the headline question, no, but only because the American media and academia would never allow it.

    America is a captive propaganda state. What passes for journalism in America (and most of the West) exists to brainwash the population in progressive goals and to identify dissidents and coordinate action against them.

    In the mass culture, truth has become an abstracted, petty tool of oppression used by conservatives to block gay “love” and oppress non-whites. Truth has become a discredited instrument of “racism” and “hate.”

    If the Middle East were to completely decay into mass cannibalism and nuclear war as a direct result of Obama admin policies, the media and the bulk of university scholars would still find a way to paper it over, put a pro-Obama spin on it, and blame it on Bush.

    Will there be an honest appraisal of Obama and the left in 20 or 30 years? Possibly, but I’ve come to doubt that in recent months and years given the power and extent of the existing liberal propaganda state. They are currently rewriting history as it happens. They may ultimately be able to make their newspeak and agitprop the official history in the long term.

  • C_Before_E

    What we are doing in Syria may be half-baked, but what should we do to change the outcome? What exactly are we supposed to do in Egypt? That unfortunate nation is saddled with bigger problems than we can handle. How can we prevent the whole Middle East from burning up, and how can we salvage anything if it does? This article offers a lot of hand-wringing and ill-tempered swipes at Obama for making dumb remarks. It offers no solutions, maybe because there are none.

  • Tut Ankh Amon

    The US shouldn’t help Al Qaeda foreign terrorists in Syria or the MB in Egypt

  • George Weiss

    i agree that the US has made some verry bad errors in the ME. Our seretary of State is spending most of his time trying to solve the unsolvable israel-Arab problem and neglecting almost the rest of the world. In my opinion, Iran is the most dangerous country in the region and it must be stopped at all cost. A cripling air strike may do the trick and also take pressure off the Syrian problem. Howver, it looks like there is a do-nothing in the White House.

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