EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 23, 2012

Column: Obama's Middle East policy is a dangerous failure

Jay Ambrose
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The day after the Libyan tragedy, President Barack Obama flew out to Las Vegas to do a political hootchy-kootchy and days earlier refused a future meeting with the prime minister of Israel, who is worried about something not so minor: how madmen edging toward nuclear weaponry in Iran just might immolate 7 million fellow citizens. And what prompted the disdain of numerous news outlets?

Not this travesty substituting for serious leadership. No, what struck many as a more embarrassing story was Mitt Romney’s reaction to a Cairo embassy statement prior to protesters storming the place. He didn’t like it that it focused on a free speech exercise in America, and — as one example of a widespread press reaction — a New Yorker writer said the Romney words could be “the death knell” of his campaign.

That’s possible, I guess, if we continue to have journalistic multitudes that, if Romney ever sneezes, will rush to their keyboards to say he just might be infecting the world with a deadly plague. I myself think lots more should have wondered about the appropriateness of a Nevada political rally a day after another 9-11 murder of Americans. More than that, I think vast numbers of reporters should focus on a whole series of Middle East policies that have just maybe set up the world for a massive calamity.

One of the worst of the Obama miscalculations, in the view of some of us at least, was the betrayal of Iranian dissidents who just might have toppled a dangerous, anti-American, nuke-ambitious dictatorship with the right kind of support in 2009. Instead, we have a president who apparently thought we would win the day through rational, respectful conversation with irrational, America-hating leaders there.

In general, the clearly failed Obama approach to making foreigners love us has been a mix of flattery and apologies for U.S. behavior. But wait a second: Here come the fact-checkers, telling us Obama never used the word “apologize,” as if no one can apologize without using the word.

As a nonsense-checker, I can tell you that’s just as wrongheaded as contending apologies were not present because Obama would sometimes say good things about us in the same speeches he said bad things. Obama is practiced at winks on many topics that are very close to the opposite of nudges only minutes earlier, as a political tactic meant to make all sides happy. But his occasional reassurances about a beneficent America now guided by him as president did not erase his confirmation to friends and enemies that they have sound reason to dislike us.

Here is another Obama contradiction. On the one hand, he is forever bragging about the killing of Osama bin Laden, as if he personally figured out where he was and then parachuted into Pakistan and wrestled him to death with his own hands. On the other hand, he does not seem to get it that projections of strength count for more in this world than sweet nothings.

Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor, points out in a Sept. 17 Daily Beast piece how Obama has assured Mideast Muslims that we share the same values and then notes that 79 percent of Egyptians now have an unfavorable opinion of us, compared to 75 percent during President George W. Bush’s last year in office.

Ferguson observes as well how Obama has refused to draw a “red line” signaling to Iran that it can go only so far in developing nuclear weapons before decisive action. Without some such stance on our part, Iran is likely to figure it can get away with anything, making an Israeli attack or nuclear danger far more likely. Refusing a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encourages Iran just that much more.

This is amateurism. It is naivete. Romney has done nothing to compare to it, including his recently revealed realism about Palestinians being not the least bit interested in peaceful coexistence with Israel.

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Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers.