September 14, 2012
The breaking news keeps breaking when it comes to revelations surrounding the attacks and protests aimed at U.S. embassies going on throughout the Islamic world. Protests have spread to at least eight countries. Reports indicate that four people have been arrested relating to the killing of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff there. That offers at least the promise of getting more information about the deliberate attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., government authorities identified the man behind the controversial film purported as the cause for the protests as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Californian with a shadowy past including many aliases and a criminal record.
Unlike a Brad Thor novel, however, we can’t just jump to the end of the story to find out what this all means for American policy in this troubled part of the world.
But (again, unlike a Brad Thor novel) without cheating we can predict how the story is going to end—because the result of the President’s Middle East policies was predictable from the start.
Obama’s strategy for this part of the world started out much the way Jimmy Carter’s did—with acts of conciliation and accommodation. The President narrowly focused his priorities on three objectives: 1) withdrawing from Iraq as quickly as possible; 2) engaging with Syria and Iran; and 3) transforming the U.S. into a neutral party—to negotiate peace between Palestine and Israel.
For starters, we know that all three of those objectives have met with abject failure.
Iraq was not only left a shaky state; it has become a shaky friend—defying U.S. requests to block Iranian flights that are rearming the Syrian military so they can kill more Syrian civilians.
After wasting three years of trying to find common ground with the totalitarian regimes in Syria and Iran, even the White House has acknowledged failure, calling for the government in Damascus to step down and asking for more sanctions on Tehran.
Finally, the peace process has collapsed—a blessing in disguise, because if Obama succeeded in creating a Palestinian state today, it would look an awful lot like the Syrian regime the rest of the region is trying to bring down—a corrupt state that oppresses its own people, a state sponsor of terrorism, and a tool of Iran.
The President’s policy, however, has been more than unsuccessful—the “Obama doctrine” has taken the cause of protecting U.S. interests in the region backward—because it relied on a self-imposed agenda of self-weakening. It included distancing the U.S. from Israel and playing politics with the U.S. defense budget—where even his own officials acknowledge that if the automatic cuts required under the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect, they will undermine the readiness and reduce the capabilities of the armed forces. (Watch our new video featuring real stories from veterans about the readiness challenges facing our military.)
The war on terrorism began when Osama bin Laden wrote his fatwa proclaiming America a paper tiger in withdrawal. With a sharp push, he believed, the Americans would fall away. It is not the President’s policies, nor the promises he made at his historic speech in Cairo, nor the pledges he made to punish the perpetrators of the attack in Benghazi that America’s enemies are responding to. They believe the U.S., by its actions, has demonstrated it is in retreat.
Attacks on embassies and anti-American riots in the street can happen on any President’s watch. What we need to be most concerned about is that those who are deliberately plotting against us are on the offensive—again.
It is time for a different course:
Don’t lose focus on Iran. Tehran is the number one troublemaker in this part of the world. From its nuclear aspirations to sponsoring terrorism, plotting attacks of its own, and promoting an extremist agenda across the region to crushing the aspirations of freedom from its own people—peace in this part of the planet has no greater enemy.
Reassert the need for close strategic cooperation with Israel. The instability that continues to sweep the region only underscores the fact that Israel is the only ally in the region that the U.S can reliably count on.
Acknowledge that the war against a global Islamist insurgency isn’t over. There are evil people out there trying to kill us, and we have to stop them. Chasing down their leaders with drone strikes is not enough—dealing with the “next wave” of transnational terrorism will require a different course. The strategy for the next wave must regain the initiative that has been lost by this President, bring a successful end to the long war, and leave behind an enduring and sustainable counterterrorism enterprise—one that can adeptly respond to emerging threats, like the recent attack in Benghazi.
Adopt an economic freedom agenda. The 2012 Index of Economic Freedom confirms that countries of the Middle East lag in many areas of economic freedom and that the lack of jobs and opportunity is at the root of much of the anger. It is past time to move the economic freedom agenda from an afterthought to the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. Even the best security policy will never be sufficient. We can lower our own barriers to trade and encourage governments in the Middle East to do likewise. We can encourage reforms to open up investment, create jobs, and empower individuals economically.
To protect America’s interest in this part of the world, we must be:
It will take that kind of shift in U.S. policies to weather this crisis well.