Walter Russell Mead despairs over the Obama administration’s actions in the Middle East.
President Obama’s choice of one of the most prominent “Iran doves” in American public life as his new Defense Secretary is also being read in Tehran as a sign of the President’s thinking. Surely, the mullahs appear to believe, if the President were really serious about using force to stop Iran’s nuclear program, he would be appointing someone who isn’t deeply opposed to it. In any case, this kind of appointment is what people overseas often see as a signal. The President may not have meant to send it, but he did.
The announcement of more troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in last night’s SOTU will confirm the already widespread view in Tehran that the U.S. is in retreat and that if Iran hangs tough it can get what it wants. If the U.S. really were gearing up for war, the mullahs would expect to see signs that American forces in the region were strengthening positions rather than standing down by land and by sea.
From Iran’s point of view the Administration also seems to be standing down in Syria. A year ago Washington was full of tough talk: demands that Assad relinquish power, unambiguous statements that he “must go.” America was huffing and puffing—but folded like a cheap suit when it came time to back words with deeds. From an Iranian point of view this sends two very clear signals. First, don’t worry about threats and rhetoric from this White House. When they utter threats, they are just making noise. Assad “must go,” Iran “must stop” its nuclear program. This is just chit-chat; it won’t be followed up by anything other than diplomatic notes.
In another piece, this one about Afghans contemplating emigration before the US leaves, Mead writes:
Back in the early 2000s, you heard a lot of Americans, including dozens of leading Democrats, talk about the huge mistake the U.S. made in walking away from Afghanistan prematurely following the collapse of the Soviet Union. We wouldn’t make that mistake next time, we all vowed as we watched the smoke rise up from lower Manhattan and pondered the consequences of Taliban rule. And we spent a lot of time and money convincing Pakistan and other countries in the region that this time we really meant it: America had learned the “lessons of history.” This time we would stay the course.
And there were many more lessons to be learned. Then-Senator Barack Obama, running for president, hammered the Bush administration incessantly for neglecting Afghanistan and not putting everything it had into this “war of necessity,” this vital contest. The national security consequences of failure in Afghanistan were so great, and the moral issues posed by the war so important, that we needed a president who would roll up his sleeves and do what it took to win. The new policy appears to be more a “decent interval” approach. We will do what it takes to avoid too painful a humiliation, unless that involves rolling up our sleeves.
To those of us who always thought Obama was the Second Coming of Jimmy Carter and who believed the Democratic party excelled at projecting weakness abroad, encouraging America’s enemies like Osama Bin Laden who saw such weakness and concluded America was “the weak horse,” such ruminations of despair come as no surprise. In fact we have been despairing ever since Obama and the Howard Dean pacifistic wing of the party beat out Hillary Clinton and the Blue Dogs in the 2008 party primary. But to paraphrase my late mother-in-law, America chose this path. In fact it did so twice. So we as a people are responsible for the consequences of the Obama policies, whether they be a nuclear armed Iran, nuclear tipped ICBMs in North Korea, or the next Osama Bin Laden, in a tent somewhere in North Africa plotting the next 9-11.
It reminds me of this classic skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Brave Sir Barack ran away
He bravely ran away, away
When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled
Yes brave Sir Barack turned about and gallantly he chickened out
Bravely taking to his feet, he beat a very brave retreat
Bravest of the braaaaavvvvveeeeeee, Sir Barack