America has jumped from the Middle East frying pan into the fire

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration struggled to define the enemy and to decide how to defeat it. Even though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and the Saudis were involved in the planning and financing of the attack, President Bush allowed the Saudis to fly out of the country in the next 24 hours when all other air traffic had been shut down.

No doubt that Bush had decided to maintain good relations with the Arabs, and Saudi Arabia particularly, just as the US had done for half a century. This policy led  Bush to say on Sept 17, 2011 to the Islamic world, “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam.  That's not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don't represent peace.  They represent evil and war,” in a speech as sycophantic as any President Obama has ever delivered.

On a different policy tack, Bush said on the evening of 9/11, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

On Sept 20/11 Bush spoke to the Joint Houses Congress emphasizing both tacks:

The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.

…any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

And so began the bifurcation of Islam into the peaceful Muslims on the one hand and the radicals who hijacked the religion on the other.

Gareth Porter, national security policy analyst, wrote in 2008:

Three weeks after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld established an official military objective of not only removing the Saddam Hussein regime by force but overturning the regime in Iran, as well as in Syria and four other countries in the Middle East, according to a document quoted extensively in then-under secretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith's recently published account of the Iraq war decisions.

Feith's account further indicates that this aggressive aim of remaking the map of the Middle East by military force and the threat of force was supported explicitly by the country's top military leaders.

Feith's book, War and Decision, released last month, provides excerpts of the paper Rumsfeld sent to President George W Bush on September 30, 2001, calling for the administration to focus not on taking down Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network but on the aim of establishing "new regimes" in a series of states by "aiding local peoples to rid themselves of terrorists and to free themselves of regimes that support terrorism". [emphasis added] (snip)

Rumsfeld and deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz wanted to take down included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia.”

Bush had not approved the explicit aim of regime change in Iran, Syria and four other countries proposed by Rumsfeld.

The Iraq war was not going well by 2006 so Bush appointed the prestigious Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker to assess the situation. The Report released in 2007 concluded that assessing stability was “elusive” and the situation was "deteriorating," recommended, inter alia, “that all of Iraq's neighbors (including Iran and Syria) must be included in an external diplomatic effort to stabilize” Iraq.  Bush decided not to follow the recommendations and instead, to back the surge as advocated by General Patraeus and Sen John McCain. It met with considerable success.

The IRG went outside its mandate to pontificate, without analysis or explanation, that the Arab/Israeli conflict is “inextricably linked” to the situation in Iraq and that:

…there must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment must include direct talks with, by, and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel’s right to exist), and Syria.

It offered no suggestion of how any of the final status issues would be resolved or why there should be any expectation that the Palestinians can or will give up their irredentist views on borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem.

In January 2009, President Obama was inaugurated. One of his first calls to foreign leaders was to President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, to whom he vowed to engage immediately in pursuit of a permanent Arab-Israeli settlement.

Thus Obama was following the recommendations of the ISG, which Bush declined to embrace. He argued as Baker did that the Arab-Israeli conflict was inextricably linked to the Middle East and proceeded to not only force negotiations on Israel but to put his weight behind the ’67 lines as the future border subject to swaps and the division of Jerusalem. He also disavowed the Bush letter of ‘04 in which Bush recognized that the settlement blocs would remain with Israel and that the conflict would be settled according to UN Security Council Resolution 242. He went so far as to force Israel to freeze construction east of the ‘67 lines, including in Jerusalem which Israel had annexed three decades earlier. All previous administrations had allowed for normal growth in settlements within their approved borders.

By December 2011 Obama fulfilled another campaign promise to withdraw the remaining US troops from Iraq. The vacuum created undid the achievements of the surge and allowed for the rise and dominance of ISIS. 

Obama also turned to Rumsfeld’s plan of regime change, which Bush declined to endorse.  What Rumsfeld had in mind was to support the opposition in each country and help them depose the dictators. What Obama decided to do was to replace the dictators who were secular with the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamists.

Remember that Rumsfeld proposed his plan before the victory in Iraq turned sour. What was learned was that there is no unified opposition and no desire for democracy. Obama ignored this lesson and believed that the Muslim Brotherhood could impose itself on all the opposition thereby creating stability.

In December 2003, Libya renounced its possession of weapons of mass destruction, decommissioning its chemical and nuclear weapons programs.  It also paid reparations for the downing of the Pan American plane over Lockerbie. Gaddafi also abandoned terrorism. As a result relations with the U.S. and the EU improved considerably. He managed to rule his country well and provide for his people.

Nevertheless Obama, together with Britain, France and Qatar, decided he had to be deposed. A trumped up charge of an impending massacre was sufficient to justify military action  to remove his regime and ultimately bringing about his death. Libya has not returned to stability, as the various tribes keep fighting for turf.  Yehudit Ronen in Middle East Quarterly reports:

Nor has the violent chaos stopped at Libya's borders. With groups tied to the global jihadist community stepping into the fray in strength, political-religious militancy and a sea of sophisticated weaponry has spilled over to Libya's African and Arab neighbors, with dramatic implications for Europe as well. Anti-Western terrorist organizations affiliated with the global jihadist community have been the chief beneficiaries of the turmoil, destabilizing bordering areas and, in turn, injecting strong doses of belligerence and terror back into Libya

Obama delivered a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 4/09, dubbed “A New Beginning, in which he favored the Muslim Brotherhood, which was a banned party in Egypt, over President Mubarak. A few months later he pressured Mubarak to step down and forced early elections, which favored the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mohammed Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president in June 30/12. He lasted a year in office until the military, headed by Gen El Sisi, the man he put in charge, took over and arrested him and once again banned the party. This did not go down well with Obama, who was counting on the Muslim Brotherhood to rule the country. Obama is working to reinstate them somehow and is not supporting El Sisi, just as he didn’t support Mubarak. El Sisi then turned to Russia and Israel, further distancing America.

The third secular dictator that Obama decided to depose was Bashar al-Assad of Syria. At first the Obama administration tried to broker a peace deal between him and Israel. This effort was short-lived.

After the civil war in Syria started, Obama called for his ouster and promoted the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist, Erdogan, to lead the opposition. That did not go well. Erdogan, Obama’s “best friend,” started with a grandiose buildup and goals but has met one defeat after another. He is now excluded from any role in Syria or Iraq and has made Russia into an enemy. Obama is no longer at his side. And we stopped hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Russia is now in charge and running the show in Syria. Obama has become a bit player. He is still mouthing platitudes in support of a peace process and a unified Syria.  There is no way that Iran or Russia will agree to elections because the Alawites, who are the backbone of the Syrian regime, are only about 20% of the population. But they would agree to severing Alawite Syria from the rest. Russia wants to retain her naval base on the Mediterranean and her airfield nearby.  Iran wants to keep Alawite Syria as an ally because the Alawites are Shiites and because it gives them a land connection to Hezb’allah who are also Shiites.

It remains to be seen what Russia and the US and the Sunnis will do with ISIS and whether Iraq is also broken up into three parts; one for the Kurds who already enjoy autonomy, one for the Shiites who represent 60% of the population and one for the Sunnis. Thus Sunni Iraq and Sunni Syria can get together if the parties agree.

Russia and Israel have cut a deal respecting each other’s sphere of influence in Syria.

Obama got the P5+1 to arrive at the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  He then went all in to get Congress to accept the deal. By most accounts, the deal was a horrible idea even if honored by Iran. She will get the bomb in 13 years maximum. You will recall that the ISG recommended working with Iran to help solve the Iraq problem. That is exactly what Obama is doing.

In summary, then, Obama has been following the worst aspects of the recommendations of Rumsfeld and Baker though rejected by Bush. Bush wanted to retain an American military presence in Iraq. Obama withdrew completely. He also followed Bush’s lead in calling Islam a religion of peace and went one step further by refusing to identify the terrorists as Islamic. Bush contented himself with saying that the true Islam has been hijacked by the Islamists. Bush worked with the Saudis whereas Obama has thrown them under the bus and is engaging with Iran instead.

Bush promised to get rid of all terrorists and regimes that harbor them. Obama decided to take down Gadhafi, Mubarak and Assad to stop dictator-supported terrorism. But rather than support the opposition to replace them as Rumsfeld had proposed, he backed the Muslim Brotherhood, identified by Britain and others as an Islamic terrorist group. He ended up with chaos in Libya, the Egyptian army in control of Egypt, Russia now in charge of Assad, all of whom are threatened by ISIS and other Islamist groups who are fostering much more terrorism that the dictators ever did. He has put Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Sinai in the crosshairs of both Iran and ISIS. The Dictators didn’t plan to conquer the West. The Islamists do.

So far everything the Bush and Obama administrations have done has made it worse for the West. The US has not figured out who the enemy is nor how to deal with the threats.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Ted Belman is the editor of Israpundit

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