Where Are We in the Middle East?

I was going to write on my visit to Syria some 10 years ago and how my observations are relevant today but the domestic news this week diverted me. Primarily it was the one year’s anniversary of the killing of Osama Ben Laden, the reaction of the president and his administration, and his trip to Afghanistan. I give President Obama credit for giving the approving nod for the raid on the compound. No reason to take that away. It would have been nice had he shared more of the glory with the people who actually planned and executed it but after three years we could not expect that. But it got me to thinking about where we are in the Middle East after three years of the Obama presidency. It began back in April 2009 with Obama’s visit to Turkey . For some reason Obama has a love affair with the Turkish premier Erdogan, who has become the academic community’s poster boy for “moderate Islam” He did start out well but over time his leadership has gradually evolved into despotism with the continuing arrests of military officers on trumped charges of conspiracies against him. His penchant for bashing Israel helped launch him on an apparent quest for hegemony in the Arab world but also brought him into conflict with Iran , which has similar designs.
In any event Obama later made his “historic” trip to Cairo and there he gave a very fine speech. This much lauded speech in Cairo in June and an earlier one in Ankara Turkey tended to place a hagiographic halo around Obama’s head, placed there by much of the main stream media which had played a major part in electing him. The “New Beginning” Speech in Cairo was heralded by much of the western world as a bridge between two worlds’s supposedly pushed further apart by the policies of the George Bush administration. It was no doubt a well crafted speech with a few Arabic words thrown in along with some fulsome flattery of the Islamic past, apparently structured by advisors who believed  that the Arab culture, being so enamored of the spoken word and rhetoric, that simply changing the tone of our approach to the Islamic and Arab world would be enough.
Since that heady beginning, so typical of that which followed, in terms of, self idolization and hubris bordering on megalomania, the path has been not only downward but disastrous for the American image in the Arab/Islamic world. The much heralded lift in the image of the US by Arabs slowly dissipated as the expectations engendered by the Cairo speech proved to be a chimera. But much more importantly the weakness which became so abundantly on display week by week, month by month, Obama  and his administration has firmly implanted the idea of a declining, impotent America, always following never leading, talking never doing, hesitant, insecure, apologetic, ingratiating to our enemies, untrustworthy to our friends
The incompetence of the Obama administration policies in the Arab world first became apparent when he apparently believed he could strong-arm Israel into accepting negotiating conditions they would not accept and said so in an undiplomatic fashion.  It was the belief among the neo-Arabists and Islamic  “experts” in the Obama think trusts that simply setting themselves apart from President Bush in every aspect of his personality and policies would win the gratitude and trust of the Middle Eastern peoples. This has been followed by years of supine kowtowing to the Iranians. Again this month meeting with Iranians in Turkey , the admnistration was able to happily announce that two months from now there will be another meeting! Leading from behind in the Libyan affair has led to an eventual breakup of the Libyan state. In Egypt , we first supported Mubarak, and then following the mobs we dumped him. We now have something in Egypt which is closer to a military junta dictatorship than a democratic government. In Syria despite the feeble calls for restraint on the part of the Assad fiefdom, Assad continues to mop up the weakening Syria opposition. Today in return for once again offering his outstretched hand of friendship to the Taliban, bombers gave their unequivocal answer.The Middle Eastern political leaders are people who have lived through the most turbulent of times. Murder is an acceptable political campaign strategy to these people. They smell weakness and surely they sense it in the Obama leadership
Lee Smith, a young scholar I used to invite to my classes at the Special Warfare Center , and now a writer for the Weekly Standard, wrote an excellent book called the Strong Horse, coining a phrase used by Osama Bin Laden to characterize the Arabs as always going with the strongest horse, not the apparent losers. (Doesn’t most people) Nothing so alienates the people of the Arab world, an old and cynical part of the world, as weaknesses and the hypocrisy that the weak use to try to cover their vulnerabilities. While establishing committees to condemn genocide might get great reviews from the usual suspects, the LA Times, NY Times and a host of other transparent print and media organs of the left wing, it is worse than meaningless to those who suffer from it in the Middle East, including religious and ethnic minorities or the Shi’a often at the hands of the Sunni under the guise of Islamic or nationalistic movements.
It is not so much what this administration does or does not, it is the glaring inconsistency, useless threats, bended knee blandishments to our contemptuous enemies, unconcern for those we should protect, that signal the ineptness of this administration.  So the mantra goes we were hated under George Bush…if so, we can now say we are still hated but no longer respected. We are the tooth less tiger, making fearful noises but pathetic in our non-exercise of power

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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