President Barack Obama has had two bad years in the Middle East. Unfortunately, that means America’s friends and allies also have had two bad years.
Across the region’s range of troubles, Obama’s inexperience has cost the United States dearly. Consider just a few key issues:
• Relations between Israel and the Palestinians are now at their lowest point in two years, largely because of Obama’s failed efforts to pressure Israel into making substantive concessions. By trying to force Israel to halt all Israeli settlement construction on the West Bank and failing, Obama has the worst of all worlds.
Accordingly, we have a Palestinian Authority with no authority, no legitimacy and no hope except the vain idea that the United Nations will declare Palestinian “statehood.” Obama has taken a complex, confused, dangerous environment and made it worse.
Doing nothing would have been more conducive to progress between Palestinians and Israel.
• Similarly, Obama has allowed Iran’s nuclear weapons threat to become more serious. His belief that Tehran could be talked out of its nuclear program has cost the U.S. and its friends in the region, Israeli and Arab alike, precious time and opportunities. Iran continued to make progress toward obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons and suffered only minimal economic sanctions as a result.
Obama’s fallback is apparently that a nuclear Iran can be contained and deterred, analogously to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. This is almost certainly wrong, since Iran’s leaders do not see human life the same way that Moscow’s atheists did.
Moreover, even if Iran could be deterred, the nuclear threat would not end there, since Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others will almost certainly seek nuclear weapons once Iran possesses them. The Middle East could thus quickly see six or more countries with nuclear arsenals.
• Obama has done essentially nothing to restrain Iran’s support for terrorism. The president seems unwilling to criticize Iran’s leaders for fear of being seen as anti-Muslim. This is curious, since Iran’s leading critics are found in its Muslim neighbors. Read the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks if you have any doubts.
Obama’s inaction has allowed Iran to rearm and resupply Hezbollah in Lebanon, and continue to support Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran aids terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan whose principle aim is to kill Americans, and the president seems unwilling to do anything.
• On Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama seems determined to withdraw U.S. and coalition forces according to rigid timetables. By ignoring the actual strategic situations, these withdrawals will lead to greater instability in both countries. This will enhance Iran’s influence and the risk that Taliban and al-Qaida will resume power in Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan’s democratic government. And if Pakistan, and its substantial supply of nuclear weapons, falls to the radicals, the risk of nuclear terrorism in the region and worldwide will rise exponentially.
Those who longed for Obama’s election, and the end of U.S. “arrogance” and “imperialism,” should reconsider. They may discover that what is truly provocative in the world is not American power, but American weakness.
Weakness inspires our adversaries and dispirits our friends.
John R. Bolton is the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.