2013 might be called the year of the shape-shifter. President Obama, the leader of the free world, cozied up to Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia poured billions into fighting Islamic terrorists in Lebanon and Egypt. Egypt banned Muslim radicals from government.
So what does this confusing scene tell us about 2014? Do our expectations need fixing?
For starters, Americans expect their president to be committed to democracy.
Iran is not a democracy. It is ruled by violent fanatics who deny essential human rights to their own citizens, fund and execute mass murder in other states, kidnap and kill Americans, and dedicate themselves to the annihilation of Israel.
President Rouhani was “elected” last June after 99% (8 out of 686) of the would-be candidates, including all women, were prohibited from running for office.
And yet in 2013, the White House Press Secretary “congratulate[d] the Iranian people for making their voices heard during Iran’s election [and] for their participation in the political process,” and said the election represented “the will of the voters.”
President Obama himself talked to the U.N. General Assembly about Rouhani’s “mandate” “from the Iranian people.”
In other words, the president subverted genuine democratic aspirations in Iran, and legitimized a devious thug and the lethal regime he represents. We now know why. He was planning to cut a deal (profoundly affecting our national security) with those frauds.
Americans also expect their president to be committed to human rights.
November elections to the U.N.’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, turned China, Russia, and Cuba into U.N. human rights authorities.
Half the members of the Council are not even democracies and Islamic states hold the balance of power by controlling the African and Asian blocs. In 2013 the Council criticized Israel more than any other state, almost twice as much as Syria, and six times as much as Iran.
And yet in 2013 the lead cheerleader of the Human Rights Council was the Obama administration. It regularly generates brag sheets on Council “achievements.” In October the State Department bragged about a resolution on Syria “focused on ... accountability.”
Recent reports put the death toll in Syria at 130,000, the war is entering its third year, and President Assad is totally unaccountable.
Americans expect their president to be committed to the rule of law.
The U.N. Security Council adopted four legally-binding sanction resolutions on Iran beginning in 2006. American diplomacy managed to extract even Russian and Chinese support for international laws that state “Iran shall without further delay…suspend all enrichment related activities.”
And yet in 2013 President Obama decided to destroy that hard-won consensus, trash those legal obligations, and authorize Iran to continue enrichment activities.
The Geneva Conventions on the laws of war rightly refuse to grant immunity to legitimate military targets using civilians as human shields. The legal limit is one of proportionality. “An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life [or] injury to civilians” is prohibited if it “would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”
And yet in May 2013 President Obama decided he would ignore all that and create a revolutionary new rule applying only to American armed forces.
He declared that even in the face of “terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people,” “before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”
Tying our military’s hands behind their backs has already had real implications. After a senior commander of al-Shabaab was located in a home in Somalia in October, a drone strike was eschewed. Navy SEALs attempting to capture him instead, were forced to retreat during a gun battle out of concern for any potential civilian casualties.
Americans expect their president to be committed to the security of our allies.
And yet in 2013 President Obama forced Israel to release convicted Palestinian murderers as a “confidence-building measure.” The murdered were old and young, men and women – stabbed, strangled, shot or blown up. Their freed killers, and anticipated recidivists, were treated as heroes by fellow Palestinians. The only confidence built has been in terrorism as a successful political tool.
It turns out that our 2013 expectations were not the problem. Expect 2014 to be even worse.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her on Twitter @AnneBayefsky.