“…America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.”
-- President Obama, addressing “the Muslim World” from Cairo University, June 4, 2009.
President Obama’s vision for the Middle East is one in which Islamism serves as a transitional stage between authoritarian rule and liberal democracy.
The Islamist vision for the Middle East would say that he is half right.
Obama helped install the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt, as he and NATO allies did with Islamists in Libya. While Muslim theocrats sound like unhappy partners for an American electorate accustomed to unhappy outcomes with such folks (the mullahs of Iran and the Afghan Taliban, to wit).
Obama’s Middle East doctrine, though, holds that under the oppressive yoke of authoritarian, secular governments propped up by the Cold War superpowers, legitimate political dissent was stifled. That means that the only place Obama could find an opposition to replace those tottering Cold War-era despots in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere was among those looking to establish Muslim governments.
But, these would be tolerant Islamists, we were told. Their promise of tolerance was secured in advance of providing the military, diplomatic and economic support that put them in power.
There was much skepticism about the Obama Doctrine, since the limited U.S. involvement with backing Islamists in the past – most notably helping them drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan – didn’t end well. Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan now for more than a decade, have lost more than 2,200 sons and daughters and are still unable to keep the main airport open. Our government is now negotiating with the Taliban, seeking a peace accord that would return the Islamist hardliners to the official government.
Perhaps the riots now unfolding in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood government are the pangs of a great leap forward to a Western-style, popularly elected secular government. Or, maybe not.
The current government in Cairo, even with lots of U.S. aid, finds itself atop a nation of 90 million people hurtling toward economic ruin. Religious persecution is on the rise and so are ethnic tensions. A country that was once safe enough under U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak for Obama to deliver his Address to the Muslim World just four years ago, now sees U.S. college students murdered in the streets.
Will a new, liberal order arise out of this poverty and chaos or will the even less tolerant, more authoritarian Islamists topple the more moderate American-backed Islamists? Or will the military decide that this experimentation with democracy has gone on long enough and again install a junta? And if the generals take over again, will the Obama Doctrine demand that they be cut off from aid? What happens then?
In Libya, which was mostly in line with Western interests under zany despot Muammar Quaddafi, Islamists sacked the American consulate and killed the U.S. ambassador, and the Koranic militiamen armed by NATO who are keeping the Obama-backed government in power seem to be losing patience with reform.
But around the corner in Syria, the Obama Doctrine of transitional Islamism is facing its toughest test yet.
The repressive Assad regime has always been hostile to American and Western interests, siding with Moscow and Tehran in the struggles of the past 40 years. Plus, the secular government in Syria has long-oppressed an ethnic/sectarian majority. This should make Damascus the best candidate yet for regime change under the Obama Doctrine.
After a decade of fighting Americans around the region, Islamist militants have their own plans for regime change. They’re not interested in any power-sharing agreements or making any promises to obtain Western aid.
These are the folks who are imposing Islamic law at the point of a blade already. When news leaks out about a child executed in the street for mocking the founder of Islam or a priest beheaded for sharing his Christian faith, one wonders if there is any hope at all for transitional anything.
The staunch American popular resistance to involvement in the Syrian civil war may be a factor in Obama delaying his answer to the growing global pleas to intervene to stop the genocidal conflict. But that didn’t stop him in Libya, where he backed a preemptive war to prevent a promised genocide.
More likely is that there are not enough good candidates for partners under the Obama Doctrine – moderate Islamists who can offer hope of a transitional, tolerant theocracy. But with Assad digging in and the al Qaeda-style Islamists taking control of the rebellion, Obama has decided to accelerate American aid anyway.
As for whom Obama is arming or what assurances we have that the priest-beheading types are not getting any of the weapons our government is providing, it’s not at all clear.
The Obama Doctrine promises transitional, tolerant theocracy in the region. But what follows the transition may be far worse than the secular strongmen of the Cold War era.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.