U.S. influence wanes in Mideast

September 19, 2012


Mitt Romney echoed the feeling of many Americans after last week’s Mideast violence when he said: “Sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events instead of shaping events.”

He’s correct: American influence in the Arab world has waned dramatically in the last four years. The reason: Both Republican and Democratic leaders pushed for democracy in the Mideast without understanding what it would bring.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the United States had no choice but to endorse the Arab Spring uprisings, which reflected a flow of history that could not be halted. The revisionists who claim we should have kept Arab dictators in power are wrong (more on that below).

But once those friendly dictators fell, it was foolish to believe America could control the governments that came after - as two successive U.S. presidents found out.

Policy failures

The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations pushed a “democracy agenda” (as does Mitt Romney). Both mistakenly believed the Arab leaders and movements that received U.S. aid would show their gratitude.

Bush’s effort to impose democracy on Iraq by arms failed miserably. The religious Shiite parties that won elections are more sensitive to the demands of Iran’s ayatollahs than to Washington’s pleas. Flush with oil money, they don’t need to take American instructions.

As for Obama, whose famous Cairo speech in 2009 called for a new relationship between America and Islam, he misjudged the power of good intentions.

Initially, he waffled on supporting the Arab Spring but came around to supporting the Tahrir Square revolt and heading NATO’s involvement in Libya. But the fall of Moammar Gadhafi left Libya with virtually no functioning institutions. The elected government was too weak to take control of a multitude of armed militias, including some jihadis from abroad.

In the meantime, the educated moderates who organized the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt proved unable to rally behind one leader. That meant Islamists, who had long organized in the mosque and underground, were best positioned to win elections.

Could Obama have done more to help nonreligious parties organize in Tunisia and Egypt? Perhaps. In Egypt, however, draconian laws have prevented U.S. officials from training locals in the mechanics of elections by penalizing monetary contributions from abroad.

Splintered opposition

Moreover, Obama could not compel moderate Arab opposition groups to join forces when they were so determined to form multiple parties. In Egypt, that guaranteed victory for the party of the Muslim Brotherhood and its presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi.

Perhaps Obama can persuade the religiously conservative Morsi to behave like a pragmatist because he needs U.S. aid, international loans, and foreign investment (although neither Democrats nor Republicans have shown skill at using U.S. aid as political leverage). But, as we saw last week, Morsi is all too ready to bow to pressure from Islamic extremists on his right flank.

The anti-U.S. violence last week has led some critics to denounce Obama for “abandoning” Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Gadhafi, thereby boosting jihadis and alienating our Arab Gulf allies. That argument is endorsed by strange bedfellows, including some Republicans, some Israeli analysts, the Saudis, and, most prominently, the Russians.

Officials and commentators in Moscow last week were eager to tell Americans, “I told you so” after the murders in Benghazi. As Aleksei K. Pushkov, head of Russia’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: “Under Gadhafi they didn’t kill diplomats. Obama and Clinton are in shock? What did they expect: ‘Democracy?’ Even bigger surprises await them in Syria.”

But what Pushkov and the others don’t understand is that those Arab rulers had run out of shelf life. Their regimes had become rotten and economically frozen; an Arab youth bulge that was Internet savvy would no longer tolerate their rule.

U.S. officials had little to do with Mubarak’s fall or the retreat of his aging, weak circle of military cronies. Perhaps they expedited Gadhafi’s fall, but he couldn’t have lasted much longer.

As for Syria, Obama is hanging back precisely because he fears a fragmented opposition will produce a sectarian, Islamist regime. Romney is urging more U.S. support for the Syrian opposition. I do, too, if only to speed up Bashar al-Assad’s fall before more slaughter and before jihadis take full control.

No one, however, should have any illusions about a post-Assad “democracy.” It will probably be run by Sunni Islamists, with moderates divided and Christians in flight. U.S. influence there won’t be strong, even if we funnel in arms.

Religious pressures

New governments in the Mideast will be cool to Washington because of religious pressures, because the Mideast peace process is dead, and because elections will produce populists who court their publics by thumbing their noses at Washington.

We can influence these governments at the margins. We can assist moderates who were marginalized in elections. We can insist that Arab governments refrain from attacking U.S. citizens and interests, and penalize them if they do. (If we “show strength” by bombing Iran, this is more likely to boomerang than win us renewed respect.)

But, in the coming decade, no matter which party wins the White House, our influence won’t be what it once was. And we’ll have difficulty in “shaping events” in the Middle East.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

Remember what Gen Odom relayed to congress.

Confusion about war aims and US interests. The president GW stated three war aims clearly and repeatedly.

The destruction of Iraqi WMD. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The creation of a liberal democratic Iraq.

The first war aim is moot because Iraq had no WMD. The second was achieved by late Spring 2003. Today, people are waking up to what was obvious before the war -- the third aim has no real prospects of being achieved even in ten or twenty years, much less in the short time anticipated by the war planners.

Implicit in that aim was the belief that a pro-American, post-Saddam regime could be established. This too, it should now be clear, is most unlikely. Finally, is it in the US interest to have launched a war in pursuit of any of these aims?

And is it in the US interest to continue pursuing the third? Or is it time to redefine our aims?

And, concomitantly, to redefine what constitutes victory?

The war has served primarily the interests of Iran and al-Qaeda, not American interests.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

This policy must hit the road for it is nothing but blood and guts!

Bringing republicans back to power brings back this very right wing imperialistic foreign policy position.

"Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination” (Very dangerous position which threatens OUR freedoms and the nations security)

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today.

There are four consequences.

We need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global protection for Wal-Mart,Oil,Coca Cola,Pepsico,diamonds,gold etc etc etc.

We need to strengthen our ties to dictator regimes friendly to American interests and Bogus values;

We need to promote the cause of the political right wing and economic rape for corp USA abroad;

We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in forcing others to accept our corrupt principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and immoral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the extortions of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness no matter how many innocent USA soldiers die.

The Plan,12271,1312540,00.html

Followed by taking down our nations financial institutions !


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

Russia went into bankruptcy in the mideast

The USA must be next. Oil is not worth it.


Richard Heckler 1 year, 6 months ago

The Australian treasurer, Wayne Swan, in an unusually blunt criticism of US politics weeks before the presidential election, said "cranks and crazies" had taken over the Republicans and posed the biggest threat to the world's largest economy.

Swan, one of few world leaders able to boast his country had avoided recession during the global financial crisis, also labelled the Tea Party wing of the Republicans as "extreme".

"Let's be blunt and acknowledge the biggest threat to the world's biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over the Republican party," Swan said in a speech to a conference in Sydney.

The Republican party's position on the US budget had led a year ago to the deadlock in negotiations, Swan said, to prevent the looming "fiscal cliff" – nearly $600bn in planned spending cuts and tax hikes that will bite early next year.

Congress had been debating whether to increase the US borrowing ceiling but the Republicans would not budge.

"Despite President Obama's goodwill and strong efforts, the national interest was held hostage by the rise of the extreme Tea Party wing of the Republican party," he said.

Australian politicians rarely launch such blunt criticism of their counterparts in the US, a key strategic ally.

Swan, named by banking magazine Euromoney as its finance minister of the year in 2011 and treasurer of a centre-left government, also called on the US Congress to resolve an agreement on the budget to support growth in the short term.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 7 months ago

The Mope got a Nobel for what he might do. Looks like the Nobel committee backed a loser.


atiopatioo 1 year, 7 months ago

How can influence be waning when Obama has the inside track on knowing Muslims. He was raised with them having family as Sunnis. If anyone knows Muslims, it's Obama. He even has the Peace Prize under his belt.

If anyone was waning Muslim influence, it had to be Bush. Bush wasn't raised with Sunnis. He was raised with Christians.


rockchalk1977 1 year, 7 months ago

Here's a fun fact for you Obama lovers. A lawyer who came to prominence for his defense of a convicted terrorist was quietly promoted to the No. 3 slot at the Department of Justice, a post that puts him in charge of the administration’s policy regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees. Obama appointed Tony West as the DOJ’s acting associate attorney general, a posting that does not require Senate confirmation. West will be in charge of litigating national security cases, such as habeas corpus petitions brought by detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In any other administration, representing the enemies of the United States would have been a disqualifier for a job inside DOJ setting detainee policy. But in the Obama / Eric Holder’s DOJ, it seems to be the chief prerequisite. We must end the madness in November.


Flap Doodle 1 year, 7 months ago

Next up to inflame the eternally inflamed: Charlie Hebdo, French cartoonist. Very NSFW stuff. Darned funny, too.


Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 7 months ago

UNESCO identifies 23 Arab states The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an agency within the United Nations that is responsible for promoting peace, social justice, human rights and international security through international cooperation on educational, science and cultural programs. It is based in Paris, France and has over 50 field offices located around the world.

1) Algeria Population: 34,586,184 Official Language: Arabic

2) Bahrain Population: 738,004 Official Language: Arabic

3) Comoros Population: 773,407 Official Languages: Arabic and French

4) Djibouti Population: 740,528 Official Languages: Arabic and French

5) Egypt Population: 80,471,869 Official Language: Arabic

6) Iraq Population: 29,671,605 Official Languages: Arabic and Kurdish (only in Kurdish regions)

7) Jordan Population: 6,407,085 Official Language: Arabic

8) Kuwait Population: 2,789,132 Official Language: Arabic

9) Lebanon Population: 4,125,247 Official Language: Arabic

10) Libya Population: 6,461,454 Official Languages: Arabic, Italian and English

11) Malta Population: 406,771 Official Language: Maltese and English

12) Mauritania Population: 3,205,060 Official Language: Arabic

13) Morocco Population: 31,627,428 Official Language: Arabic

14) Oman Population: 2,967,717 Official Language: Arabic

15) Qatar Population: 840,926 Official Language: Arabic

16) Saudi Arabia Population: 25,731,776 Official Language: Arabic

17) Somalia Population: 10,112,453 Official Language: Somali

18) Sudan Population: 43,939,598 Official Language: Arabic and English

19) Syria Population: 22,198,110 Official Language: Arabic

20) Tunisia Population: 10,589,025 Official Language: Arabic and French

21) United Arab Emirates Population: 4,975,593 Official Language: Arabic

22) Western Sahara Population: 491,519 Official Languages: Hassaniya Arabic and Moroccan Arabic

23) Yemen Population: 23,495,361 Official Language: Arabic


Yahushua_in_Chief 1 year, 7 months ago

Apologizing for America's actions and bowing to Arab princes hasn't quite done it for Obama now has it.


Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 7 months ago

I read through all of this comment thread, and not one single poster has mentioned where about 50% of Israel's Jewish population came from. Not a single one!

The Jews and their ancestors had their property confiscated, they were expelled, and many were murdered trying to escape.

And where were the Jews expelled from?

The Arab nations. And now, years later, the Arab nations are complaining about how they don't like where a lot of the Jews went to.


jaywalker 1 year, 7 months ago

"If the world wanted to help Jews after WWII, we should have given them Germany."

Early leader for DLOTD.


SageonPage 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm disgusted of our President for his shameful treatment of Israel's Prime Minister. The United States has no better ally than Israel and they deserve our best in support as a democracy in the Middle East. There are warnings to those who mistreat God's people in Israel that they will fall under judgment, and our President has taken us dangerously close to that judgment by God.


atiopatioo 1 year, 7 months ago

Mideast relations could be waning because of Obama's Sunni upbringing. Obama's dad was Sunni. His mother converted to Sunni. His Step dad was Sunni. Iran tends towards Shiite.


Abdu Omar 1 year, 7 months ago

As long as America supports the Israeli regime, the Arabs will have little to nothing to do with America. This is the trade off and no one in the US Government sees that clearly enough. Tell Israel to stop taking land by building settlements and the Arabs will respond. But they can't until we do. Do we really want peace, that is the first place to start.


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