Like a college student losing a weekend inside a tequila bottle, President Obama is going to lose the next month or more in another diplomatic binge. He has lined up a string of summit meetings with Middle Eastern leaders that will put his best foot back between his molars. Perhaps he will succeed for a time, but only in steering the media’s attention away from Obamacare and the latest rope-a-dope he’s pulled on Boehner and McConnell.
In the next weeks, Obama is going to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Saudi King Abdullah, and several other Middle Eastern heads of state. There’s little hope that he will do any good on any front, though he seems poised to poison a few more wells.
As even the Obama-friendly Washington Post has reported, Obama’s diplomacy on Syria has failed miserably. In a press conference last week with France’s Hollande, Obama admitted that there was enormous frustration on Syria. He added, “Right now we don’t think that there is a military solution, per se, to the problem. But the situation’s fluid, and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue.” Which, roughly translated, means that neither Hollande nor Obama has a clue of how to resolve the Syrian civil war, now going into its fourth year.
The so-called “Geneva 2” talks on Syria failed last week when Bashar Assad’s regime — who appear to be winning the civil war — stood fast against any “transition plan” that would result in Assad stepping down from power. No one beside Obama and John Kerry was surprised, nor should they have been. Why agree to what is a surrender when you’re winning the war?
That’s a question that pertains to the rest of the Middle East, one that will prevent any success in any other aspect of Obama’s binges of diplomacy.
Russia and Iran, both of which have men, money, and influence invested in Syria, will control the outcome there unless the Saudis can do anything about it. They, according to a Saturday report in the Wall Street Journal, are sending shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the anti-Assad rebel forces. The Saudis, too, have a lot of people, funds, and influence at stake in what has shaped up to be an Iraq-Iran war in miniature, another Sunni-Shiite conflict that could go on for many years.
The Saudis exemplify the effects of Obama’s previous binges in diplomacy. They have broken with America, signaling very clearly that they will go their own way on foreign policy. They renounced a seat on the UN Security Council last year, saying it was a message to the Americans, not to the UN. Two facts show why Obama cannot bring the Saudis back under his spell.
First is that in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in which most of their oil facilities are located, the majority of the population are Shiites, and they have little or no loyalty to the Saudi regime. The Saudi royals fear an Iranian-inspired insurgency there more than they fear anything else. So to oppose Iran’s influence in Shiite areas, they have been willing to use their armed forces — an uncharacteristic move for a nation that wants Americans to fight its battles — in Bahrain in 2011 and may soon be sending more than money and arms to the Syrian rebels.
Second is the fact that the Saudis regard Obama’s actions as a betrayal — entering into a feckless agreement on removing Syrian chemical weapons, which has already failed comprehensively — giving Vladimir Putin more room to flex his muscles and prevent Assad’s removal. The Saudis see Iran and Russia creating an Iranian satellite in Syria and they are not wrong. Obama abandoned the Saudis, and they are ensuring that he won’t have such an opportunity again.
Obama will have no luck with Saudi Arabia. Nor will he — or should he — with Israel.
We know, because the president has told us repeatedly, what his plan for a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is. Obama wants Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 war “green line” borders, abandoning the strategic areas of the West Bank and Golan Heights. Obama, like George Bush, wants a “contiguous” Palestinian state which means connecting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and that can only be done if you cut Israel in half.
Secretary of State Vichy John Kerry has been almost constantly in Israel and the Palestinian territories peddling this plan. It was only a month ago that the Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, scolded Kerry for his “messianic” attitude and wished that Kerry would just accept a Nobel Peace Prize and leave the Israelis alone. And that was no isolated outburst.
Earlier this month, in another friendly meeting with the Iranians, Kerry gratuitously slammed Israel, seeming to align the U.S. with the so-called “boycott, divestment and sanctions movement” that seeks to delegitimize Israel. Kerry told the assembled mutts, “The risks are very high for Israel. People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure. Do they want a failure that then begs whatever may come in the form of a response from disappointed Palestinians and the Arab community?” That caused some in Netanyahu’s cabinet to say Kerry’s remarks were anti-Semitic by threatening to impose sanctions on Israel for refusing Palestinian demands.
And all of that, of course, came after nearly five years of abuse the Israelis have endured from Obama and his crew. That includes Obama’s agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program which — for very good reason — the Israelis see is as big a betrayal by Obama as the Saudis see the Syria agreement.
The only people who still believe Obama when he claims to be Israel’s friend and faithful ally are the media and the many American Jews who care a lot more about being petted by the right Democrats than they care about the fate of Israel.
There are no reports that Obama plans to meet with Egyptian leaders such as presidential candidate and de facto military ruler Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Such a meeting wouldn’t be a success for Obama because of the White House’s case of Sisiphobia. The fact that al-Sisi appears to be the leader of an Egyptian regime much like that of the late Hosni Mubarak is too much for those in the White House, apparently including the president, who fear the military pragmatism that al-Sisi may stand for with greater disdain than the Islamic-radicalism-cum-terrorism of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Obama and his crew still subscribe to the anti-historical and counter-factual view of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who believes the Brotherhood is largely secular and has abandoned violence.)
So where is Obama’s diplo-binge going to lead us? Nowhere. The only well he hasn’t poisoned in the Middle East, Jordan, will soon be forced into Obama’s tight circle of enemies and former allies. Its western-educated (Sandhurst, Oxford, and Georgetown) and oriented King Abdullah has an enviable if imperfect record of helping his nation to grow economically while enforcing enough Islamic doctrine to keep his head under the crown.
But Jordan, a mostly-reliable ally, is not crucial to the future of the Middle East. There is no reason to expect that Jordan’s response to Obama’s binge will be significant in the geopolitical sense.
Those are the major problems that arise whenever Obama indulges himself in another binge of diplomacy. The minor ones are too many and varied to catalogue here. Let it suffice to say that any president who practices diplomacy in spurts, from a vacuum chamber unpierced by the near-constant consultations with allies that is necessary to leadership, cannot succeed.
The only prediction we can be sure of is that when Obama emerges from the binge, he will announce another “pivot toward jobs,” turning his full attention to the economy. But he’s done that pivot more times than a prima ballerina performing Swan Lake swivels on tiptoe. We know how this movie ends. We only wish it would end sooner.