Events over the last few days in the Middle East confirm that for all its self-congratulatory rhetoric the Obama administration has no effective policy for that region of the world. Moreover, friends and rivals have learned to call our bluff and take full advantage of the administration’s penchant for unilateral gestures. The result is prolonged human suffering, instability and violence.
Let’s take Egypt. The Associated Press reports:
Nineteen Americans will face criminal charges as part of a probe of the funding of pro-democracy groups, Egyptian officials announced Sunday, a provocative move that could deprive Egypt of crucial aid from the United States and upend one of Washington’s most important bilateral relationships.
The development added pressure to an already strained relationship between Egypt’s ruling generals and the Obama administration. The targets of the investigation include well-connected American groups, among them one led in Cairo by Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Sam LaHood reportedly was among those facing charges.
Keep in mind that we give Egypt $1.5 billion in aid. However, “the tone of Sunday’s announcement suggested the Egyptian government is doubling down on what has become a high-stakes diplomatic dispute.” It also suggests the Egyptians don’t fear any adverse consequences from an administration that too often projects desperation and an aversion to leveling the boom on countries that abuse our citizens (e.g. Alan Gross in Cuba).
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams told me yesterday: “The current authorities in Egypt — the army plus the Mubarak regime holdover who is minister of international cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga — appear to be seeking a confrontation with the United States. Everyone can speculate about the reasons for this, but our response should be clear: There can be no aid to Egypt while they are behaving this way. In addition, Aboul Naga should be told she is no longer welcome in the United States and our diplomats should henceforth have nothing to do with her.” He cautioned: “Unless we respond in a sufficiently tough way, we’ll see repeats of this everywhere: a non-democratic regime dislikes American NGOs that promote democracy and human rights.”
We’ve also seen how our feckless policy toward Syria has played out. Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported that, in the wake of the veto by China and Russia in the U.N. Security Council seeking tougher measures against Bashar al-Assad and support for the civilian uprising, the U.S. administration is stumped:
Now that Russia and China have vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution on the violence in Syria, what does the international community intend to do next and how will the situation play out? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said just now there’s no way to know.
“We don’t know what the endgame will be until we start the game,” Clinton said at a press conference at the 2012 Munich Security Conference, just minutes before Russia and China killed the resolution put forth by Morocco and supported by the United States and several other security council members. “Asking what the end game is can’t be answered until we actually start to bring about the changes that we think will be beneficial.”
Clinton warned that more violence would be in the offing if the security council was not able to act immediately.
“The endgame, in the absence of us acting together as the international community, is civil war,” she said. “The potential endgames, if we are serious about putting this kind of international pressure on the Assad regime, making it clear to the opposition that they should pursue their changes in a peaceful manner, is the possibility of the beginning of a transition.”
Clinton said in the best case scenario, the situation in Syrian could be “similar to what we see now in Yemen.”
This is what comes from waiting for ever-illusive international consensus. We have no policy options now other than to wait for Russia and China to see the light? Apparently.
This is also powerful evidence that the entire “reset” scheme with Russia was misguided from the get-go. In search of better relations with Russia we pulled missile sites out of Eastern Europe, signed the START agreement, (until very recently) played down human rights violations and cajoled Georgia into agreeing to Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization. What did we get for it? Not much. A Russian scientist aided Iran’s nuclear program. Russia has objected to coordinated action with the other members of the Quartet on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and is now aiding and abetting the mass murderer in Damascus. The portrait of American ineptitude and inability to move decisively against Iran’s key partner in the region surely doesn’t help improve the administration’s credibility with Tehran.
The Obama team came to office saying it needed to restore our place in the world. In fact, on one critical issue after another it is evident with each passing month that we have less and less will to act in defense of our own interests and that of our allies. We are bullied and defied by friendly and unfriendly regimes alike. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in the Middle East. The vacuum left by the erosion of American power and prestige will be filled by Iran and other powers who no longer consider the United States as the guarantor of peace and stability in the region. The result will be less democracy, more violence and more humanitarian crises.