Washington will miss the outspoken Letitia “Tish” Baldrige, the octogenarian etiquette maven, who passed on this week. Tish learned the manners of political Washington at an early age when her father served as a U.S. representative from Nebraska. Later, she served as social secretary to America’s ambassador to France in Paris, assistant to Clare Booth Luce at the American Embassy in Rome, and chief of staff to first lady Jackie Kennedy.
As Governor Romney and President Obama continue to debate foreign policy and national security, voters would be wise to evaluate the “Obama Doctrine” against the current combustible state of affairs that it has led to in the Greater Middle East. In less than four years, the Obama administration’s policies have transformed the region into a powder keg with a hairpin detonator that could be set off by the slightest diplomatic misstep, engulfing the region and the world in war. And, as if an economy on the brink wasn’t daunting enough, the current administration’s feckless diplomacy in the Arab world have begotten a near-impossible foreign policy conundrum that Mitt Romney will be forced to attend to from the moment he is sworn in as the forty-fifth President of the United States.
In order to help voters see clearly where unfolding events in the region are headed, I have summarized the salient facts and provided a brief analysis below.
President Obama’s denial of various forms of Islamist radicalism have amplified the jihadist threat and altered American foreign policy in the Middle East. In his Cairo speech in 2009, Mr. Obama affirmed the misperception that America had been on the wrong side in wars “against the Muslim World” by announcing his new expiative approach to US foreign policy in the Arab world. Since then his and the State Department’s actions in the region have been characterized by retreat, abandonment of civil democratic reform movements, and partnership with Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The administration’s freedom-antagonistic policies coupled with a desire to find common-ground with the Iranian regime, have effectively quashed hopes for true democratic reform while Obama remains in the White House. The Obama doctrine has dangerously impacted US national security.
Barack Obama’s ill-advised pre-election commitment to bilateral negotiations with the Ayatollahs was put to the test in June 2009 when millions of mostly young Iranians took to the streets of Tehran in what almost became an “Iranian Spring.” With the Iranian regime teetering on the brink of collapse, the administration turned a deaf ear to demonstrators’ cries for America’s help as evidenced by the President’s silence on their plight and stubborn insistence on seeking understanding with the Khomeinist regime. But instead of obtaining concessions on Iran’s nukes, the Ayatollahs multiplied Uranium enrichment efforts and produced large numbers of long range missiles to deliver Apocalypse to Israel and the “Great Satan.” Hoping keep his grandiose illusion of US-Iranian nuclear talks alive, Obama imposed belated, near-symbolic economic sanctions on Iran with predictable negligible effect. In return, the Iranian regime expanded their destabilizing efforts in the Middle East, inciting Shia in Eastern Arabia, Bahrain and North Yemen to penetrate legitimate social movements and overthrow their US-friendly Governments.
Mitt Romney’s position on Iran is radically different and infinitely more sensible than Barack Obama’s. Sanctions should be tightened and all-encompassing to force the regime abandon its nuclear ambitions, not induce negotiations toward a partial solution. Furthermore, Governor Romney’s policy on Iran would include partnering with the forces of civil democratic reform in their efforts to replace the current extremist regime once and for all.
Obama’s miscalculation on Iran led to other regional catastrophes. As soon as the administration withdrew American forces from Iraq abruptly in December of 2011, Iranian influence penetrated Iraq. By not supporting Iran’s popular movement, Obama left Iran unrestrained. By failing to reach an agreement with Iraq before US withdrawal, Obama allowed Iran to infiltrate its neighbor, further threatening Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and reaching Syria’s borders. Romney would have contained the Iranian regime first, and then consolidated a pro-Western Government in Iraq.
Similar strategic mistakes were made by the administration on the Arab Spring as a consequence of its misguided apology doctrine. Instead of working with the initial forces of change in Egypt—youth, women, middle class, workers and minorities—the Administration chose to partner exclusively with the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama’s team and the Islamists worked to put the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies in power, first by sidelining the secular reformers with the help of the army, then the army with the help of secular youth, before they rose to power and marginalized all other players. Under Morsi, Egypt is quickly morphing into an Islamist state, threatening the Camp David Accords, as well as seculars, women, and Copts. A similar scenario unfolded in Tunisia where Washington partnered with the Islamist Nahda at the expense of seculars, women, and reformers. Romney would pursue partnership with civil societies, particularly with women and seculars, and tie US financial aid to performance by governments.
In Libya, the Obama Administration again sought partnership with the Islamists and neglected working with government and secular groups to disarm the militias and after Gadhafi’s downfall, sowed the seeds of al Qaeda’s growth, and opened a path for attacks against US targets, the most recent being a terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and embassy staffers. A Romney Administration would first seek the disarming of the militias and, above all, provide better security for American lives in installations where Jihadists operate.
Barack Obama’s worst and most dramatic failure has obviously been in Syria. One-year late to respond, Obama’s team was unable to create a coalition to bring down Assad. Out of Iraq by 2012, the US was unable to encircle Assad and prevent Iranian support from getting to the brutal regime. Thirty thousand civilians were massacred while the US administration was incapable of obtaining a UN resolution for action against Assad, despite its being called a “reset button” with Moscow. By being two years tardy, the administration has allowed the massacre in Syria to proceed. Iran is now connected to Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has reached the sea by land. Furthermore, al Qaeda is now operating in Syria and Iraq.
After Osama bin Laden was killed, the Obama Administration began claiming that al Qaeda was in decline, a claim proven false as AQ jihadists continue to conquer villages and towns in Yemen, fight in Somalia, are back in the Levant from Lebanon to Iraq, operating in the Sahel and Libya, with allies in Nigeria, and having established a solid base in northern Mali. Osama is dead, but al Qaeda is alive and flourishing.
With the growth of jihadism and radical Islamism, the secular forces of the Arab Spring are being pushed back. More dramatically Christian and other ethnic minorities across the region, in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Algeria and in Sudan, are under attack. Everywhere in the region reformers, women and minorities are suppressed and pushed back, while the Islamists and jihadists up and running and expanding their reach. Iran is arming and genocide is looming from Syria to Sudan.
The Obama policies in the Middle East led to the rise of radicals and weakening of civil societies. A Romney alternative for the region is a must, not only on the basis of human rights and democracy, but also regarding US national security and the security of its allies.
Dr Walid Phares is senior advisor on Foreign Policy and National Security to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a co-chair of the Romney Working Group on the Middle East and North Africa MENA. He is the author of the Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East the only book that predicted the Arab Spring before it begins
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