Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Other Things Wrong with Obama’s Mideast Speech

The media coverage of President Obama’s May 19 Mideast speech focused mainly on the final third of his peroration, the portion dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. In it, the President reversed U.S. policy concerning Israel’s borders and expressed a willingness to entertain a Palestinian right of return.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the President in the Oval Office a few days later. Not only did he respond, he tore the speech to shreds and force-fed it to Obama with a side of humiliation pudding. Then he slapped Obama up and down the sidewalk while Obama’s friends were forced to watch.

I couldn’t possibly improve on what Mr. Netanyahu had to say about the President’s proposals: “based on illusions”, “can’t go back to those indefensible lines”, “wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state”, “not going to happen”. I thought instead I would comment on the two-thirds of Obama’s speech that did not concern the Jewish State. It received little attention, but it nevertheless demonstrated the naiveté and disregard for American interests that characterize this President. Among the key points:

“In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead.”

For an organization that’s had its momentum broken, the Taliban is sure showing a lot of forward motion. According to today’s Wall Street Journal “Taliban insurgents widened their spring offensive to two relatively tranquil areas of Afghanistan where U.S. forces are preparing to begin handing security responsibilities to the Afghan military.” (See also, The New York Times “Taliban Attack in Herat, Far From Their Usual Areas” ). With the Taliban demonstrating its strength and the withdrawal deadline imminent, it’s fair to say the Obama’s Afghan policy is in disarray. His choice will be to delay the withdrawal or return to the days when that country hosted training camps for terrorist operations against the United States.

“We’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.”

Although the speech was full of pronouncements as to what the United States will and will not support, for the most part it lacked details as to what this support will consist of. The pursuit of Enterprise Funds was one of the few exceptions where the President provided specifics as to how he would influence the Arab world.

Unlike the nations of Eastern Europe, Egypt and Tunisia produce billions of dollars of black gold every year. It’s hard to see how they’ll be influenced by a few billion more coming to them at the expense of the American taxpayer. To attempt this at a time of trillion dollar deficits is irresponsible and mystifying. The only explanation I can come up with is that spending government money and calling it an “investment” is Obama’s solution to every problem (except manned space flight). In the absence of other ideas, he just went back to what he knows.

“The United States supports a set of universal rights. And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.”

It is commendable that Mr. Obama supports these rights but his policies in the Mideast are unlikely to secure them for the Arab people. When elections are held in the Muslim world, the voters consistently opt for theocracy based on Muslim Sharia Law. This happened in Algeria 1990 and Turkey in 2002. Although the mullahs restricted the field of candidates in Iran’s 2005 Presidential elections, the Iranian people nevertheless elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most radical Islamist within the narrow field. In the 2006 elections for the Palestinian parliament, the majority of seats went to Hamas, an organization that the U.S. Government has condemned as terrorist.

There is every reason to believe that, if the army gives them the opportunity, the people of Egypt will also opt for theocracy. The largest block of seats in the Egyptian Parliament is already controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood an organization dedicated to the imposition of Sharia. The Egyptian public is sympathetic to this objective. In the Spring 2011
Pew Global Attitudes Project survey
, 62% of Egyptian Muslims stated they believe “Laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.” The Muslim Brotherhood position received 77% of the vote in a March referendum on Constitutional changes.

The part of the President’s speech dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict was not the only part “based on illusions” – the whole speech suffered from that defect. Specifically the speech was based on the illusion that the well-organized Islamists rushing to fill the Mideast power vacuum share our dedication to freedom. Mr. Obama failed to recognize the ideological gulf that separates the United States from the Muslim Brotherhood and its fellow travelers, both in Egypt and elsewhere. The Brotherhood’s ideology is totalitarian – it subordinates every facet of life to the Quran. It is hostile to freedom, science, women, and non-Muslims. Like all totalitarians, the Brotherhood should be fought with the disinfectant of sunlight. With the world watching, Mr. Obama had an opportunity to do so in his Mideast speech. It is unfortunate that he did not.

Because so few are sounding the alarm bells, the result of this spring’s Arab uprising is likely to be that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will steal the revolution. A group of reprehensible, mostly unelected dictators who were friendly to the United States will be replaced by a group of reprehensible, elected dictators who are hostile to the United States. This is a tragedy indeed, both for U.S. interests and for the many genuine Arab freedom fighters who demonstrated in town squares in order to secure real liberty.

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