BY Barry Rubin
June 11, 2012
Let me explain to you why the Obama administration’s propaganda leak effort to prove the president is tough on national security is nonsense.
Almost every example, with two exceptions — a computer virus against Iran and regime change in Libya — revolves around the willingness to combat or kill al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. There has never been any question that the Obama administration views al-Qaeda as an enemy and a danger that should be wiped out — that isn’t the problem. The problem is this is the only factor in the world this administration sees as a national security threat, since al-Qaeda is eager to launch direct attacks against targets on American soil.
The administration does not act against any other possible national security threat, be it Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Russia, Pakistan, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Turkish Islamist regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, or anything else. The administration has shown its belief that engagement, flattery, refusal to help their intended victims, and concessions can win over these enemies. It has even tried to redefine the Taliban as a group that can be conciliated and given a share in a new Afghan government,despite its involvement in September 11.
The only partial exception to that list is Iran. Yet even there, the Obama administration avoided doing anything for almost three years, and even now the government has been desperate to make a deal with Tehran. Only Iran’s intransigence — and preference for stalling — has prevented some bargain. Even on the Iran issue, the administration did less than Congress wanted and virtually exempted China, Russia, and Turkey from having to observe the sanctions.
Thus, the one other case of administration “toughness” has been support for Israel’s strategy of using such delaying tactics as computer viruses. Of course, the administration is happy with low-cost, no-risk ideas that postpone its having to deal with Iran having nuclear weapons.
During its term, the administration has not been tough in terms of helping allies all over the world. A few dozen governments have been very disappointed by U.S. policy.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has pursued withdrawal strategies initiated by its predecessor. This choice seems wise, but it should be noted that the Obama administration has been completely ineffective in Iraq, where the political system is in serious trouble. With no U.S. effort to resolve the conflict in sight, the Shia prime minister has put out an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president on a charge of terrorism, and the Kurdish president is helping him hide out.
As for Afghanistan, the possibility of a regime collapse and a Taliban takeover is a very real danger that the administration has not been able to counter. The administration favors a “moderate” Taliban participation in government, and has found no way, despite billions of dollars of U.S. aid, to get Pakistan to stop backing the Taliban.
That leaves Libya. This intervention was done because the Arab League, the UN, and the European Union all concurred, and the Gaddafi regime was an easy target. It is not yet clear whether this operation will leave Libya worse off and will jeopardize U.S. interests. Note that the Libyan transitional government is stalling on elections, apparently because these might result in a radical, anti-American Islamist regime or a regional conflict that would produce a new civil war. At any rate, it was less a bold action than a mere going along with the crowd, and whether the operation was of any benefit to U.S. interests is still to be seen.
Finally, there is the jewel in the crown: the assassination of Osama bin Laden. The administration’s portrayal of this as some courageous decision shows more than anything how weak he is. A normal U.S. government would have taken this choice for granted, and not felt the need to stress the president’s alleged machismo. (Even Jimmy Carter didn’t posture over the comparatively brave decision to launch an armed rescue mission of the U.S. hostages held in Iran.) Actually, given Obama’s worldview — don’t make the Muslims mad, fear looking like a bully, be ambiguous about the use of force, panic lest failure have a political cost — it was indeed a hard decision. But that supposed difficult pondering, by the White House’s own admission, precisely makes the point about this administration’s weakness.
Generally, the case of Obama being tough is sold by journalists by leaving out all of the points listed above. Indeed, they are often very vague about specifics in making the case for a heroic Obama. In normal times, with a media that made some serious effort at balance, they would be laughed off the stage.
As for the allegedly mysterious source of the leaks, this is a joke. Anyone who knows how these things work would have no doubt after reading the relevant articles, especially in the New York Times. All of those interviewed were former or current Obama appointees eager to make him look good. These are the people who told the press about national security secrets that relatively few people knew, especially in some detail.
Do these leaks endanger American soldiers and intelligence sources? Ask those at the Pentagon who are outspokenly bitter about self-serving Obama administration leaks, the British services whose penetration of al-Qaeda was irresponsibly revealed, and the Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping to get Osama without a huge U.S. effort to get him released.
Finally, here is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post on what Obama is doing wrong; Ambassador John Bolton on what Obama should be doing; and most surprisingly of all, the usually in-the-tank-for-Obama Nicholas Kristof writing in the New York Times of his disgust at the president’s policy on Syria and Sudan.