The Foxhole: Walid Phares on Obama, the Islamists and the Mideast

In his 2010 book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, Dr. Walid Phares, the renowned scholar of Mideast politics and terrorism, predicted that a “greater clash” was “yet to come” in the volatile region. And he held out the possibility that “the small camp of anti-Islamist commentators can attract greater numbers of citizens and confront the apologist camp with political realities – in the voting booths, demonstrating in the streets, and in mainstream media.”

Within a few months, this “greater clash” was playing out in all of those venues, and with a name swiftly applied and heard ‘round the world: the Arab Spring. Now, in his new book The Lost Spring: U.S. Policy in the Middle East and Catastrophes to Avoid (Palgrave Macmillan), Phares – a familiar face to Fox News viewers as the channel’s Middle East and terrorism analyst – explores why the early results of this “greater clash” have thus far not aligned with American national security interests.

In a recent visit to The Foxhole, Phares – a Maronite Christian born in Lebanon, now an American citizen – argued that the Obama administration unwisely embraced a policy prescription that had been kicking around in in diplomatic circles since the post-9/11 era.

“Many people asked – when the [Arab Spring] uprising began in Tunisia and in Egypt, and followed in Libya and, of course, in Syria – why did the United States, why did the administration actually wait – strategically wait – for the moment when the [Muslim] Brotherhood was ready?” Phares said. “Remember, the first thin layer of these revolts was made of civil society, women, Facebook people, minorities, workers, lawyers in Tahrir Square. We waited a few days, until the Brotherhood were actually ready. The same thing could be said about Libya, against Qaddafi. And that is not an overnight decision.

“As I argued in my book, continue to argue, the Obama administration was advised by [the] academic elite in this country. And the view was [in evidence] way before the Obama administration existed; it was even under the Bush bureaucracy. [That view was:] ‘We need to partner with the Islamists’ network in the Sunni world – that would be the Muslim Brotherhood. Not because we like them, but because they are the best organized and they could provide us with a shield against the most extremist [elements].’ That’s the secret of the equation of the Obama administration.

“Same logic with regard to Iran: ‘If we cut a deal with the Iranian regime, if we partner with the Muslim Brotherhood, we have basically stabilized the region and we can do business and we can do diplomatic relations.’ That’s the philosophy behind it. Now in the Arab Spring, we were proven wrong, because most civil societies rejected the Brotherhood. Thirty-three million Egyptians marched in Egypt. Civilians in Tunisia marched against Ennahda. There is now a push back against the jihadists in Libya. And the same case is in Jordan and elsewhere.”

Asked what motivation President Obama would have had to partner with the Muslim Brotherhood, Phares said: “He has been badly advised. I mean, President Obama as a person, as a charismatic leader, had a great moment, a spring moment, perceived in the Middle East: He was the person for change. I had been in touch with many secular forces, many liberal forces in the Middle East, and they are asking me, after the Arab Spring: ‘Why is it that President Obama sided with the Brotherhood and not with the actual civil societies?’ That was a big question mark; historians will have to address that issue. I think he was badly advised by our academic elite.”

In his visit to The Foxhole, Phares also discussed the spread of ISIS in Syria and Iraq; the true state of relations between Washington and Saudi Arabia; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it is covered by American news media; the prospects for the new Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; the recent capture of alleged Benghazi mastermind Abu Khatallah; and the religious divide between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, as well as the role played by Wahabbis and Salafists.