The country needs to come together to have our president’s back when it comes to his administration’s middle east policy which is extremely complicated. Any (2015-2016) presidential candidate who claims to have the error free, sure fire winning strategy to successfully manage all the vested interests of the middle east players and countries is guilty of fraud.
It is at this time (November 2015) when we are at War with ISIS, that it is important for our republican brothers and sisters to act patriotic by supporting President Barack Obama instead of taking every opportunity to question his leadership as a talking point. When republicans jump on this band wagon they are party to the weakening of this great country’s stature in the world and in the eyes of our enemy, while they strengthen the hands of our foes which includes ISIS.
This favorite talking point about our President Obama’s lack of leadership is not genuinely well considered. Yes, mistakes have been made (as when President Bush decided to attack Iraq) but there has also been some accomplishments.
An example of what our President has had to deal with regarding middle east policies can be found in an 11/21/15 NY Times article, “Pentagon Expands Inquiry Into Intelligence On ISIS Surge, by the authors, Matt Apuzzo, Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidtnov.
The following are excerpts from the NY Times report:
“When Islamic State fighters overran a string of Iraqi cities last year, analysts at United States Central Command wrote classified assessments for military intelligence officials and policy makers that documented the humiliating retreat of the Iraqi Army. (This is when ISIS took control of Iraqi territory.) But before the assessments were final, former intelligence officials said, the analysts’ superiors made significant changes.”
“In the revised documents, the Iraqi Army had not retreated at all. The soldiers had simply “redeployed.”
“Such changes are at the heart of an expanding internal Pentagon investigation of Cent-com, as Central Command is known, where analysts say that supervisors revised conclusions to mask some of the American military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back the Islamic State. The analysts say supervisors were eager to paint a more optimistic picture of America’s role in the conflict than was warranted.”
The same authors wrote wrote a 9/23/15 report, “Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq, and the following are some excerpts:
“As the senior Iraq analyst at Central Command, the military headquarters in Tampa that oversees American military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, Mr. Hooker is the leader of a group of analysts that is accusing senior commanders of changing intelligence reports to paint an overly optimistic portrait of the American bombing campaign against the Islamic State. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating.”
“Although the investigation became public weeks ago, the source of the allegations and Mr. Hooker’s role have not been previously known. Interviews with more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials place the dispute directly at the heart of Central Command, with Mr. Hooker and his team in a fight over what Americans should believe about the war.”
In a 4/28/14 Al Monitor article, Steven A. Cook and Michael Brooks also question the doubters about their reasonableness in out rightly discounting President Obama’s leadership. It is titled, “The Myth of Obama’s Failure in the Middle East.” Here are some excerpts:
“It has become an article of faith that President Barack Obama’s Middle East Policy, is adrift. According to a slew of would-be policy makers, the United States is “weak and feckless.” These criticisms are not exclusive to the Obama administration’s adversaries in Washington, but also routinely heard among officials and pundits in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Jerusalem and Riyadh. Such critics believe that Washington has not “done enough” to meet the challenges of the region, portending disaster for America’s national security and its allies in the region. Has it really?”
“Calamity and misfortune may be the (short term) future of the Middle East, but the region’s problems are not the result of the White House’s policy choices. Lost among the complaints about what the administration is or is not doing and demands for leadership is an appreciation of just how difficult the region has become or what demonstrating “leadership” actually means.”
“The Obama administration has had its problems, no doubt. The White House got itself into trouble with its now-infamous Syrian “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, confusing friends and emboldening enemies.”
NOTE: (Seymour Hersh, frequent contributor on military matters to the New Yorker Magazine, wrote in the London Review of Books, this highly contested article, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” detailing how the US President Barack Obama was 2 days away from launching an all out attack on Syria in response to the red line being crossed with the 8/21/13 sarin gas attack on civilians, based on inconclusive intelligence reports. He details the following:
“Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the August 21, 2013 attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.”
The reporting by Steven A. Cook and Michael Brooks regarding the Middle East continues:
“In regard to Egypt, Washington has sought to split the difference between its strategic interests and efforts to hold leaders there accountable to their own democratic commitments as they engage in a harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and all other dissenters. As a result, Washington’s Egypt policy is muddled.”
“When it comes to prosecuting the war against terrorists, the White House’s over-reliance on drones has led to the deaths of a number of civilians, needlessly antagonizing innocents and ensuring that generations of Yemenis and others will harbor resentment and anger toward the United States. The administration’s bold effort to reach a “grand bargain” with Iran, hard-liners in both Washington and Iran may still block a final deal.” (We now have this deal in 2015.)
“Even taking into account these problems, much of the Washington-based criticism is rooted in politics rather than an objective analysis of what is happening in the Middle East.”
“It has almost become a cliche that Arabs are engaged in battles over the hearts and soul of their countries, but that is precisely what is happening. The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya were successful in chasing long-time authoritarian leaders from power, but since then, the struggles to shape new and more just political orders have produced instability, uncertainty and violence. Even Tunisia, which pundits and analysts consider the most promising prospect for a democratic transition, confronts significant economic challenges that could threaten political progress.”
“Then there is Bahrain, which, with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has suppressed demands for political change. The Bahraini leadership along with the Saudis and Emiratis clearly believe that these demands and the demonstrations that have accompanied them are part of an allegedly broad sectarian struggle playing out in the region. With the prevailing unstable circumstances in North Africa and the perception of threat in the Gulf, where local political actors think they are engaged in existential struggles, it is unclear how US “leadership” can alter the calculations of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military, Libyan militias, the Bahraini ruling family or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.”
“To the administration’s critics, it seems that “leadership” means intervening in Syria, bombing Iran or extracting a better agreement from Tehran, squeezing the Egyptian military or supporting it (depending on where one stands), staying in Libya after NATO’s Operation Unified Protector or not, negotiating Israel- Palestine peace or refraining from squandering already diminished US prestige on a conflict that has no solution.
“Under the circumstances, White House officials can be forgiven for being confused about what its critics want the United States to do. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to intervene in Syria, take a tougher line with Tehran, promote democracy in Egypt and support the Israelis at all times, while Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., advocates precisely the opposite of McCain’s approach to the region. All the while, Democrats privately fret that the White House has allowed its opponents to frame the debate and that many at home and abroad are beginning to believe that Washington’s power and prestige are actually waning.”
“Meanwhile, interlocutors from the Arab world have a hard time articulating how their own policies would change if Washington demonstrated the leadership they appear to be demanding. One is left to assume that being less feckless means supporting Saudi Arabia’s approach to regional challenges. Yet, standing shoulder to shoulder with Riyadh risks pulling Washington into Syria’s civil war in ways that the Obama administration has sought to avoid, knowing that direct intervention in Syria, risks getting caught up in someone else’s civil war from which an exit would be costly and bloody. In the meantime, the United States has contributed more than $5 billion to humanitarian relief, dwarfing contributions from the rest of the world.”
“Leadership on Iran apparently means extending Tehran’s regional isolation and threatening its nuclear program with destruction. King Abdullah had, according to Wikileaks, lobbied US officials to undertake military operations to destroy Tehran’s nuclear program. The Iranians have, of course, proven themselves to be malevolent actors in the region, but neither isolation nor threats of force have managed to alter Tehran’s behavior. The Obama administration’s tough sanctions and willingness to act on the opportunity that Hassan Rouhani’s presidency represents, have at least brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. The possibility of reaching a deal, are far better than what would be risky and uncertain military operations. Still, this careful balancing act, producing significant breakthroughs, somehow remains feckless and reflects a lack of leadership according to critics.”
“It has become something of a “thing” for virtually everyone to bemoan the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, but upon close inspection, it is hard to figure out what all the hand wringing is about. It is true that Egypt is a mess, Libya is on the brink and Bahrain remains explosive, but those are outcomes entirely of Egyptian, Libyan and Bahraini making. The White House should, of course, speak out forcefully about human rights violations, but that is not likely to convince the violators to stop. This is a real limit of US power, but it is not a function of the Obama’s alleged weakness. It is not as if previous administrations were particularly successful in this area.”
“On the issues of core strategic and national interests, it is hard to argue with the administration’s record. The White House has avoided potentially costly and power-sapping conflicts in Syria and Iran, is exploring a diplomatic opening with Tehran that could produce significant benefits, continues to ensure Israeli security and maintains a robust military presence in the region to ensure the flow of energy resources and prevent any single power from dominating the region. What more do the critics want?”
Personally, I wish our president had acted early in 2013 by arming the Syrian rebels in order to overthrow their President Bashar al-Assad. This was the most opportune time to act, but even in this instance, there would probably have been unintended consequences. For instance, Iran, a Shia country is against the removal of President Assad (Shia) without a credible replacement governing body because there would again be a power vacuum to be filled by Sunnis (ISIS) hardliners in a region with a large number of Shia’s Muslims. Then there are the competing interests of nearby powers like the Turks who prefer the existence of ISIS as a necessary evil over the Kurds and the Saudi (Sunni) leaders who would rather have ISIS continue as a counter to Syria’s Alawite Shia President Assad. Because Russia is an ally of Iran and the Russians need to secure access to their Tartus naval base in Syria, they require Iran’s consent to transition President Assad out of power. In addition, our NATO ally, Turkey has been allowing ISIS and arms to cross their borders because their priority is to battle the Kurds rather than ISIS. They are strongly adamant that Syria’s President Assad has to be removed from his leadership role. The Russians who are propping up President Assad, have been bombing anti-Assad rebels located near the boarder of Turkey, where Turk men also live. This explains why on 11/24/15, when a Soviet fighter plane flew over Turkey’s boundaries for a few seconds, it was then targeted by Turkey for extinction.
President Obama’s current strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS appears to many, to be too long term. However, to destroy ISIS would require not just air power and limited special forces, but a minimum of 100,000 additional military men and women to take back all the territories that ISIS has conquered due in part, to the the decade old, US trained, Iraqi military not being able to defend their own lands.
In summary, nothing short of a comprehensive plan with many world powers fully participating; with an intensive effort by the Vienna Talks’ experts to find a political solution for both Iraq and Iran; along with a UN commitment to provide UN troops to maintain the peace for years afterwards will be an effective solution. The US can destroy ISIS within months, but the outcome would be the same quagmires that we are now witnessing in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
With this dose of reality, our president is left to select from what is best out of an inventory of difficult options. He is demonstrating leadership by focusing on containing and degrading ISIS while the other pieces of the power puzzle, fall into place to where the US can then act to destroy. This tactic of degrading and then destroying ISIS may be put on the fast track because of the recent ISIS attacks (11/2015). Time will tell the rest of the story.
UPDATE: This blog was updated on 11/24/15.