Published September 21, 2012
Something very big is going on in the Middle East. This is not about an inflammatory film or a political assassination in Libya. Rather, recent events confirm that throughout the Muslim world, radical Islam is on the march. The radical Muslims have figured out a much better strategy than the Al Qaeda strategy of the past decade. Instead of terrorist acts aimed at directly wounding the “far enemy,” namely the United States, Islamic radicals are using democracy and public protest to defeat the “near enemy,” namely their own autocratic governments, and seize power. Remarkably President Obama seems to be responding in a way that helps the Islamic radicals, and the vital question is why.
To understand Obama, we need to back up and observe his Middle East policy since he took office in early 2009. There is a weird double standard in the way that President Obama has been acting in region. In Libya, he used force to prevent "genocide" but he has refused to use force to prevent much greater genocide in Syria. What makes Obama's conduct especially odd is that he undertook Libyan military intervention after a civil struggle in which Muammar Qaddafi had killed around 250 people. In Syria, however, tens of thousands have been killed by the regime and still Obama refuses to use direct military force.
A similar inconsistency defines Obama's actions in Egypt and Iran. In Egypt, Obama used diplomatic pressure to oust the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, clearing the way for the Islamic radicals, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, to win the subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections. Using the rhetoric of democracy, Obama allied himself in Egypt with the democracy protesters. Yet when there were equally massive demonstrations in Iran a year and a half earlier, aimed at ousting the regime of the mullahs, Obama urged caution and restraint. He refused to embrace the protesters. Essentially he did nothing. Eventually the Iranian police crushed the uprising and the Iranian rebellion dissolved.
So we have a dual anomaly here. How can we explain why Obama uses force here but not there, getting rid of one ruler but keeping others in place? Even now Obama's conduct in response to the latest Muslim agitation is ambiguous. Far from standing up forthrightly for American interests, Obama seems equally resolute in protecting the reputation of the Islamic agitators and their newly-installed leaders.
To date, the best attempt to account for Obama's strange conduct is Walter Russell Mead's theory that Obama is "the least competent manager of America's Middle East diplomatic portfolio." In other words, Obama is an amateur and a bungler. Mead notes that "he has committed our forces in the strategically irrelevant backwater of Libya," that he has "strained our ties with the established regimes without winning new friends on the Arab street" and that he has "infuriated and frustrated long-term friends but made no headway in reconciling enemies."
But surely Obama knows that Libya is strategically irrelevant; surely he can see that he is antagonizing America's friends and strengthening America's enemies. So Mead's analysis begs the question: why would Obama continue to act this way when the results are as obvious to him as to Mead and the rest of us?
I believe I can answer these questions and explain Obama's double standards. The key is to realize that Obama isn't a fool. He isn't getting results opposite to the ones he intends; rather, he intends the results he's getting. He said during his inaugural speech that he wanted to remake America and transform its place in the world, and this is exactly what he is doing.
Obama's is an anti-colonialist, an ideology he adopted from his Kenyan father. Recall that Obama's autobiography is titled "Dreams From My Father." In that book, Obama details how he got his aspirations, his values, even his core identity, from his absentee father. In a sample passage, Obama writes, "It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself."
While anti-colonialism may be an unfamiliar word to many Americans, it is a very popular ideology even today in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Anti-colonialism is the doctrine that holds that America and the West are the rogue nations of the world. Having adopted his father's anti-colonial way of thinking, President Obama has oriented his foreign policy not so much toward containing Iran or North Korea but rather toward containing America.
I'm not suggesting Obama is a traitor, that he hates America, or that he's anti-American. Rather, he subscribes to an ideology that considers it a good thing for America's influence to be reduced. Obama wants to reduce America's footprint in the world because he believes we have been stepping on the world.
How is Obama doing this? Two dictators are out--Qaddafi and Mubarak--and two dictatorial regimes--that of Assad in Syria and the mullahs in Iran--remain in power. What do Qaddafi and Mubarak have in common? They were both doing business with America. Mubarak was America's most reliable ally in the region, not counting Israel. Qaddafi was not exactly an ally, but he had been behaving himself since America's Iraq invasion, outing terrorists, paying reparations for the Lockerbie bombing, and so on.
Now both Qaddafi and Mubarak are gone.
In Libya, it's hard to say what the new regime will do. We have heard both Islamist rumblings and secular rumblings, and now the Islamic rumblings are getting louder. But undeniably in Egypt, we are seeing the consolidation of a regime that is vastly more anti-American and anti-Israel.
It's important to realize that in Egypt Obama is actively facilitating the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood. No one is suggesting that Obama caused the Arab Spring. The Brotherhood won a free election. But now there is a power struggle under way between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian military. As a recent AP story reported, the Obama administration has been warning the military: step aside and turn over power to the Brotherhood, or America will cut off military and economic aid.
This could be explained as reflecting Obama's unshakeable commitment to democracy, but this commitment was absent during the massive popular demonstrations in Iran in 2009. Then Obama stayed out, even praising the reaction of the Iranian Supreme Leader, and eventually the democracy movement was crushed. Similarly in Syria, Obama has shown himself clearly reluctant to get involved, providing only modest support to the rebels even in the wake of a massive military crackdown and tens of thousands of casualties.
So Assad continues to hang on, and the mullahs remain secure in power in Iran. What do these regimes have in common? They are both hostile to the United States, and allied with each other in subverting America's interests in the region. Both are also state sponsors of terrorism. If the regimes in Syria and Iran were to fall, we can't be sure what would replace them, but we can be reasonably confident that the new governments would be less hostile to America than the ones that are there now.
Thus Obama's double-standards in the region can be explained by an underlying single-standard. He wants to undermine America's allies and leave in place regimes that are indifferent or hostile to America. This is what the anti-colonial ideology predicts he would do, and this is what his actions show he is doing. No wonder that in recent days Obama seems more concerned with containing America than with acting decisively against the hostile forces of radical Islam in the Middle East.
Now what? If Obama gets a second term, what might be the next pro-American regime to fall? In my view, Saudi Arabia. If Obama is re-elected he could demand that the Saudi royal family put itself on the ballot against the Muslim Brotherhood. That is an election the Saudi royals would most likely lose. If that happens then the three most important countries in the Middle East (Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) would all be in the grip of the radical Muslims.
We are seeing in the region a powerful bid for the restoration of Islam as a global power. One Muslim Brotherhood official put it bluntly. What the radical Muslims seek, he said, is "a country called the United States of Islam." Remarkably this radical Muslim dream going back to the 1920s is now being advanced by President Obama, who seems to think it is somehow consonant with the dream from his father.
Just as history will credit Ronald Reagan with helping to produce the dissolution of the Soviet empire, history might credit Obama with helping to produce the United States of Islam.