Obama’s Middle East Cluelessness
Friday’s announcement of George Mitchell’s planned resignation as the U.S. mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict appears to be yet another sign of the disarray and failure in President Obama’s handling of the Middle East. Recently, two articles provided a troubling inside look at the ineptitude that makes Mitchell’s departure unsurprising. A New Yorker piece on the Arab Spring by Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s navigation between realists and idealists, and tags him (per the article’s title) as “The Consequentialist.” Perhaps “The Cluelessist” is more like it.
Lizza’s article this month and “Obama Seeks Reset in the Arab World” by Mark Landler in the New York Times this week relay the narrative of the president’s spinmeisters: the Middle East poses devilishly complicated challenges, and Obama is struggling with them as well as can be expected. Lizza lets an Obama adviser get away with making the concept of “leading from behind” sound like a tool of noble statesmanship rather than a cowardly cop-out. Yet, as Obama prepares to give a foreign policy speech as early as next week, the reporting in these two articles — and now Mitchell’s resignation — add up to an unflattering portrait of a White House wandering the Middle East without a map.
One of the signs is the White House’s effort to erase Obama’s misjudgments from the record. In Egypt, the truth is that the White House failed to see the writing on the wall and foolishly stood by the brutal and corrupt Mubarak regime to the end. As Lizza writes, “Obama decided not to call for Mubarak to step down… Obama’s instinct was to have it both ways.” While Obama supposedly sympathized with the protesters, he clearly didn’t want to alienate other pro-American dictators or risk destabilization in a major Arab country that had made peace with Israel.