Loose Canons

Obama’s Unstable Middle East

Subordinating American military power to the whims and caprices of the UN crowd.

By 3.21.11

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Last weekend, nearly three weeks after Obama declared that terrorist dictator Gaddafi must leave, U.S. and British forces launched more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Libyan targets and -- with the French -- established a no-fly zone denying Gaddafi's air forces the ability to kill the rebels still remaining in the eastern city of Benghazi.

But what are we attempting to accomplish in Libya? Obama and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen have made it clear that we are not trying to remove Gaddafi and only want to protect Libyan civilians from him. And Obama has said that our commitment will last only for days or weeks. So what is the end state that President Obama's strategy is designed to achieve?

A quick survey of Obama's Middle East seems to reveal a region as unstable as it has been since Messrs. Sikes and Picot met to divvy up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Looking a bit deeper, we see that Obama's doctrine is destabilizing the Middle Eastern nations that are at best unreliably aligned with us while our principal enemies -- the terror-sponsoring nations such as Iran and Syria -- are unaffected by his ministrations.

European liberals and Islamists around the world are rejoicing at President Obama's decision to renounce leadership and commit American military power in UN-sanctioned action against Gaddafi's forces. They rejoice because Obama has granted the achievement of their ultimate goal: American foreign policy and the employment of American military power have been subordinated to the whims and caprices of their multilateralism.

Progress since President Obama began his campaign to remake our relationship with the Arab world is measured in these facts: Saudi Arabia managed to crush nascent internal protests and send tanks to Bahrain to prop up the latter's own little despotism. Libya, Yemen and Tunisia are aflame. Egypt is hanging on the edge, holding a post-revolutionary constitutional referendum and Iraq is caught between Maliki's strongman ambitions and al-Sadr's Iran-funded Shiite supremacy. Lebanon's Hizballah -- also Iran-funded and armed -- is being used as a deterrent against an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Among the loudest lobbyists for the UN action and U.S. intervention in Libya were the Saudis and the Arab League. Having failed to get the Arab League to take military action on its own -- and fearing that Iran was behind the unrest in Bahrain and Libya -- the Saudis were calling for quick action by the UN. The Arab League blessed the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya but weren't willing to provide their own air forces to help.

Obama's presidency was predicated on the evils of unilateral American action and repairing our broken relations with the Islamic world. But he has now intervened in a Middle Eastern civil war. Yet our Libyan war, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn't aimed at our principal enemies -- the terror-sponsors in Iran, Syria and -- yes, Saudi Arabia -- which weren't the focus of President Bush's nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan and aren't now the focus of Obama's new military action.

The Libyan operation, as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) said on yesterday's Fox News Sunday, is not about protecting American interests. This is about Obama's desire to subordinate American power to the "international community." He was maneuvered into this action by the Europeans, the Arab League, and the ladies on his national security team led by Hillary Clinton.

As I've written many times, the war the terror-sponsoring nations wage against us can only be won by forcing those nations to cease their support of Islamic terrorism. We have no interest in Libya sufficient to justify the use of American military power. Obama declared that Gaddafi must go, but the mission he assigned doesn't include removing Gaddafi. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on the same Sunday morning show that our mission was only to enforce the UN's decision, protect civilians, and establish safe corridors for humanitarian relief.

How long will we be fighting in Libya? Obama has said it would be days, not weeks. The Bosnia NFZ lasted about three years. The NFZ established over Saddam's Iraq lasted from 1991 until 2003. There is no strategic goal in Libya, so there is no end point to this operation. If our desire is to protect civilians from Gaddafi and we aren't going to remove him, we could be there indefinitely.

Bahrain's despotism is one of our more important allies in the Middle East, the nation where we base our Fifth Fleet. The rebellion against the Bahraini government may well have been created in Iran.

Because Bahrain shares a border with Saudi Arabia and because it feared Iran's influence there, the Saudis sent about 1,000 troops into Bahrain to help its government defeat the rebels. Whatever the immediate result, the Iranians will not cease their support for revolution in Bahrain and other nations they perceive to be aligned with the West.

Yemen is also on Saudi Arabia's border but its violent protests have not drawn Saudi intervention. Government forces there have fired on protesters and killed dozens if not hundreds. Yemen is another al-Qaeda nursery but it hasn't -- at least obviously -- fallen under Iran's hegemony. Its threat to Saudi Arabia not being apparent, there is no hint of Saudi intervention.

Egypt's future is up for grabs. The removal of Hosni Mubarak was largely peaceful thanks to the Egyptian army's refusal to intervene. Last weekend Egyptians voted on an army-sponsored constitutional referendum to establish limits on presidential power. But the growing influence of the Islamic Brotherhood and other Islamists has terrified the Coptic Christian community. Egypt will not be stabilized for months or years to come, and when it is it may be another Islamist dictatorship and sponsor of terror.

Iraq is suffering increased terrorism on the eve of the last U.S. forces withdrawing. Iraqis have taken to the streets, demonstrating against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and its inability to provide security. Maliki, in turn, has stalled sharing power over the nation's security and armed forces, generating more political heat from former PM Iyad Allawi and playing into the hands of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who returned months ago from years of "study" in Iran.

Iraq's increasing instability probably foreshadows the next violent rebellion in the Middle East. Iran, the historic enemy of Iraq, is eagerly awaiting our final withdrawal this summer. Maliki's government is not likely to survive the year.

And Lebanon's Hizballah may wait another year or two to begin yet another war with Israel. Hizballah has been re-armed massively since the last conflict in 2006. Tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel ensure against an Israeli attack against Iran. Israel -- under continuous pressure over settlements and suffering brutal murders by Palestinian terrorists -- sits on a razor's edge. It can only avoid devastating attacks by Hizballah if it continues to acquiesce in Iran's nuclear progress.

Weakness is provocative, as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is fond of saying. Obama's doctrine of multilateralism -- subordinating American power and interests to the will of other nations -- is a profession of weakness to all the terror-sponsoring nations.

Across the Middle East, Obama's doctrine is provoking our enemies to action. What is happening in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Tunisia is only beginning to show its effect.

Gaddafi has promised a long war and he may be able to make good on the promise. But what will we do? Are we prepared for another long war, straining our already-stretched military resources further to no apparent purpose?

Obama's decision to use military force in Libya was wrong, and it compounds his -- and his predecessor's -- mistakes in the war the terror-sponsors wage against us. We have entered a fight at the UN's behest. Will Obama await UN approval to withdraw our forces? Will he commit our forces to an endless UN "peacekeeping" operation there? We -- and the terror sponsors in Tehran, Damascus, and elsewhere -- eagerly await his answer.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.