Obama speaks often but does little on Mideast foreign policy

White House/Sonya Hebert

Article Highlights

  • Indecisiveness has cost. Obama waited as the Tunisian, then Egyptian and then Yemeni governments teetered.

    Tweet This

  • Also crippling American influence is Obama’s desire to lead from behind. @MRubin1971

    Tweet This

  • The gap between American rhetoric and policy reality is huge. @MRubin1971

    Tweet This

In 2008, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton questioned whether then- Sen. Barack Obama would be prepared for the unexpected 3 a.m. phone call should he become president. The voters concluded he would be. When that call came with the Arab Spring, Obama put it on hold.

"Like a gambler who demands to see the cards on the table before he makes a move, Obama waited as first the Tunisian, then Egyptian, and the Yemeni governments teetered. Only when protestors sealed the autocrats' fate did he place his bet." -Michael RubinIndecisiveness has cost. Like a gambler who demands to see the cards on the table before he makes a move, Obama waited as first the Tunisian, then Egyptian, and the Yemeni governments teetered. Only when protestors sealed the autocrats' fate did he place his bet. The cynicism is self-defeating: Protestors doubt U.S. commitment, while surviving kings and strongman question whether their decades-long U.S. partnership has value.

Also crippling American influence is Obama's desire to lead from behind. Multilateralism builds legitimacy, but not all multilateralism is the same: American leadership influences outcomes. When the White House works through allies, the United States becomes a slave to their agendas. Obama's partners in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey supported the most radical Islamist factions. Standing aloof does not create even playing fields. Because countries support proxies and factions who share their values, American passivity merely means those who share our vision of freedom, individual liberty, accountability, and democracy remain the poorest resourced. Conversely, American taxpayer money should never be an entitlement to hostile regimes or those who embrace democracy only so long as it serves their purpose.

Too often, American policy is reactive, not proactive. Presidents manage crises; they seldom plot coherent strategy. Obama is no different: In 2022, will the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis dominate Egypt? Will the Yemeni government control its territory? Will Turks enjoy free speech? Will Palestinians eschew terrorism? Will Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace? Will sectarianism decline? Will Iran have nuclear weapons? The president must answer these questions so the United States can plot strategy to achieve the desired outcome.

Obama is an inspirational speaker. Alas, this strength compounds another problem. The gap between American rhetoric and policy reality is huge. Past humanitarian declarations mock Syrians, who suffer daily death tolls which make Iraq and Afghanistan look placid. This sparks corrosive cynicism among ordinary Arabs. Manifested as a failure to uphold redlines, the gap also breeds enemy overconfidence increasing the likelihood of conflict. It is better sometimes to speak less and carry a big stick than speak often, and do little.

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Event Registration is Closed
Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.