April 6, 2015
James Jeffrey, Barack Obama's former ambassador extraordinary and
plenipotentiary to Iraq, has this to say about the administration's current
record in the Middle East: "We're in a goddamn free fall."
Count the mistakes: Helping overthrow Muammar
Qaddafi in Libya, leading to anarchy and civil war. Pressuring Husni Mubarak of
Egypt to resign, then backing the Muslim Brotherhood, leading now-president Sisi
to turn toward Moscow. Alienating Washington's most stalwart ally in the region,
the Government of Israel. Dismissing ISIS as "junior
varsity" just before it seized major cities. Hailing Yemen
as a counterterrorism success just before its government was overthrown.
Alarming the Saudi authorities to the point that they put together a military
alliance against Iran. Coddling Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, encouraging
his dictatorial tendencies. Leaving Iraq and Afghanistan prematurely, dooming
the vast American investment in those two countries.
And, most of all: Making dangerously flawed
deals with the nuclear-ambitious mullahs of Iran.
Is this a random series of errors by an
incompetent leadership or does some grand, if misconceived, idea stand behind
the pattern? To an extent, it's ineptitude, as when Obama bowed to the Saudi
king, threatened Syria's government over chemical weapons before changing his
mind, and now sends the U.S. military to aid Tehran in Iraq and fight it in
But there also is a grand idea and it calls
for explanation. As a man of the left, Obama sees the United States historically
having exerted a malign influence on the outside world. Greedy corporations, an
overly-powerful military-industrial complex, a yahoo nationalism, engrained
racism, and cultural imperialism combined to render America, on balance, a force
Being a student of community organizer Saul
Alinsky, Obama did not overtly proclaim this view but passed himself off as a
patriot, though he (and his charming
wife) did offer occasional hints of their radical
views about "fundamentally transforming the United States." On
ascending to the presidency, Obama moved slowly, uneager to spread alarm and
wanting to be reelected. By now, however, after six full years and only his
legacy to worry about, the full-blown Obama is emerging.
The Obama Doctrine is simple and universal:
Warm relations with adversaries and cool them with friends.
Several assumptions underlie this approach:
The U.S. government morally must compensate for its prior errors. Smiling at
hostile states will inspire them to reciprocate. Using force creates more
problems than it solves. Historic U.S. allies, partners, and helpers are morally
inferior accessories. In the Middle East, this means reaching out to
revisionists (Erdoğan, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Republic of
Iran) and pushing away cooperative governments (Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia).
Of these actors, two stand out: Iran and
Israel. Establishing good relations with Tehran appears to be Obama's great
preoccupation. As Michael
Doran of the Hudson Institute has shown, Obama
during his entire presidency has worked toward rendering Iran what he calls
"a very successful regional power … abiding by international norms and
international rules." Contrarily, his pre-presidential friendships with
truculent anti-Zionists such as Ali Abunimah, Rashid Khalidi, and Edward Said
point to the depth of his hostility toward the Jewish state.
The Obama Doctrine demystifies what is
otherwise inscrutable. For example, it explains why the U.S.
government blithely ignored the Iranian
supreme leader's outrageous "Death to America" yelp in March,
dismissing it as mere domestic pandering, even as Obama glommed onto the Israeli
prime minister's near simultaneous electoral campaign comment rejecting a
two-state solution with the Palestinians during his term of office ("we
take him at his word").
The doctrine also offers guidelines to predict
possible developments during Obama's remaining tenure, such as: Wretched P5+1
deals with Iran compel Israel's government to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
Gentle policies toward Damascus clear the way for the Assad regime to re-extend
its power. Ankara chooses to provoke a crisis in the eastern Mediterranean over
Cypriot gas and oil reserves.
The great question ahead is how, in their
wisdom, the American people will judge the Obama Doctrine when they next vote
for president in 19 months. Will they repudiate his policy of shuffling and
contrition, as they comparably did in 1980 when they elected Ronald Reagan over
Jimmy Carter? Or will they choose four more years of it, thereby turning the
Obama Doctrine into the new norm and Americans into European-style
Their verdict in 2016 has potentially