Michael Doran, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director in the National Security Council, wrote a devastating critique of Obama’s Middle East policy that was published today.
In the article, Doran quotes a telling story about the way Obama shapes U.S. policy in the Middle East. He took the story from former U.S Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ mémoire, Duty.
Gates described in his book a meeting at the Obama White House in February 2011. The meeting was attended by the members of the National Security Council and Obama’s White House staff and dealt with the situation in Egypt where crowds occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo and demanded the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
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The question before them was how the U.S. should respond to the turmoil in Egypt.
Here’s what Doran wrote:
On one side stood Gates and the other principal members of the National Security Council. Mubarak, they argued, though a dictator, had been a reliable ally for 30 years, and toppling him would unleash chaos in Egypt, with no guarantee that the forces replacing him would be sympathetic to Washington, to America’s regional allies, or to democracy. On the other, pro-ouster side stood White House staffers vocally represented by Ben Rhodes—who, though only in his early thirties, bore the grand title of Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and Speechwriting. In addition to his youthfulness, Rhodes had limited experience in international politics; his master’s degree was in creative writing, and his official role was that of a “communicator,” or spinmeister.
In the end, the president sided with the Rhodes faction, thus placing himself, in a phrase that soon emerged from the White House, “on the right side of history.” That side led, as Gates had warned, to a political vacuum in which the only established and well-organized party was the Muslim Brotherhood, which soon took power.
One might conclude from this story that Ben Rhodes has a deep influence over the president, but in truth he is simply his mouthpiece, or his clone. As Obama’s own two memoirs attest, he himself has long practiced a literary approach to his profession, acting simultaneously as author and as heroic protagonist. In this conception, the exercise of foreign policy is not simply about safeguarding American interests abroad; it is also about fashioning a creative and compelling personal narrative of the effort.
To be sure, all politicians impute pure motives to themselves and malign ones to their rivals. But Obama, raising the practice to the level of art, has recognized a simple but profound truth about political life: if you can convince people that you are well-intentioned, they will tend to side with you even if you fail to achieve your stated aims. In the Middle East, especially, the list of the president’s failed efforts is already long and growing longer by the day; it includes, among many other debacles, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, launching a humanitarian intervention in Libya, and promoting a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Becoming painfully obvious is the last and greatest item on this list of pious failures: the president’s promises on Iran, embodied most recently and dramatically in the deal struck in Lausanne on April 2.
Obama has presented this deal as an effort to solve, through entirely peaceful means, the most consequential dispute in the Middle East. At the same time, he is signaling that his Iran gambit heralds much more than that. It is nothing less than the birth of a new vision of the American role in the world—an antidote to the military approach that allegedly characterized our foreign policy for decades.
This vision, however, is a fiction. Just as Robert Gates could see clearly in February 2011 that ousting Mubarak would deliver chaos and not democracy, it is clear to sober observers on all sides that the agreement with Tehran will fail to establish the elementary conditions for preventing the regime’s development of a nuclear bomb. Yet most people still do not appear to regard the president as either the cause of this disaster or as the solution to it. Will they ever?
Doran then continues to list three obvious defects of the emerging deal with Iran:
The emerging deal with Iran has three obvious defects that will be impossible to solve in the final round of negotiations.
First, instead of phasing out, over a decade’s time, the existing diplomatic and economic sanctions on Iran, the deal, practically speaking, will lift the sanctions immediately.
Second, the president’s assurance that sanctions will “snap back” in the event of Iranian misbehavior is absurd on its face. Re-imposition of sanctions will require concerted action by the United Nations Security Council, a body that no one has ever accused of being either speedy or efficient.
Finally, Iranian leaders have asserted, repeatedly and explicitly, that they will never allow the United States and its partners to conduct the kind of “anywhere, anytime” inspections that the Obama administration has disingenuously claimed are part of the deal; without such a guarantee, international inspectors will be incapable of verifying Iranian compliance.
Doran concludes that the deal will most certainly lead to new Iranian deceit and will certainly not change the nature of the Iranian regime as Obama believes:
Thanks to these core deficiencies, the deal will enable the Iranians to pocket enormous benefits—diplomatic, economic, and military—up front. And once they have enriched themselves by playing nice, there will be nothing to prevent them from beginning to cheat again. Does the president believe otherwise? If so, he must assume that just by signing the deal, the Islamic Republic will be transformed into something other and better than the aggressively hostile and repellent regime we have come to know over the last 36 years.
This is like the legitimate businessman who assumes that his new Mafioso partner will abandon his criminal ways once he develops a taste for honest profit. Even if the businessman manages to get out of the deal alive, it will be only after an arsonist’s flames have engulfed his shop and he’s been fleeced of the insurance money.
At the end of the article, Doran quotes Greg Sheridan, Australia’s leading foreign-affairs columnist, who said this about the emerging nuclear deal with Iran:
This agreement guarantees (emphasis added) Iran will acquire nuclear weapons eventually. Perhaps the key analytical question is this: is the fecklessness of present American policy entirely the fault of Obama, or does it reflect a deeper malaise in the U.S. and in Western civilization generally?
“Sheridan’s question is apt,” says Doran. “That it has to be asked says bad things about us, who have gone so far as to allow our president to blur the distinction between foreign policy and creative fiction.”
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