Recent events in the Middle East, together with the incomprehensible decisions by President Obama and his Administration, make it apparent that the President has completely lost the plot in the Middle East. Even the Obama-admiring New York Times admits that his policy is a “puzzle”:
Making sense of the Obama administration’s patchwork of policies “is a puzzle,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a researcher at the Brookings Institution and former senior State Department official.
“But whether that puzzle reflects the lack of a coherent policy on the administration side or whether that puzzle simply reflects the complexity of the power struggles on the ground in the region — well, both are probably true,” she said.
To start with, the Americans have abandoned all the sensible behaviour required when bargaining in the Middle Eastern souk and have gone over the edge in their zeal to close a deal, any deal, with Iran. It seems that the main thing is to sign their names on a piece of paper and it really doesn’t matter what that piece of paper says – or if indeed there will be a piece of paper at all. There are some credible reports that the nuclear deal, when and if agreed upon with Iran, will be verbal only. In fact it is the French, of all people, who are objecting to this rush to a deal:
“[Saying that] an agreement has to be reached by the end of March is a bad tactic,” French Ambassador to Washington and former nuclear negotiator Gerard Araud said last week, warning against putting “pressure on ourselves to conclude at any price.”
He has even ignored the fact that while John Kerry was figuratively licking Iranian boots, Iranian Mullah-in-Chief Ali Khamenei was calling for “death to America”.
Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei called for “Death to America” on Saturday, a day after President Barack Obama appealed to Iran to seize a “historic opportunity” for a nuclear deal and a better future, and as US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed substantial progress toward an accord.
Khamenei told a crowd in Tehran that Iran would not capitulate to Western demands. When the crowd started shouting, “Death to America,” the ayatollah responded: “Of course yes, death to America, because America is the original source of this pressure.
Meanwhile Obama has been working with renewed diligence on downgrading relations with Israel, as Tom Gross reports that in a serious breach of a decades-old understandings, the Administration revealed Israel’s classified nuclear secrets:
When on February 12, the Pentagon quietly declassified a top-secret 386-page Department of Defense document from 1987 detailing Israel’s nuclear program – the first time Israel’s alleged nuclear program has ever been officially and publically referenced by the U.S. authorities – I and other journalists chose not to write about it.
In the declassified document, the Pentagon reveals supposed details about Israel’s deterrence capabilities, but it kept sections on France, Germany and Italy classified. Those sections are blacked out in the document.
Both these media were rumored to have been tipped off about this obscure report at the time by persons in Washington. (Both the RT and Press TV stories falsely claim that the U.S. gave Israel help in building a hydrogen bomb. This is incorrect.)
However, in the past 24 hours several media in the U.S. and elsewhere have now chosen to report on the February declassification by the Pentagon. This coincides with stepped up efforts this week by the Obama administration to weaken Israel’s deterrent capabilities, including leaking to the Wall Street Journal incorrect allegations that Israel directly spies on the U.S.
An informed person connected to the government in Jerusalem, tells me:
… It is part of a pattern of carefully controlled leaking of information which is very hard to attribute to a specific government agency or individual. Nevertheless it is clear what is happening.”
“The failure to maintain the degree of mature and cooperative discretion that officials from several governments have exercised up to now, marks a serious change in the code of conduct.
The Middle East crisis has now taken another turn for the worse (how much worse can it possibly get?) with the fall of Yemen, due in part to deliberate neglect by the US.
Here are some reports which might help to understand the complicated alignment of forces fighting in Yemen, and at the same time might enable us to understand what on earth is Obama’s strategy (if indeed he has one at all).
First, the facts (or as much as I can make out from the muddle of reporting):
Back in early February I posted about the Iranian backed Houthi rebels Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and taking over the country in a coup, and the ensuing (and surprising) American backing of the Houthi rebels in their fight against ISIS. The Saudis were both outraged at the American betrayal and extremely worried about their own security, making Israeli fears almost pale into insignificance in comparison, as the ToI reports:
As the rebels have managed to sack much of the port town of Aden, pushing Hadi out of his home Wednesday and sparking Saudi-led airstrikes, the concerns on the Israeli side are clear.
Firstly, an Iranian takeover of the strategic Bab el Mandeb Strait and the possibility of a Israeli ships coming under fire with no one officially taking responsibility for such attacks would not bode well for the Jewish state.
But aside from the threat of assaults on ships, the Iranian-Houthi takeover of Yemen raises another serious concern for Israel, namely, the potential rising influence of Iran in the region, which will allow the Islamic Republic to improve its position during negotiations on the country’s nuclear program.
Decision makers in Israel have come to an understanding that the Americans have no intention of imposing demands on Iran with regards to halting military operations and even terrorist attacks in other countries as part of the agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program.
But Israel’s concerns regarding the Houthi takeover of Yemen are nothing compared to the profound discontent of Riyadh and other Arab countries, in light of Iran’s rampage throughout the Middle East and the blatant inaction on the part of the US.
The outcome of the Saudi military operation may not be decisive, but reflects much Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian frustration. The anger of these regimes is not directed at Iran, which is more or less engaged in the kind of hostile activity expected of it, but mainly at Washington.
It is slightly hard to believe, but at a time when the White House is intensively negotiating with Iran in an attempt to reach an agreement on the nation’s nuclear program withing the next five days, the Shiites in Tehran have helped topple a majority Sunni regime and made significant territorial advances. Yemen is a state with a long and unmanned border with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s number one regional rival. Yet Washington remains silent.
Indeed there are reports that the Bab el-Mandeb straits have been captured:
Via Legal Insurrection we can see he astounding American reaction to the Yemen crisis in action:
The White House does continue to believe that a successful counterterrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to have local fighters take the fight to extremists in their own country.
Jon Karl proceeded to say what everyone else in the room was thinking:
“That’s astounding,” Karl replied. “You still see Yemen as a model? Building up a central government, which has now collapsed? A president who has apparently fled the country? Saudi troops massing on one border, the Iranians supporting the rebels? You consider this a model for counterterrorism?”
This is in addition to similar events in Tikrit in Iraq, where, the Daily Beast reports, the US is backing Iran with airstrikes against ISIS:
The American-led coalition is now launching airstrikes to support Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops in the key city of Tikrit, a U.S. official tells The Daily Beast. Those forces had previously kicked off their operation to reclaim Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the self-proclaimed Islamic State without informing the U.S. military. But when that campaign stalled, they turned to American airpower.
There are reports that the Obama Administration has even been threatening its allies for disagreeing with their nuclear deal
In view of the above it should come as no surprise that an impressive joint force of Arab countries under Saudi leadership has united to fight the Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Al Arabiya provides us with a Guide to Operation Decisive Storm, explaining who’s who in the war in Yemen:
Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia deployed 150,000 soldiers, 100 fighter jets and navy units in Yemen after Hadi pleaded with its Gulf ally for help against the Houthi rebels, who were advancing toward the southern city of Aden – where Hadi is based – to remove him from power in an attempted coup.
With the exception of Oman, members of the Gulf States joined Saudi Arabia with its aerial bombardment of the Houthis. The UAE contributed with 30 fighter jets, Bahrain 15, Kuwait 15, Qatar 10.
Non-Gulf states have also showed their support to “Operation Decisive Storm.”
Jordan deployed six fighter jets, Morocco, who expressed “complete solidarity” to Saudi Arabia provided six fighter jets while Sudan supplied three.
On Thursday, an army media site confirmed that Sudan took part in the Saudi-led military operation. There were no further details but the site said the army spokesman would soon comment.
Al Arabiya News Channel said Egypt and Pakistan would dispatch jet fighters and warships to take part in the campaign.
On Thursday, Egypt confirmed it will join the Saudi-led coalition.
So far the Saudis have bombed rebel strongholds in airstrikes on the capital Sana’a and in the north of Yemen, and are now claiming that the Arab coalition has succeeded in destroying most of the Yemen rebels’ missiles:
Before the Houthis seized power in Sanaa in September, the Yemeni army had various “kinds of missiles… ballistic missiles,” which could hit targets as far as 500 kilometers (310 miles) away, he said.
A Gulf diplomatic official said earlier that the three-day-old campaign had been successful so far, destroying targets including 21 Scud missiles.
The same source has said Yemen’s army has 300 Scuds.
Hmm. That still leaves a lot of Scuds in the hands of the rebels…
Regarding the diplomatic and security fallout of the Administration’s actions – or lack of them – in the Middle East, here are some interesting opinion pieces, all of which decry Obama’s strategy. (All emphases are added).
A Wall Street Journal editorial talks about Obama’s Mideast Vacuum:
An abiding goal of President Obama’s foreign policy has been to reduce America’s role in the Middle East, in the belief that it would lead to greater stability and serve U.S. interests. Has a policy ever been so thoroughly repudiated in so short a time? Mr. Obama has succeeded in his retreat, but the vacuum he’s left has produced a region on fire that is becoming a broad Sunni-Shiite war.
That’s the context for this week’s meltdown in Yemen, which has now escalated with the military intervention of Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies. This follows the rout of a U.S.-friendly government by Houthi militias that belong to the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam and are backed by Iran. What had been a proxy war is in danger of becoming a direct Saudi-Iran conflict.
As for the U.S., it needs to abandon its studied retreat and help the Saudis. […] for a change Mr. Obama should do what it takes to help an ally win.This should include a warning to Iran that the U.S. will assist the Saudis in stopping Iranian flights that arm the Houthis. …
All of this also makes Mr. Obama’s obsession with a nuclear deal with Iran seem increasingly out of this world. The President seems to think he can strike a nuclear bargain as if it has nothing to do with the region’s strife or Iran’s advances. But the looming pact has facilitated that turmoil and is bound to make it worse.
Israel and the Sunni Arabs are convinced that the deal will leave Iran able to build a bomb more or less at a time of its choosing. They also believe the U.S. has refused to help them depose Syria’s Bashar Assad because Mr. Obama doesn’t want to upset Iran during the nuclear talks.
This in turn has made the Sunni Arabs reluctant to help against Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. Which has forced the Iraq government to rely on Iran and Shiite militias to lead the fight against ISIS. The Iraqis finally asked the militias to back off this week in return for U.S. bombing help in the battle to retake Tikrit from ISIS.
It’s not too much to say that America’s traditional allies in the region fear that Mr. Obama wants to cast them aside and create a new U.S.-Iran alliance.
Max Boot in the WSJ similarly talks about Obama’s Mideast realignment:
Let’s connect the dots.
Data point No. 1: President Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 and is preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016, even while keeping a few more troops there this year and next than originally planned.
Point No. 2: The Obama administration keeps largely silent about Iran’s power grab in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, even going so far now as to assist Iranian forces in Tikrit, while attempting to negotiate a nuclear deal with Tehran that would allow it to maintain thousands of centrifuges.
Point No. 3: Mr. Obama berates Benjamin Netanyahu for allegedly “racist” campaign rhetoric, refuses to accept his apologies, and says the U.S. may now “re-assess options,” code words for allowing the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state over Israeli objections.
Taken together, these facts suggest that Mr. Obama is attempting to pull off the most fundamental realignment of U.S. foreign policy in a generation. The president is pulling America back from the leading military role it has played in the Middle East since 1979, the year the Iranian hostage crisis began and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. He is trying to transform Iran from an enemy to a friend. He is diminishing the alliance with Israel, to lows not seen since the 1960s.
Call it the Obama Doctrine: The U.S. puts down the burden, and Iran picks up the slack.
The flip side of this shift toward Iran is a move away from longtime allies, most notably Israel, which views the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat. The president vowed to put some “daylight” between Washington and Jerusalem, and boy has he delivered.
Hanin Ghaddar, the editor of the Lebanese NOW news magazine, warns in Tablet Magazine that the US, in making a pact with Iran, is throwing Arab liberasl under the bus, thereby creating a harvest of violence:
For many liberal Arab citizens like me, it looks like the United States is now taking sides in a sectarian conflict and turning a deliberate blind eye to violations of rights and values which are supposedly the core of what the United States represents. The United States is siding with the Shiites against the Sunnis. It is helping Assad, Hezbollah, and other allies of Iran stay in power. The United States has picked the Resistance axis over helping potential democracies to grow.
Last week, the pan-Arab newspaper Alhayat quoted a political source at the IAEA saying that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated during the negotiations that Hezbollah and Hamas now work within “the American framework” and for the same goal: combatting terrorism in Syria and Iraq. The reality on the ground proves this statement is accurate. The U.S. intelligence community has now removed Iran and Hezbollah from its list of states and organizations that support terrorism. Last year, Iran and Hezbollah were at the top of that list. Is the definition of “terrorism” really that flexible?
Abandoning Arab liberals and civil society to sectarian warfare seems to now be a valid compromise to make to Iran in return for the deal. Is this what the United States wants the region to become? A battleground for mad extremists? Is the nuclear deal worth that much blood? Are we that insignificant?
Her conclusion is quite terrifying;
Reality now tells us that today’s America does not care about our aspirations for freedom, for democracy, and for citizenship. The reality today says one thing: Take things into your own hands because no one will help you. The gap left by the United States will be filled with extremists who despise liberal ideas, freedom of speech, and democracy. Whatever is left of our civil society will eventually lose legitimacy, because its ideals and goals will be considered too liberal and Westernized for communities radicalized by sectarian tension. The people who will emerge from the societies that are formed along this sectarian model will not be good citizens of open societies. They will be locked in cages of hatred and fear. We know from experience how that story turns out.
I am frightened by what the future holds for the people of my country and my region. You should be, too.
I don’t think anyone can put it clearer than that.