OBAMA'S MISPLACED MIDEAST OPTIMISM
By Dr. Daniel Pipes
How handy: as Obama's disliked domestic policies (especially concerning health care and employment) sink his popularity, he now claims foreign policy successes. Democratic Party flacks tout his international achievements: "Terrorists and dictators," says one, "lacking the filibuster, have no effective defense against Barack Obama."
But the Middle East teaches caution; much will probably go wrong in Libya and Iraq. Obama, I predict, will rue his rash boasts.
In Libya, it is unclear who will emerge dominant in the National Transitional Council attempting to rule the country. Two figures represent the likely alternatives. Mahmoud Jibril (b. 1952; also known as Mahmoud Gebril ElWarfally) served as the NTC's Interim Prime Minister. He earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh, where he taught strategic planning. He has published ten books, including the well-received Imagery and Ideology in U.S. Policy Toward Libya, 1969-1982, and founded an eponymous professional training and management consulting company.
In contrast, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj (b. 1966), Tripoli's military leader, went to Afghanistan in 1988 to fight the Soviets, served as leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was arrested in 2004 by the CIA, which turned him over to Qaddafi, who jailed him until 2010.
Differences between the two could hardly be starker: one Libyan leader held a prestigious academic post in the United States, while the other claims to have been tortured by the CIA. One wants to integrate Libya into a Western-led order, the other dreams of a revived caliphate.
While Belhaj has stated his loyalty to the TNC under Jibril, he has also resisted its efforts to take control of the military units. As Patrick J. McDonnell of the Los Angeles Times delicately put it, "How exactly the relationship between the civilian leadership and the disparate military units will work remains unclear." More troubling yet, Jibril announced his resignation on Sunday, just as the NTC Chairman called for a constitution "based on our Islamic religion." If Libya goes Islamist, Obama would pine for Qaddafi.
In Iraq, Obama's claim about ending the war reminds one of George W. Bush's much-ridiculed "Mission Accomplished" speech of May 1, 2003, when he prematurely announced that "In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed" just as the real war had just begun. With U.S. forces now pulling out, Tehran can begin in earnest to take over the country and turn it into a satrapy (the ancient Persian word for a subordinate polity).
Despite American warnings, Tehran already interferes in Iraq's politics, sponsors militias, supports terrorism, and has sent its own forces into the country – and is preparing to do more. As Max Boot writes, the withdrawal of American troops means that the "risks of a catastrophic failure in Iraq now rise appreciably. The Iranian Quds Force must be licking its chops because we are now leaving Iraq essentially defenseless against its machinations." Baghdad tries to appease Iranian threats; for example, its Chief of Staff proposed a regional security organization with Tehran.
If Iranian efforts succeed quickly, they might do significant damage to Obama's electoral prospects a year from now. "Who lost Iraq?" could become a potent Republican battle cry. That Obama declared American efforts to stabilize Iraq a "complete failure" already in 2007 sets him up to take the blame for that very failure.
Even if Iraq holds until the U.S. elections in 2012, I predict that, in 5-10 years, the American effort in Iraq (and, similarly, in Afghanistan), with all those expenditures and lives lost, will have been for naught. When future analysts seek what went wrong, they might well focus on Obama's clueless statements.
As Belhaj will likely prevail over Jibril, so will Iran over Iraq. If so, Obama and the Democrats will regret today's myopic over-confidence.
© Daniel Pipes 2011. All rights reserved.
Originally Published in National Review Online, October 25, 2011
Republished with the Permission of Daniel Pipes
Reprinted from the Daniel Pipes Mailing List, October 25, 2011
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Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for National Review Online, Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into
American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history
and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the
worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
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