September 6, 2012
by Barry Rubin
by Barry Rubin
When the authors of the Democratic Party’s platform’s sections dealing with the Middle East—I dealt with the section on Israel in a previous article—finished it, they were no doubt quite satisfied. They felt that they had built a strong case for reelecting President Barack Obama along the following lines:
America is more secure and popular. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are on the run. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are ending. America is supporting democracy, women’s rights, and gay rights around the world. Isn’t this great leadership? How could anyone not vote for Obama?
When I read the platform I am shocked and disappointed. I can pick a bit at the issues of popularity, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But the failure to deal with revolutionary Islamism is ridiculously glaring — they didn’t use the tiniest fig leaf to cover themselves — making a mockery of the democracy and human rights pretensions. The treatment of Middle East allies is shockingly insulting. The issues of Syria and Egypt are simply dodged. There is not a single mention of the opposition in Iran. All terrorists not directly involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks are ignored. There is not the slightest hint that any Democratic regional strategy for America exists at all.
Not a single word implies that the United States is willing to help allies fight revolutionary Islamist threats. In fact, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” do not appear once, even in some discussion of good Muslims versus bad radical heretics. They could not even bring themselves to say something like: “Islam is a religion of peace but there are some extremists who wish to distort its teachings, take power, and institute repressive and anti-American dictatorships. We support our allies in defending themselves against these threats and support true democratic reformers in fighting against such oppressive forces that deny equality to women, religious minorities, and gay people.” But they didn’t even do that.
If they don’t even see the main threat at all, how can one trust such people to rule the country and provide leadership in the region?
What can American allies in the region — aside from Israel — expect from President Obama to protect them from internal revolutionaries, international terrorists, and revolutionary Islamist states? Here’s the passage in its entirety:
President Obama is committed to maintaining robust security cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council states and our other partners aimed at deterring aggression, checking Iran’s destabilizing activities, ensuring the free flow of commerce essential to the global economy, and building a regional security architecture to counter terrorism, proliferation, ballistic missiles, piracy, and other common threats.
That’s all you get Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates! How confident are you in Obama’s leadership?
Well, here’s the lead of a Reuters story on this topic that came out during the Democratic National Convention: “The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its ideological affiliates in the Arab Spring uprisings has stoked fears among Gulf Arab governments that the United States may one day abandon its traditional allies as it warms up to Islamists.”
Back to the platform. Let’s get the bragging out of the way first:
When President Obama took office in January 2009, our armed forces were engaged in two wars. Al- Qaeda, which had attacked us on 9/11, remained entrenched in its safe havens. Many of our alliances were strained, and our standing in the world had diminished. Around the world and here at home, there were those who questioned whether the United States was headed toward inevitable decline.
On one hand, whatever George W. Bush’s faults he had already essentially won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (as much as that was possible) and dislodged al-Qaeda from its “safe havens.” Obama criticized the strategy that won in Iraq. So that’s a lie.
Quite true, alliances were strained, standing in the world had diminished, and there were those who asked if the United States was in inevitable decline. The problem is that, generally speaking, the situation is worse — certainly in the Middle East — in all three categories three years later.
There follows a long section on “Responsibly Ending the War in Iraq,” which credits Obama for pulling out American troops and implying that Romney and other Republicans would have left American combat troops there forever. In fact, I think it is quite fair to say that there was a consensus that the U.S. role was coming to an end. I believe a Republican president would have done precisely the same thing that Obama did. Pulling out the troops was a correct move, so Obama can claim credit for it but not as his unique idea.
The optimism about Iraq’s future is even more questionable:
Moving forward, President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to building a robust, long- term strategic partnership with a sovereign, united, and democratic Iraq in all fields—diplomatic, economic, and security—based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
In fact, Iraq analysts discuss how difficult and dangerous the situation is in the country today and how the Obama administration has done nothing to try to make it better.
On Afghanistan we are told: Obama “refocused our efforts there in 2009, setting the clear goal of defeating al-Qaeda and denying it an ability to reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan,” as if Bush had never thought of that idea. But in fact it also claims Obama was able to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and to give the Afghans the time and space to build the capacity of their security forces. We have accomplished that, and now we have begun the process of bringing our troops home from Afghanistan.”
While I support the withdrawal, it is well-known among Afghan experts that the Taliban is actually doing well, that the Afghan security forces are seriously flawed, and that Obama’s administration has played footsy with the Taliban. After a U.S. withdrawal anything is possible. Also the whole problem of Pakistan’s betrayal of U.S. trust (and ample funding) is not mentioned anywhere.
The section on al-Qaeda includes legitimate Obama administration successes but can’t help but tendentiously imply that Bush was losing the war and that only Obama succeeded. The closing line of this section contains a very important hint for understanding the problem with Obama policy:
…We are committed to an unrelenting pursuit of those who would kill Americans or threaten our homeland, our allies, our partners, and our interests around the world.
This is nonsense. There is an unrelenting pursuit of al-Qaeda but hardly of terrorists attacking allies, partners, and even interests. Think: Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, Hamas, Hizballah, the Syrian regime (until it broke down in civil war), terrorist forces in Syria, and even Iran (whose operations in Iraq to kill Americans are an open secret).
Two of the most interesting of the platform’s sections deal with Iran and support for democracy. Revealingly, the discussion of Iran is under the heading “Preventing the Spread and Use of Nuclear Weapons.” In other words, it isn’t that Iran poses some special threat but is just part of the overall need to rid the world of nuclear weapons, including the American ones.
Naturally, it talks about the sanctions put on Iran — nicely sharing credit with “international powers and Congress.” But it also includes some whoppers:
When President Obama took office, Iran was ascendant in the region, and the international community was divided over how to address Iran’s nuclear violations.
Really? The fact is that Iran was hardly ascendant and the international community — except for such countries as Turkey, Russia, and China that have never changed their line — was ready for serious action. It just took Obama two long years to show leadership.
Working with our European allies and with Russia and China, the administration gained unprecedented agreement for the toughest ever UN sanctions against Iran….
That’s true but doesn’t mention that their agreement was gained by exempting them from the sanctions. The rest is pretty much standard policy that using diplomacy and pressure is best but other options including military force remain on the table.
The problem, though, is that Iran is never addressed as a strategic problem, involving its wider strategy of subversion and seeking regional hegemony. That is a big weakness in Obama policy, for example not mentioning Iran’s sponsorship of anti-American terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere. Why? Because this might add pressure to do something about Iran and also bringing up the dreaded subject of radical Islamism and the fact that Tehran leads a bloc of allies that Obama was reluctant to touch.
Finally, there is a section extolling the kind of policy that the very same people would have ridiculed and reviled (and not incorrectly, by the way) a couple of years ago as Bush’s “neo-conservatism”:
Across the Middle East and North Africa, we have stood with the people demanding political change and seeking their rights during the Arab Spring. Since the beginning of the protests in Tunisia, the United States has consistently opposed violence against innocent civilians, supported a set of universal rights for the people of the region, and supported processes of political and economic reform. When the Egyptian people flooded Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding democracy, the administration actively engaged the Egyptian government, military, and people in support of a transition away from decades of dictatorship and towards democracy.
What can one say? The administration pushed out an allied government, then pressed against America’s best friends there, and helped produced a “democracy” that is hourly now headed toward being an anti-American dictatorship. There is no hint of any of these problems. And by the way — let’s make this clear — the administration didn’t just support the moderate liberal reformers but the anti-democratic Islamists. Incidentally, do any of those “universal rights” contradict Sharia law?
There’s a sentence on Libya (a relative success story) and Yemen (a disaster but what else is new?). Most interesting is the discussion of Iran and Syria.
Here is Iran, officially declared by the United States as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, a country murdering Americans in Iraq and elsewhere, and a place where a massive opposition has been crushed. So what does the platform say about that?
In Iran, President Obama spoke out in support of the pro-democracy protestors and imposed human rights sanctions on the Iranian government.
Yes, that’s it. What human rights sanctions? How about: We support the Iranian people in struggling against and overthrowing a brutal dictatorship. And by the way, we’re sorry we didn’t say anything when the regime stole the election and shot down demonstrators in the street but instead congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his reelection.
We have led the international community to politically and economically isolate the regime, to increase pressure on President Assad to step down, and to provide assistance to unify the Syrian opposition in order to enable a stable transition. Moving forward, we will work to hasten the end of the Assad regime and support a political transition to a stable and democratic Syria.
Or, in other words, we acted as if Assad was our good buddy for more than two years and flattered him, then when we had to we finally recognized what he was like and we are giving guns to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists to take over. Oh yes and we organized a transitional council dominated by anti-American Islamists.
Oh, I forgot they cannot talk about revolutionary Islamism.
If you want to talk about a war on women, note that the platform has a whole section of vague promises about “Standing up for Women’s Rights around the Globe” followed by one on “Gay Rights as Human Rights.” Given the failure to deal with the treatment of women and gays (not to mention Christians) by Islamists, this is a joke. Radical Islamism trumps everything including “universal values.”
Let us imagine a party platform in, say, 1950, that didn’t mention Communism, devoted just a few sentences to the USSR, ignored supporting the liberation of the satellite states, and put forward no strategy for dealing with this challenge. Liberals and Democrats met the challenge of the Cold War. They are not facing up to this one.
At first glance and to the general public, the Middle East and international affairs sections of the Democratic platform might seem impressive. In fact, they show an administration while it can claim some credits — often for merely continuing predecessors’ policies — is going to be extremely dangerous if it rules for four more years.
Thumbnail and image courtesy shutterstock / Wil Tilroe-Otte