Fractured Foreign Policy
United States Middle East foreign policy, which had such a great start under President Obama two years ago, is now adrift like a rudderless ship.
The latest example is in this news report in the New York Times: U.S. Moves Cautiously Against Syrian Leaders – 4/30/2011
President Obama’s very first act as President took a swipe at human rights violations and sent an olive branch to Middle East Arabs when he signed an executive order to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center within a year.
In June 2009 Obama spread a new message of peace and hope in the Middle East when he said:
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” – 6/4/2009, President Barack Obama in Cairo, Egypt
That October the President was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”
Yet, at the same time, the President quadrupled the clandestine unmanned Predator war against Al-Qaida in Pakistan and rather than withdraw troops from Iraq quickly chooses to follow the Bush exit strategy.
Later President Obama tripled the size of the war in Afghanistan by adopting the “surge” war strategy George W. Bush had used in Iraq.
Now, over two years later, Guantanamo is still open and even the echoes of talk about closing it down have long since died away.
The Middle East olive branch has shriveled and died in a shallow sea of hollow rhetoric.
Current Middle East Policy
This year in Tunisia began a remarkable, spontaneous uprising against tyranny and oppression in the Arab world when twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after being confronted by local authorities for selling fruit without a license.
The revolt against dictatorial authority has since spread throughout the Middle East. Dictators in both Tunisia and Egypt have fallen. Increasingly violent protests have broke out in Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and other Arab countries.
The United States remained largely supportive but distant as events in the Middle East unfolded until it looked like Moammar Qaddafi in Libya was about to fall. President Obama suddenly called for his ouster.
Qaddafi then began a counteroffensive against rebel forces. With Obama leading the call for UN action, UN resolution 1973 was passed authorizing a no-fly zone and other actions to protect the Libyan people against Qaddafi and “gross and systematic violation of human rights”.
Then on March 19, when Qaddafi was on the doorstep of victory, a hastily cobbled U.S. led coalition attacked Libya in operation “Odyssey Dawn”. It started when the U.S. rained over 100 tomahawk missiles on Libya and French jets shot down a Libyan fighter over the rebel capitol of Benghazi.
The US Takes a Back Seat
As quickly as the U.S. led the charge against Qaddafi it just as quickly backed out into a supportive role, putting the entire effort into disarray before NATO agreed to take over the offensive.
Since then Qaddafi has continued bombing his own people and now it looks like fighting may settle into a stalemate as long as coalition forces remain in support of the rebels.
Otherwise, Qaddafi wins.
The UN mission has become murky.
Now Comes Syria
Today, according to the New York Times, the U.S. response to the uprising in Syria is limited to focused sanctions against three senior Syrian officials that everyone agrees will have, at most, only a modest impact.
There is no call for the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. All our Tomahawk missiles have been used up.
Can anyone possibly believe that al-Assad, who has ordered his tanks to open fire on and kill hundreds of his own citizens, will be affected by that?
Also according to the NY Times, Tommy Vietor, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said, “Our goal is to end the violence and create an opening for the Syrian people’s legitimate aspirations”. But he adds, “These are among the U.S. government’s strongest available tools to promote these outcomes.”
Scuttlebutt has it that any more U.S. action would only further destabilize Syria and that would not be in our best interests in the Middle East.
And this is what Obama’s “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” has degenerated into.
Perhaps the protesters being shelled right now and all the other oppressed peoples of the Middle East will understand that the United States means well.