Popping Obama's Balloon
A harbinger, of course, is a sign of things certain to come. A trial balloon, on the other hand, only comes to pass if it's not shot out of the sky once launched.
Such is politics. And so, we note with interest two obvious trial balloons floated in recent days by Washington-based columnists announcing -- sort of -- that the Obama Administration intends to de-couple the United States from Israel and adopt a more independent attitude towards the Middle East generally and the Jewish State in particular. Thus, Mr. Obama and his proposed foreign policy team intend to undo more than a half century of American foreign policy.
And you thought only Ronald Reagan did "roll-back!" President Eisenhower, of course, talked about it. But only Reagan did it.
Nevertheless -- ironically -- we heard this week of something called "the Eisenhower Doctrine." President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who left office in 1961) was cited by David Ignatius of the Washington Post as precedent for an impending move by the Obama Administration. What's the impending move?
Well, it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, you see, who in the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis forced Israel to withdraw from Arab lands. Indeed, Eisenhower, it seems, viewed Israel (and its allies, France and the United Kingdom) as the cause of the whole 1956 conflict.
It turns out, according to David Ignatius, that President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, rather sees Israel that way today. As does his boss.
Ignatius' piece is especially significant given the author's elite credentials, connections and his impact on bien pensant opinion. Among other things, Ignatius co-hosts an on-line discussion of international issues at the Washington Post with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria, of course, in 2008 authored The Post-American World. Besides journalism and writing novels, Ignatius has moderated panels at Davos -- sometimes generating controversy -- and received France's Legion d'Honneur.
The Middle East conflict has been much on Ignatius' mind. After an incident in which he was caught between Turkey's Prime Minister and the President of Israel in 2009, Ignatius wrote that he found himself "in the middle of a fight where there was no longer a middle." He added: "American leaders must give up the notion that they can transform the Middle East and its culture through military force." In May, 2011, Ignatius called for the prosecution of former Arab dictators, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a former U.S. ally.
Ignatius' column appears in English-language newspapers around the world, including the influential Beirut Daily Star. He also appears regularly on Charlie Rose and Morning Joe.
Now then: the Eisenhower Doctrine.
It was President Eisenhower who, on the eve of the 1956 elections, forced Israel, Great Britain and France to withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal, which they had seized from a newly-independent Egypt led by a secular army colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser. In a message to Congress on January 4, 1957, Eisenhower pointed out the danger of Soviet penetration of the Middle East and said that the United States needed to offer emerging nations throughout the region a choice other than adopting Communism. To do that, Eisenhower said, American foreign policy needed to be not dependent on any one nation.
What does this have to do with the contemporary issues of the Arab Spring, Israel, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinians? Not to mention the rise of Islamism and the War with Jihad?
Well, it doesn't -- or at least it didn't when I studied the Eisenhower Doctrine at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where Hagel now teaches. The world of secular Arab nationalism and Soviet expansionism and an isolated (and hostile) Red China expired no later than 1992. And, in his last paragraph, David Ignatius says as much.
"How," he writes, "does this story apply to modern-day Israel and America -- especially for an Obama Administration that, while committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, devoutly hopes to avoid military action? The parallels are impossible to draw precisely, but it matters that the cautious and fiercely independent Eisenhower is a role model for the prospective future defense secretary."
Maybe it's just me, but I think that's code. And Ignatius writes spy novels.
Next comes the esteemed Bob Woodward, also in the Washington Post. His January 27 piece answered the question: "why Obama picked Hagel."
As you'd expect, Woodward's article contains much original reporting. Like Ignatius' piece it should be read in full. But here's Woodward's money-quote, explaining where the prospective Secretary of Defense and our just-re-elected President agree:
"[Their] worldview is part hawk and part dove. It amounts, in part, to a challenge to the wars of President George W. Bush. It holds that the Afghanistan war has been mismanaged and the Iraq war unnecessary. War is an option, although a very last resort.
"So, this thinking goes, the U.S. role in the world must be carefully scaled back -- this is not a matter of choice, but of facing reality; the military needs to be treated with great skepticism; lots of military and foreign policy thinking is out of date; and quagmires like Afghanistan should be avoided.
"The bottom line: the U.S. must get out of these massive land wars -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- and, if possible, avoid future large-scale war."
Now, what's really going on here? Cover. Intellectual cover for American retreat -- a decision which the American people were not asked to vote on back on November 6th..
The invocation of the Eisenhower Doctrine is simply a ruse: it provides an intellectual fig-leaf for the Obama Administration's continuing American military exit from Central Asia, downsizing of the U.S. military and a turn away from Israel.
Messers Woodward and Ignatius, like Messers Obama and Hagel, decided not to say that in public.
So I just did.