Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A domestic setback for Barack Obama

Barack Obama created an expectation that he'd be an effective US president in dealing with the Middle East and turned out just not to be. Correctly noting that a pre-condition of suspending enrichment before negotiations with Iran over its nuclear issue were counter-productive, Obama has implemented a new pre-condition, that Iran must export the fuel it has already enriched and remain for the duration of talks with a domestic stock smaller than it has now. Not a precondition of suspension, but a precondition, effectively, of reverse enrichment. Worse than his predecessor.

Obama has been effusive in his support for US puppet dictatorships. Far more than any US president before him had ever been. He refuses to apply a label like authoritarian dictator to Hosni Mubarak because Hosni Mubarak, at US direction, maintains peace with Israel. Most recently by assisting with the calculated near-starvation of the Palestinians of Gaza.

But while verbally and symbolically supportive of the US' string of kept-dictators in Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, his tangible policies regarding Israel have not been distinguishable from those of George W. Bush. Those that expected or even hoped to see US policy adjust its tilt toward Israel have been disappointed. Possibly Obama has had good intentions, more likely he has not solidly conceived intentions at all. He just has never put serious thought into what policies the US should follow in the Middle East which makes it easy for those around him who have set agendas to guide and direct him, effectively in the same directions George W. Bush moved.

Until now, I've assumed that while Obama is likely heading toward failure in Middle East foreign policy, he will be successful in domestic policy and domestic policy success would be enough for him to win re-election. Beyond that, possibly given more time, he might develop his own voice and actually be able to align US foreign policy with US interests. The basis for that hope is that George Bush, by the end of his second term, made key decisions, not breaking up Iraq, de-escalating hostility with Iran that reflected an ability to emphasize US needs over Israel's.

Now, it is not clear that Obama will have domestic policy successes that will support his re-election. I still, at this point, consider his re-election more likely than not, but there is more doubt now than there was last week. The election of a Republican to the Senate seat of Massachusetts, one of the most Democratic states in the country, is a substantial setback for Obama, it will make his domestic policies more difficult to enact and it could very easily ultimately lead to his failure to return to office after 2012.

Iran likely perceives an element of divine justice in this setback for Obama. The US has been openly supporting Iran's opposition, claiming and calculating that Ahmadinejad faces a crisis in legitimacy. Obama now faces a far more severe crisis of legitimacy than Ahmadinejad. There is no question by now that Ahmadinejad is more popular with Iranians than Obama is with Americans.

As far as foreign policy, we are now in 2004. Obama could not or would not restrain, possibly his own administration, possibly US allies Israel, France or Britain from conducting or contributing to multiple deadly operations on Iranian soil so Iran tactically has no choice but to impose enough pain on the United States that the US realizes that Iranian operations are a mistake.

Unless something changes, such as a public US acceptance of Iranian domestic uranium enrichment, and it seems like Obama is set on his course, violence is going to ramp up over the next year in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It takes time and effort to restore the connections and resources to anti-US groups, but Iran by now is very likely willing, and from its point of view forced, to make that investment. By election day 2010, the Middle East will look clearly worse in terms of US deaths than it did the day Obama was inaugurated and by his election day in 2012 there is a good chance the US will be losing more soldiers per month in the two countries together than the 2006/2007 previous peak.

Obama is generally a practical and capable domestic politician, but he took an unexpected and important setback in the defeat by Scott Brown of the Democratic candidate. He is a weak, naive and pliable foreign policy politician whose weakness is going to do long-term harm to US interests in the region and result in the deaths of at least hundreds of US personnel in the Middle East over the next few years.

He may not end up returning to office. And maybe that's best.


Anonymous said...

When it comes to American politics, I'm a liberal.

I enthusiastically voted for Obama. I fell for the man, hook, line and sinker.

Nowadays, I regret voting for him and I am totally disillusioned with the Democratic Party and American politics in general.

I may vote for the Green Party in the next election. I figure if I'm going to throw my vote away, I might as well do it for a political party that more closely follows my progressive ideals.

So far, there is not much difference between Bush and Obama, besides a cuter smile and more flowery talk. Any doubts, just ask the residents of Gaza.


Lysander said...


I lost faith in Democrats ages ago. Since early 2007, I've been a vocal Ron Paul supporter. He will never be president, but over time his views will become heard and more and more believed.

Except for Ron Paul and candidates very much like him, I do not vote. It only legitimates a crooked system.