Obama's Middle East Strategy Meets Reality

There is good reason to believe the goals of the 9/11attacks were not just to inflict maximum casualties, economic dislocation and humiliation on America, but also to provoke a strong US response. Osama bin-Laden and his band of murderers apparently calculated that a large scale American military reaction will ignite the Muslim world and possibly lead to an all-out confrontation with the infidels. The plot failed but the current Muslim-US tensions must be viewed with great satisfaction in al-Qaida's hideouts.

Now comes President Obama with his brand of common cause and using "soft" power is trying to rebuild bridges to the Muslim world. Yet, Mr. Obama told reporters after his seminal speech in Cairo, "My audience is not them [Muslim radicals]." This is a remarkable statement that reflects amply his grasp of the President's job as well as his perception of the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama apparently believes his main role is that of the advertiser-in-chief where he can employ his undeniable personal qualifications and attributes to get a target audience to "buy" his "new and improved" American product. This approach is preferable not only because it avoids the costly confrontations and backlash brought about by the Bush Administration but in the final analysis is much more effective.

Mr. Obama seems to forget that his non-audience is armed and dangerous and hell-bent on ripping up his "under new management" sign even before the "sale" itself has begun. As al-Qaida's second in command Ayman al- Zawahiri warned:

"O free, noble, righteous, and mujahidin [people] of Egypt, stand as one in the face of that criminal [President Obama], who came to obtain, with cunning, what he failed to attain in the field after the mujahidin foiled the American Crusader plans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia."

As for Mr. Obama's take on the Muslim world, he clearly rejects the notion that much of Muslim animosity toward the U.S. is motivated by a wholesale denunciation of Western influence and culture rather than dependent on the kind of foreign policy Washington is pursuing. Whether he is right or wrong will become clear in due course. But the problem is that the test run of this new approach itself would not be cost-free.

In fact, the more successful Mr. Obama's "sale's pitch" becomes, the stronger would be the reactions not just from those with global anti-Western designs like al-Qaida, but also from the likes of Iran, which is trying to fashion its own regional sphere of influence. The Obama Administration's push risks providing a common cause for Shia and Sunni jihadists to thwart any inroads Washington may be hoping to establish.

It can thus be expected that al-Qaida will seek to unleash new attacks on U.S. interests in an effort to intensify its drive to expel America from Muslim lands. Bin-Laden may also deem the current economic difficulties as a perfect opportunity to deal a coup de grace to America's power itself. At the same time, Tehran might look to reignite regional violence to block any new American inroads. The Iranians might calculate that severe provocations on Israel's northern and/or southern borders where Hezb'allah and Hamas have amassed new arsenals will bring strong Israeli reprisals. Not only will such a reaction divert Israel from Iran's nuclear program, but also an Israel under attack will be much less amenable to U.S. diplomatic pressures and thus increase tensions between Washington and Jerusalem. Most important, beaming new TV pictures across the Arab world of the consequences of Israeli strikes in Lebanon or Gaza will overshadow any placatory talk from the new American "salesman".

In this regard the June 8, failed large-scale terror attack on the Gaza border involving trucks, bomb-laden horses, and suicide bombers which was possibly aimed at abducting Israeli soldiers as well, may be the harbinger of things to come. The uncertainty in Israel as to whether the attack was carried out by Hezb'allah-affiliated Palestinians or a Palestinian organization motivated by al-Qaida goes a long way to show that Mr. Obama's soothing words may have facilitated the emergence of a common anti-Western front.

It would indeed be a historical irony if in the wake of the new President's stress on shared destinies and universal human values the "axis of evil," a concept which came to haunt his predecessor, would regain its relevance. In the meantime, it could be expected that the Obama Administration would point to the ensuing tumult as further proof of the validity of its approach. No matter how many Israelis pay the price, it is sure to argue that the violence only confirms the urgency of reaching a deal with the Palestinians and ensuring that Washington's new Islamo-centric foreign policy bears fruit.

Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence (Yale University Press)
There is good reason to believe the goals of the 9/11attacks were not just to inflict maximum casualties, economic dislocation and humiliation on America, but also to provoke a strong US response. Osama bin-Laden and his band of murderers apparently calculated that a large scale American military reaction will ignite the Muslim world and possibly lead to an all-out confrontation with the infidels. The plot failed but the current Muslim-US tensions must be viewed with great satisfaction in al-Qaida's hideouts.

Now comes President Obama with his brand of common cause and using "soft" power is trying to rebuild bridges to the Muslim world. Yet, Mr. Obama told reporters after his seminal speech in Cairo, "My audience is not them [Muslim radicals]." This is a remarkable statement that reflects amply his grasp of the President's job as well as his perception of the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama apparently believes his main role is that of the advertiser-in-chief where he can employ his undeniable personal qualifications and attributes to get a target audience to "buy" his "new and improved" American product. This approach is preferable not only because it avoids the costly confrontations and backlash brought about by the Bush Administration but in the final analysis is much more effective.

Mr. Obama seems to forget that his non-audience is armed and dangerous and hell-bent on ripping up his "under new management" sign even before the "sale" itself has begun. As al-Qaida's second in command Ayman al- Zawahiri warned:

"O free, noble, righteous, and mujahidin [people] of Egypt, stand as one in the face of that criminal [President Obama], who came to obtain, with cunning, what he failed to attain in the field after the mujahidin foiled the American Crusader plans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia."

As for Mr. Obama's take on the Muslim world, he clearly rejects the notion that much of Muslim animosity toward the U.S. is motivated by a wholesale denunciation of Western influence and culture rather than dependent on the kind of foreign policy Washington is pursuing. Whether he is right or wrong will become clear in due course. But the problem is that the test run of this new approach itself would not be cost-free.

In fact, the more successful Mr. Obama's "sale's pitch" becomes, the stronger would be the reactions not just from those with global anti-Western designs like al-Qaida, but also from the likes of Iran, which is trying to fashion its own regional sphere of influence. The Obama Administration's push risks providing a common cause for Shia and Sunni jihadists to thwart any inroads Washington may be hoping to establish.

It can thus be expected that al-Qaida will seek to unleash new attacks on U.S. interests in an effort to intensify its drive to expel America from Muslim lands. Bin-Laden may also deem the current economic difficulties as a perfect opportunity to deal a coup de grace to America's power itself. At the same time, Tehran might look to reignite regional violence to block any new American inroads. The Iranians might calculate that severe provocations on Israel's northern and/or southern borders where Hezb'allah and Hamas have amassed new arsenals will bring strong Israeli reprisals. Not only will such a reaction divert Israel from Iran's nuclear program, but also an Israel under attack will be much less amenable to U.S. diplomatic pressures and thus increase tensions between Washington and Jerusalem. Most important, beaming new TV pictures across the Arab world of the consequences of Israeli strikes in Lebanon or Gaza will overshadow any placatory talk from the new American "salesman".

In this regard the June 8, failed large-scale terror attack on the Gaza border involving trucks, bomb-laden horses, and suicide bombers which was possibly aimed at abducting Israeli soldiers as well, may be the harbinger of things to come. The uncertainty in Israel as to whether the attack was carried out by Hezb'allah-affiliated Palestinians or a Palestinian organization motivated by al-Qaida goes a long way to show that Mr. Obama's soothing words may have facilitated the emergence of a common anti-Western front.

It would indeed be a historical irony if in the wake of the new President's stress on shared destinies and universal human values the "axis of evil," a concept which came to haunt his predecessor, would regain its relevance. In the meantime, it could be expected that the Obama Administration would point to the ensuing tumult as further proof of the validity of its approach. No matter how many Israelis pay the price, it is sure to argue that the violence only confirms the urgency of reaching a deal with the Palestinians and ensuring that Washington's new Islamo-centric foreign policy bears fruit.

Avigdor Haselkorn is the author of The Continuing Storm: Iraq, Poisonous Weapons and Deterrence (Yale University Press)