The U.S. military was totally taken by surprise when Saudi Arabia attacked Houthi rebels in Yemen this week.
NBC’s Richard Engel says Arab nations, and former allies, no longer trust the United States due to the Obama administration’s new friendship with Iran.
The damage of Barack Obama’s disastrous foreign policy builds with each new day.
The Washington Free Beacon reported:
NBC’s Richard Engel reported Friday that U.S. officials were stunned they were not given any notice before Saudi Arabia launched attacks against Houthi rebels. According to Engel, military leaders were finding out about the developments on the Yemen border in real time.
Engel said officials from both the military and members of Congress believe they were not given advanced warning because the Arab nations do not trust the Obama administration after they befriended Iran.
“Saudi Arabia and other countries simply don’t trust the United States any more, don’t trust this administration, think the administration is working to befriend Iran to try to make a deal in Switzerland, and therefore didn’t feel the intelligence frankly would be secure. And I think that’s a situation that is quite troubling for U.S. foreign policy,” Engel said.
And, why would any US ally trust the Obama regime?
** The Obama administration intentionally leaked information on Israel’s secret military alliance with Azerbaijan in 2012.
** The Obama administration released a 1987 report on Israel’s top secret nuclear program this week.
John Kerry came, saw and as usual made a horse’s ass out of himself.
Secretary of State John Kerry voiced strong U.S. support for Egypt’s new president and signaled that Washington will continue the flow of military aid in an American welcome of the post-coup government.
Mr. Kerry said that the U.S. had recently released $575 million in assistance for Egypt’s military and that he was confident 10 Apache helicopters would be delivered to Egypt soon.
“I am confident that we will be able to ultimately get the full amount of aid,” Mr. Kerry said in his first stop on a regional tour focused largely on responding to the crisis in Iraq. “I am confident… that the Apaches will come and that they will come very, very soon.”
Then from this morning:
Three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to seven years in jail by an Egyptian judge on Monday for aiding a “terrorist organization”, drawing criticism from Western governments who said the verdict undermined freedom of expression.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he had phoned Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Monday to register Washington’s “serious displeasure” with the sentencing of three Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail.
“Today’s conviction is obviously a chilling and draconian sentence,” he told reporters in Baghdad.
“When I heard the verdict today I was so concerned about it, frankly, disappointed in it, that I immediately picked up the telephone and talked to the foreign minister of Egypt and registered our serious displeasure at this kind of verdict,” he said.
So… Kerry immediately “picked up the phone and talked” to someone upon this latest public humiliation of the “top” US diplomat. Is it the same someone who will be signing the receipt on the delivery notice of the 10 US Apaches, and the confirmation of the $575 million inbound wire from the US Treasury?
Egypt’s military-dominated government has delivered a humiliating, public slap in the face to John Kerry, the US secretary of state, by sentencing three al-Jazeera journalists to long prison terms only hours after Kerry personally expressed his deep concern about the case in high-level meetings in Cairo. The snub represents a disastrous beginning to Kerry’s already fraught Middle East tour, which took him to Baghdad on Monday for crisis talks about the Islamist extremist uprising.
The verdict, by a court responsive to government wishes, will also be seen as a deliberate, crude signal to President Barack Obama, who criticised Egypt’s deteriorating human rights record after the former general, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, seized power in a coup last year. Sisi has since had himself voted president. His elected predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, and thousands of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters remain in jail while hundreds of others have been killed.
In what US officials said were “candid” talks with Sisi, Kerry “emphasised our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association”. He noted a number of promises by Egyptian leaders “are yet to be fulfilled”, but added that “the United States remains deeply committed to seeing Egypt succeed”.
The hollowness of all this careful diplomatic language was exposed for all to see by the court’s verdict, which diplomats and observers said was reached without the complication of supporting evidence. It seems clear now that Kerry was wasting his breath; the sentences were pre-determined, intended as a stark warning to Egyptian and foreign media and as a symbol of the regime’s determination to demonstrate its independence of Washington.
This is ironic given that, before the talks, the US had made available most of the $575m (£328m) in military aid frozen by Congress after the coup against Morsi. Kerry offered more blandishments in the form of 10 Apache attack helicopters, which he said would be supplied to Egypt “very soon”. This is exactly the sort of deadly air power that Iraq’s government has pleaded for but has so far been denied by Obama.
Kerry must now be asking himself whether it was entirely sensible to offer such diplomatic, financial and military support to Sisi unconditionally before their meeting and before the court announced its verdict. This is not the way hard-headed, worldly-wise American secretaries of state, such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker, would have gone about it. All old Middle East hands, they would surely have driven a tougher bargain. On the other hand, they would all probably have placed America’s and Israel’s strategic interest in a strong, stable pro-western Egypt above human rights issues. Perhaps this is what Kerry has done, too.
Whatever his reasoning, Kerry’s record in the region has been similarly uninspiring. He invested considerable personal prestige, time and effort in pursuing resumed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, to no avail. This failure was entirely predictable, given the personalities involved on both sides and the lack of new ideas.
– Artist’s rendering of John Kerry after said “humiliating, public slap.” –
As for US “foreign policy”, just how many other ways can one describe a flaming, slow and increasingly faster-motion trainwreck?
There’s always Tunisia. Amid the smoking ruins of the Middle East, there is that one encouraging success story. But unfortunately for the Obama narratives, the president had about as much as to do with Tunisia’s turn toward democracy as he did with the World Cup rankings. Where administration policy has had an impact, the story is one of failure and danger.
The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained.
How did it happen? Begin with hubris: The new president told the world, in his Cairo speech in June 2009, that he had special expertise in understanding the entire world of Islam – knowledge “rooted in my own experience” because “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.” But President Obama wasn’t speaking that day in an imaginary location called “the world of Islam;” he was in Cairo, in the Arab Middle East, in a place where nothing counted more than power. “As a boy,” Obama told his listeners, “I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.” Nice touch, but Arab rulers were more interested in knowing whether as a man he heard the approaching sound of gunfire, saw the growing threat of al Qaeda from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula, and understood the ambitions of the ayatollahs as Iran moved closer and closer to a bomb.
Obama began with the view that there was no issue in the Middle East more central than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Five years later he has lost the confidence of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and watched his second secretary of state squander endless efforts in a doomed quest for a comprehensive peace. Obama embittered relations with America’s closest ally in the region and achieved nothing whatsoever in the “peace process.” The end result in the summer of 2014 is to see the Palestinian Authority turn to a deal with Hamas for new elections that – if they are held, which admittedly is unlikely – would usher the terrorist group into a power-sharing deal. This is not progress.
The most populous Arab country is Egypt, where Obama stuck too long with Hosni Mubarak as the Arab Spring arrived, and then with the Army, and then the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, and now is embracing the Army again. Minor failings like the persecution of newspaper editors and leaders of American-backed NGOs, or the jailing of anyone critical of the powers-that-be at a given moment, were glossed over. When the Army removed an elected president, that was not really a “coup” – remember? And as the worm turned, we managed to offend every actor on Egypt’s political stage, from the military to the Islamists to the secular democratic activists. Who trusts us now on the Egyptian political scene? No one.
But these errors are minor when compared to those in Iraq and Syria. When the peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad was brutally crushed, Obama said Assad must go; when Assad used sarin gas, Obama said this was intolerable and crossed a red line. But behind these words there was no American power, and speeches are cheap in the Middle East. Despite the urgings of all his top advisers (using the term loosely; he seems to ignore their advice) – Panetta at CIA and then Defense, Clinton at State, Petraeus at CIA, even Dempsey at the Pentagon – the president refused to give meaningful assistance to the Syrian nationalist rebels. Assistance was announced in June 2013 and then again in June 2014 (in the president’s West Point speech) but it is a minimal effort, far too small to match the presence of Hezbollah and Iranian Quds Force fighters in Syria. Arabs see this as a proxy war with Iran, but in the White House the key desire is to put all those nasty Middle Eastern wars behind us. So in the Middle East American power became a mirage, something no one could find – something enemies did not fear and allies could not count on.
The humanitarian result has been tragic: At least 160,000 killed in Syria, perhaps eight million displaced. More than a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon (a country of four million people, before Obama added those Syrians), about a million and a quarter Syrian refugees in Jordan (population six million before Obama). Poison gas back on the world scene as a tolerated weapon, with Assad using chlorine gas systematically in “barrel bombs” this year and paying no price whatsoever for this and for his repeated attacks on civilian targets. Both of the key officials handling Syria for Obama – State Department special envoy Fred Hof and Ambassador Robert Ford – resigned in disgust when they could no longer defend Obama’s hands-off policy. Can Samantha Power be far behind, watching the mass killings and seeing her president respond to them with rhetoric?
The result in security terms is even worse: the largest gathering of jihadis we have ever seen, 12,000 now and expanding. They come from all over the world, a jihadi Arab League, a jihadi EU, a jihadi U.N. Two or three thousand are from Europe, and an estimated 70 from the United States. When they go home, some no doubt disillusioned but many committed, experienced and well trained, “home” will be Milwaukee and Manchester and Marseille – and, as we see now on the front pages, to Mosul. When Obama took office there was no such phenomenon; it is his creation, the result of his passivity in Syria while Sunnis were being slaughtered by the Assad regime.
And now they have spread back into Iraq in sufficient numbers to threaten the survival of its government. Obama has reacted, sending 300 advisers, a number that may presage further expansion of American military efforts. Perhaps they will find good targets, and be the basis for American air strikes and additional diplomatic pressure. But we had won this game, at great expense, before Obama walked away. The fiery rage of Iraqi Sunnis at the government in Baghdad had been banked by 2009. American diplomatic efforts, whose power was based in the American military role, disappeared under Obama, who just wanted out. It was his main campaign pledge. So we got out, fully, completely, cleanly – unless you ask about the real world of Iraq instead of the imaginary world of campaign speeches. We could no longer play the role we had played in greasing relations between Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, and in constraining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian excesses. The result was an Iraq spinning downward into the kind of Sunni-Shia confrontation we had paid so dearly to stop in 2007 and 2008, and ISIS – the newest moniker for al Qaeda in Iraq – saw its chance, and took it.
So now we’re back in Iraq – or maybe not. Three hundred isn’t a very large number; it is instead reminiscent of the 600 soldiers Obama sent to Central and Eastern Europe after the Russians grabbed Crimea and started a war in Ukraine. Who is reassured by that number, 600, and who is scared by it? Same question for Iraq: Are the Gulf allies reassured by “up to 300” advisers? Is Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the dark mastermind of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, quaking now?
If there is one achievement of Obama policy in the Middle East (because Tunisia’s genuine success isn’t America’s to claim) it is to advance reconciliation between Israel and the Gulf states. This will not be celebrated by the White House, however, because they are joined mostly in fear and contempt for American policy, but it is an interesting development nonetheless. If there is one thing the Gulf Sunni kingdoms understand, it is power-in this case, the Iranian power they fear (as they once feared Saddam’s power, and were saved from it by America). The king of Jordan incautiously spoke several years ago about a “Shia crescent,” but even he must have thought it would take far longer to develop. A map that starts with Hezbollah in Beirut’s southern suburbs and traces lines through Syria and Iraq into Iran would now not be just a nightmare vision, but an actual accounting of where Iran’s forces and allies and sphere of influence lie.That’s what the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis and others see around them, growing year by year while their former protector dithers. They see one other country that “gets it,” sees the dangers the same way, understands Iran’s grasp at hegemony just as they do: Israel. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the secret chats among Sunni Gulf security officials and their Israeli counterparts, which must be taking place in London and Zurich and other safe European capitals. In the world they all inhabit the weak disappear, and the strong survive and rule. They are the ultimate realists, and they do not call what they see in Washington “realpolitik.”
From World War II, or at least from the day the British left Aden, the United States has been the dominant power in the Middle East. Harry Truman backed the Zionists and Israel came into being; we opposed Suez so the British, French and Israelis backed off; we became the key arms supplier for all our friends and kept the Soviets out; we reversed Saddam’s grabbing of Kuwait; we drove him from power; we drew a red line against chemical warfare; we said an Iranian bomb was unacceptable.
But that red line then disappeared in a last-minute reversal by the president that to this day is mentioned in every conversation about security in the Middle East, and no Arab or Israeli leader now trusts that the United States will stop the Iranian bomb. After all, we have passively watched al Qaeda become a major force in the heart of the region, and watched Iran creep closer to a nuclear weapon, and watched Iran send expeditionary forces to Syria – unopposed by any serious American pushback. Today no one in the Middle East knows what the rulebook is and whether the Americans will enforce any rules at all. No one can safely tell you what the borders of Iraq or Syria will be a few years hence. No one can tell you whether American power is to be feared, or can safely be derided.
That’s the net effect of five and a half years of Obama policy. And, to repeat, it is Obama policy: not the collective wisdom of Kerry and Clinton and Panetta and Petraeus and other “advisers,” but the very personal set of decisions by the one true policymaker, the man who came to office thinking he had a special insight into the entire world of Islam. In the Middle East today, the “call of the azaan” is as widely heard as Obama remembered from Indonesia. But when leaders look around they see clever, well-resourced challenges from Shia and Sunni extremists armed to the teeth, with endless ambitions, willing to kill and kill to grasp power – and far more powerful today than the day this president came into office. They do not see an American leader who fully understands those challenges and who realizes that power, not speeches, must be used to defend our friends and allies and interests. So there’s one other thing a lot of Israeli and Arab leaders share, as they shake their heads and compare notes in those secret meetings: an urgent wish that Jan. 20, 2017, were a lot closer.