Obama and the Ripple Effect

One of President Obama's weaknesses is that, in foreign policy, he is not a clever chess player, anticipating moves and consequences several steps down the line.

This failure to visualize all likely ripple effects of his own words and actions is again evident in his unsteady reactions to the turmoil in Egypt.  Having failed to anticipate massive protests in the Arab world, Obama first kept his counsel, then tip-toed toward increasingly harsh criticism of Egyptian President Mubarak.

With Secretary of State Clinton as his main bullhorn, the President now is hectoring Mubarak to all but step down.  Through his press spokesman, Obama threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Mubarak and brushed aside his attempts to steady his regime with appointment of new faces in top positions.  In many ways, Obama is squeezing Mubarak to the point of leaving him with no option but to capitulate to the protesting crowds -- with the Muslim Brotherhood only too happy to pick up the pieces.

However, in toughening his anti-Mubarak stance, Obama doesn't seem to realize that he is putting himself into the camp or pro-Iranian radical forces in the Middle East, including Hamas and Hezb'allah, while parting company with Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas --  two erstwhile members of the pro-U.S. camp.

Obama's pummeling of Mubarak nicely fits the agenda of the Hamas regime in Gaza, which makes no secret that, in the current Mideast state of play, it is in full solidarity with anti-Mubarak crowds in Egypt.  By the same token, Obama's public flogging of Mubarak represents a 180-degree turn away from Abbas, who sides publicly with Murbarak. The Palestinians are split right down the middle.  No big surprise.  Except that Obama has aligned himself with Hamas and against Abbas. That is bound to have some consequences for U.S. peace-mediation efforts down the line, to say the least. 

In the meantime, we are left with a head-shaking picture of Obama suddenly finding himself in the Iranian/Hezb'allah/Hamas orbit, while leaving in the lurch his own friend, ally and presumed "moderate" peace partner, Mahmoud Abbas, who's working tirelessly to stifle anti-Mubarak demonstrations in the West Bank.

It's getting curiouser and curiouser about where this leaves George Mitchell, Obama's U.S. envoy and peace-negotiator in chief.

When it comes to U.S. policy vis a vis Egypt, especially during this highly fluid period, it can be argued that Mubarak doesn't deserve much sympathy after 29 years of iron rule.  But an American president, when wading into such turbulent and unpredictable waters, ought to know at least all the ramifications of his own strategy -- something Obama doesn't seem to have thought through.

Watching Obama, Hamas must be licking its chops, while the Saudis and Abbas must be wondering how constant, reliable and predictable a Mideast player the U.S. really is with Obama in the White House.