Former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, John Hannah, took Obama to task in the pages of the L.A. Times, pointing out the insecurity and potential instability developing across the Mideast as a result of the current president’s foreign policy. The Mideast remains a critical region to both world and American productivity and security.
So acute is the crisis of confidence that America’s closest allies now openly question Washington’s reliability and mettle. Months after Obama’s rapid embrace of an Egyptian revolution that toppled the United States’ most important Arab partner, Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah II was asked whether the region’s leaders could still depend on the U.S. With shocking candor, Abdullah responded: “I think everybody is wary of dealing with the West…. Looking at how quickly people turned their backs on Mubarak, I would say that most people are going to try and go their own way.”
Similarly to how former President Carter abandoned the Shah of Iran, Obama abandoned long-time ally Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Hannah fairly commends Obama for specific instances in which he has acted; however, the growing narrative in the region appears to be that America is a nation in decline when it comes to supporting well established and important allies.
The signposts are there for anyone who cares to notice. In a November article, a senior Middle East correspondent for the New York Times referred matter-of-factly to an Arab world “where the United States is increasingly viewed as a power in decline.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, no enemy of the president, has reported from Riyadh on a new activism in Saudi Arabia’s policy born of “the diminished clout of the United States.”
… In private conversations I’ve had with Middle Eastern officials, the sense of unease and dread expressed are only more severe. Fairly or not, these leaders appear to have taken Obama’s measure and found him wanting. Their bill of indictment includes retreat from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan; betrayal of longtime U.S. allies, especially Mubarak; indulgence of enemy regimes in Tehran and Damascus; overblown promises to end the Palestinian conflict; and a persistent failure to mount the type of credible military option that these leaders believe is necessary for addressing the region’s most urgent threat — Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.
The hardening conviction that the U.S. is disengaging from the Middle East should be cause for real concern. The region already finds itself on the verge of a nervous breakdown, racked by revolutions, violent repression and the specter of Iranian theocrats wielding the world’s most dangerous weapons. Growing doubts about U.S. reliability and resolve only add fuel to the fire. The resulting strategic vacuum is an open invitation for miscalculation and conflict — Iran’s recent threats in the Strait of Hormuz being Exhibit A.
No good can come from the perception of the United States in retreat, a willing accomplice in the dismantling of a regional order — Pax Americana — that has been the linchpin of Mideast security for decades. It’s a dangerously corrosive narrative, one that left unchecked will breed uncertainty, instability and even war. Disabusing friend and foe alike of its accuracy should be a top priority for Obama.
While the military will always play a key role in projecting America’s strength, the issues cited by Hannah have as much, if not more to do with attitude and diplomatic engagement required to maintain a sense of security among key allies. Given the volatility of the region, especially recently, said insecurity could easily lead to actions detrimental to U.S. interests, if not outright instability.
While it would be nice to believe America can afford the type of disengagement and lack of resolve Obama seems to be demonstrating across the region, the consequences for same could come quickly, with terrible consequences for America’s interests overseas.