Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obama Fumbles Three Times in One Week in the Mideast

If history is at least half the story of opportunities missed, Obama has made a lot of history this week.

He missed a chance to invite Tehran to the table to resolve the Lebanese issue, as though by trying once again to deny that Iran is now a major regional player, he could simply marginalize a country that is integral to any Lebanese settlement. Ankara made the same mistake but recovered within 24 hours. Now Tehran has one more piece of evidence of Washington’s duplicity, not to mention incompetence. Much better for Washington would have been to offer Tehran a place at the table and then demand that Tehran offer productive advice rather than to give it one more incentive to play the game of spoiler that it has been playing so effectively in recent years.

Obama also missed the chance to portray the Hariri court case as an example of a general principle—namely, avoiding political murder—the application of which could promote real change in Mideast affairs. Oh, no, only Washington’s adversaries commit murder; the rest just “defend themselves,” or something to that effect. So the murder of Hariri and the murder of that Hamas official in Dubai and the murder of sundry Iranian nuclear scientists and the murder of the protestors on the Mavi Marmara have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Note that had Obama decided to stand on principle as a leader with a vision, he would have defined an area of common ground between the U.S. and Iran that would at least marginally have enhanced U.S. influence.

Then, Obama missed the opportunity to draw the stunningly obvious connection between the collapse of the corrupt and incompetent Tunisian dictatorship and Egypt. As Jackson Diehl put it in the Washington Post (“Obama to Mubarak: Forget Tunisia”):

Tunisia's popular revolution should have been a wake-up call to the rotting autocracy of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and his supporters in the Obama administration. Instead, Cairo is moving to retrench, with the tacit blessing of President Obama.

Other Arab leaders were not so blind as Mubarak and Obama (Samir Al-Atrush on Maan News):
Arab League chief Amr Mussa warned Arab leaders on Wednesday that the hardships of ordinary Tunisians that sparked a popular uprising were linked to "unprecedented anger" in the region.

Tunisia was nothing but a small back porch on the mansion that is the structure of American power in the Mideast, but that porch just burned to the ground. Rather than denying that the flames of popular resentment could spread to the Egyptian living room, the better part of valor might be to splash a cold pail of reform water on the walls. But no, denial is so much more comfortable!

Three opportunities lost, the Mideast is more dangerous than it was last week, and the U.S. position is weaker.

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