As bombs fall on Yemen and a sectarian war between the Middle East’s leading powers becomes more likely by the day, the Obama Administration seems to feel it might have some spinning to do about the success of its Middle East policy. But as President Ahab glances around his deck, few of his shipmates are manning their posts—in fact, most seem to be scrambling for the lifeboats. Oh well, there’s always that trusty tar, Unnamed State Department Official, to rely on for a friendly quote in Politico:
“There’s a sense that the only view worth having on the Middle East is the long view. […] We’ve painfully seen that good can turn to bad and bad can turn to good in an instant, which might be a sobriety worth holding on to at moments like this. The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we’re one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what every one agrees is the biggest threat to the region.”
But among those who are willing to give their names, there is less philosophizing. James Jeffrey, Obama’s former Ambassador to Iraq, cuts through the commentary on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East with a certain pithiness:
“We’re in a goddamn free fall here.”
Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, writers are doing their tortured best to say something other than that a catastrophic breakdown of the President’s foreign policy is taking place in the Middle East—but the defense is less than effective. What can you do, the world is just a mess, seems to be their take:
Few disagree that the continuing tumult in the Middle East has scrambled American priorities there. This has led many to argue that the Obama administration’s policy for the region is adrift — without core principles to anchor it.
But amid the confusion, some experts said that there cannot be an overarching American policy in the Middle East at the moment. The best the White House can do, they said, is tailor policies according to individual crises as they flare up.
If we had a Republican President and the Middle East were in this much of a mess, and the Administration had been repeatedly exposed as having fundamentally misjudged major developments (calling ISIS the “jayvee team,” Yemen a success, Erdogan a reliable partner, etc. etc.), the NYT would be calling for impeachment and howling about the end of the world. As it is, the newspaper of record reflects philosophically on the complexity of the world, and suggests that nobody could really do anything given the problems around us.
Nobody should be surprised by this, but nobody should miss the most important point here: even the President’s ideological fellow travelers can no longer mount a cogent defense of his Middle East policy. The MSM will still do all it can to avoid connecting the dots or drawing attention to the stark isolation in which the White House now finds itself as ally after ally drops away. It still doesn’t want to admit that the “smart diplomacy” crowd has been about as effective at making a foreign policy as the famous emperor’s smooth-talking tailors were at making a new suit of clothes. But it’s getting harder and harder to find anybody willing to gush about how snazzy the President looks in the sharp foreign policy outfit that he’s sporting around town. The shocked silence of the foreign policy establishment, the absence of any statements of support from European or Asian allies about our Middle East course, the evidence that the President and the “senior officials” whom he trusts continue to be blindsided by major developments they didn’t expect and haven’t provided for: all of this tells us that our Middle East policy is indeed in free fall.