Obama advisor and supporter Ambassador Dennis Ross gave a recent interview that went like this:
Maybe we should feel more uncomfortable with a failed American policy that has pushed Iran to become a nuclear power,’ countered Ross. ‘The current policy is guaranteed and will guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear weapons state. That’s what it will do.
‘Today Iran is stockpiling enriched uranium. They have half the stockpile they need to create a nuclear bomb. If we stay on the path we are on, we will live with an Iran that has nuclear weapons, which will change the world as we know it, or we’ll use force against it. Both will have terrible outcomes.’
Responding to the contention that George W. Bush is the ‘best friend in the White House Israel ever had,’ Ross said, ‘During his time, Iran has become a nuclear power and an existential threat to Israel. During his time, Hizbullah has gotten a stranglehold on Lebanon and now has 40,000 rockets. During his time, Hamas has gotten control of Gaza and is turning it into a mini-terror state. He has weakened Israel in terms of the strategic landscape it faces.’ http://www.njjewishnews.com/njjn.com/100208/njObamaAdvisor.html
Here is my response:
In passing, let me note that Ambassador Ross implies here that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons because of the Bush administration. This is simply not true and I have great difficulty in believing that Ambassador Ross believes that himself. If the Obama administration will think that Iran seeks nuclear weapons merely in response to U.S. policy that is a serious reason for opposing Obama’s candidacy. After all, if Iran is doing so in reaction, if U.S. policy changes than Iran will also change and stop seeking to destroy Israel, get nuclear weapons, subvert Arab regimes, and take over the region.
This is an example of the reason why Obama should not be elected.
More broadly, however, before addressing Bush’s policy, Dennis should have posed here–as he does elsewhere–a broader perspective of the problem with U.S. policy for the three points he makes fit in with the shortcomings of Clinton’s well-intended strategy. In short, when American governments and their allies are not tough enough on extremists, they become stronger.
Think about it. In four cases this is what happened. The first is the one that Dennis does not mention, the Clinton administration and the peace process. The process collapsed in part because it had to–Syria and the Palestinian leadership didn’t want to make peace–and in part because these two were offered too many carrots and not enough pressure.
The same is true in the three cases he cites:
- In Lebanon, the United States did not give enough backing to the March 14 government against its Hizballah, Syrian, and Iranian enemies. A lot of the fault is also due to France.
- In Gaza, the United States pushed for elections in which Hamas participated even though Hamas did not meet the condition for participation–acceptance of the Oslo accord.
- In Iran, the United States worked valiantly against Iran’s nuclear weapons’ drive but it arguably did not work hard enough, though most of the fault lays with America’s allies.
The question is: would Obama do better or far worse? Since everything we know about Obama is that he underestimates the extremism of the radicals, wants to get along with them, is on record as calling for more Israeli concessions, and his whole philosophy and that of all of his advisors is distinctly ‘soft’, we can only expect that Obama would make every mistake made by Clinton and Bush while far exceeding them.
In the case of Gaza, for example, we might merely ask: How would Obama deal with Hamas? Would he be likely to be tougher? Increase its isolation? Support Israeli attacks on Gaza in defense against rocket firing, kidnapping, and terror attacks on Israel? No.
Obama would be a disaster for Israel but this is not because he would necessarily be bad on bilateral relations. He would be a disaster for Israel for the same reason that he would be a disaster for America: that he would mishandle all the critical issues in the Middle East because of his whole approach of believing negotiations can solve everything, that radicals are merely people who will be moderates after he speaks with them, that using force is bad, and so on down the list.
The challenges of the next U.S. president in the Middle East will be tremendous. Here are the issues: Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, Iran’s ambitions for regional hegemony, Syria’s attempts to take over Lebanon again, the future of Iraq and the American presence there, the drive by Islamists to seize power in all Arabic-speaking states, terrorism, the high price of oil, whether Lebanon can survive as an independent country, a transition to a post-Husni Mubarak Egypt, oh yes and there’s the Arab-Israeli conflict, too.
Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and other extremists are waiting for Obama with glee. Relatively moderate Arab regimes are quaking, worrying about who is going to protect them from Tehran and Damascus. This is far from just an Israel problem. First and foremost, of course, it is an American problem.
Anyone who thinks that Obama can handle these issues and the fierce adversaries America faces is going to be sorely disappointed. The rest of us will just be plain horrified.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).