Much has already been written about the feckless foreign policy of the Obama administration or, in some instance, the president’s success in master minding a global American retreat from foreign affairs. As events are unfolding, it is clear the U.S. has voluntarily ceded its interest in the Middle East. In fact, I can anticipate the title of a book a decade from now that reads “Who Lost The Middle East?” similar to the host of books in the 1950’s entitled “Who Lost China?”
Perhaps the Middle East wasn’t ours to lose. Yet one thing is clear: the Iran deal was proposed as a stabilizing influence in a region that is in disarray. What was not said, but very much in the calculus, is a Russian, Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian intelligence arrangement that is supposedly the precursor to stability.
Despite presidential puzzlement about Putin’s intentions, that was clear when Iranian Quds Commander Qassen Soleimani met with Putin in Russia on July 24, despite a ban on Soleimani’s international travel. Putin acted in a statesmanlike pose during P5+1 deliberations on Iran, but all the signals indicated he intended to work with Iran to keep Assad of Syria in power. Claims the State Department was blind-sided aren’t credible. With the Putin-Soleimani talks completed, there could not be any surprise for those who observe the political landscape.
Soleimani, not only had links to terrorism, he was on the battlefield in Syria defending Assad’s forces. Recognizing the assertive role Russia is now playing, President Obama said Putin has entered a “quagmire” and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said, we must commence “deconflicting negotiation.” If this wasn’t a deadly serious matter, one might consider these responses laughable.
The Russian buildup in Syria and the emerging ties with Iran occurred during the P5+1 meetings in Vienna. Not only was President Obama duped on the terms of Iran’s nuclear weapons development, he was myopic on the emerging ties among Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. So intent was he on a deal, that he chose to ignore what was going on under his nose, without the slightest effort at concealment.
Iran will get the $150 billion when the sanctions are lifted, money that can be used to promote terrorism. The Russians have become the “strong horse” in the Middle East, the force that must be accommodated. And the U.S. sits on the sidelines, an observer unable to do more than express empty words for former allies. Who lost the Middle East? The answer is obvious now.
Charles Peguy, the noted philosopher, said, “Surrender is essentially an operation by means of which we set about explaining instead of acting.” What this administration has refined is explanation. The Obama team argues we are degrading ISIS even when the Intelligence reports are grossly exaggerated and ISIS is unrestrained by a modest U.S. bombing campaign. Ash Carter may believe in deconflicting rhetoric, but the Russians believe in deploying fighter jets and the Iranians believe in putting troops on the ground and bombing Assad’s opposition.
It is a cliché to contend “talk is cheap.” In this case, talk is misleading. Obama has lost the Middle East and there isn’t any question about it.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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