Does Obama finally understand Bush?
Adm. Mullen met Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo and later with top Israeli military officers in Tel Aviv. He said that Iran was the focus of his talks in Egypt and Israel, and would also be central to discussions in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Secretary Clinton also is set to hold meetings in Saudi Arabia during her three-day visit to the region. She told the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, February 14,
In his inaugural address, President Obama endorsed a new era of diplomatic engagement, including with those nations who have at times been hostile to the United States.....We have pursued extensive efforts to reengage with Iran... But Iran has consistently failed to live up to its responsibility. It has refused to demonstrate to the international community that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful....Iran leaves the international community little choice but to impose greater costs for its provocative steps.
In a speech at the L'Ecole Militaire in Paris January 29, Clinton said the administration was "mov[ing] away from the engagement track, which has not produced the result that some had hoped for." What she could not admit is that President Barack Obama is moving back to the diplomatic legacy left to him by President George W. Bush, whose policies in the Middle East Obama claimed had harmed the American image. What could have been more stark than to make her speech at the French Military Academy after so many years of liberal-left criticism of the Bush administration for being overly "militaristic" in its foreign policy?
In point of fact, U.S. relations in the region had become tighter during Bush's second term as the Iranian threat pulled the Arab states and Israel closer together, overcoming the supposed antagonism stemming from the Palestinian issue.
During the summer of 2006, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan openly criticized Iran's Hezbollah proxy for raiding into Israel, triggering over four weeks of heavy fighting in southern Lebanon. The Arab states gave Israel the diplomatic space it needed to mount military operations aimed at crippling Hezbollah.
In 2007, the U.S. offered $20 billion in military aid to Saudi Arabia and the other five members of the Gulf Cooperation Council; $30 billion in aid to Israel; and $13 billion to Egypt over the next decade. For once, Israel did not object to arms sales to the Arabs, understanding the common enemy against whom the strategy was being forged.
There was no Arab backlash against Israel when it bombed a Syrian nuclear facility constructed in collaboration with North Korea and Iran in September, 2007. In 2008, Egypt did nothing to interfere with Israel's blockade of Gaza or with the targeted killing of Hamas activists and other Palestinian militants backed by Iran. And during the offensive into Gaza at the end of the year, no Arab state lifted a finger against Israel. In June, 2009, Hezbollah lost the election in Lebanon to pro-Western candidates backed by a U.S.-Saudi partnership built during the Bush administration which also included France, Jordan and Egypt.
The world doesn't change because of elections in the United States. The basis for a bi-partisan foreign policy is to recognize enduring national interests, identify the threats to those interests, and understand the principles of realpolitik needed to deal with them. After a wasted year of naïve fumbling, the Obama administration may finally be taking the first steps in the right direction.