Politico.com's Josh Meyer set off a firestorm last week with his meticulous investigative report on the connection between the Obama administration and Hezbollah. As with all good reporting, Meyer’s work was far clearer about facts than about motives. Yet an understanding of assumptions and rationales that have underpinned policy is critical to achieving clarity on how to move forward.
There is no doubt that during the eight years of the Obama administration, Hezbollah cemented its rise from a terrorist organization dominating Lebanon to a leading global crime syndicate. Nor is there any doubt that parts of the American government saw numerous ways to check its rise — only to have administration officials impede their efforts. The question now before the American people is why.
To the many critics of Obama’s foreign policy, and in particular his Mideast policy, the answer is clear: Hezbollah is and always has been an Iranian puppet organization. President Obama was committed to a nuclear deal with Iran. Cracking down on Hezbollah would have complicated the nuclear negotiations. Hezbollah’s rise was thus one more cost of the Obama/Iran deal.
To Obama supporters, the answer is just as clear. Different agencies have different priorities and different views of the world. The folks advocating a crackdown on Hezbollah merely lost an internal turf battle, as the U.S. focused its resources elsewhere.
Given the gravity of the charges implicit in the former critique, Americans should ask themselves whether they pass the giggle test. Does the story make sense? Could President Obama really have been cavalier about terrorists, drug runners, and money launderers operating a global crime syndicate with a significant presence in the U.S.?
The Politico.com report suggests that he was. In fact, he was more than cavalier; the report shows ways in which the Obama administration actively enabled Hezbollah operatives and activities. The mere thought is so shocking that a bit of skepticism is almost certainly warranted.
Sadly, the entire tenor of Obama administration Mideast policy suggests that the charges are true. At a bare minimum, they are credible, sensible, and consistent with the regional view that President Obama and his entire inner circle advocated for eight long years.
Certain things about the Mideast are indisputable, even in our hyperpartisan times. One is that the region is riven with internal conflicts. A second is that if we wish to avoid finding ourselves at war with the entire Muslim world, we will have to find allies within it. A third is that we do indeed wish to avoid a war with Islam.
All three of our post-9/11 presidents, and all of their advisors, have demonstrated clear agreement with all three points. They have differed greatly, however, in identifying likely allies.
President Bush approached that challenge through an ideological lens. He operated on the belief that there were bold leaders, and sizable numbers of people, of all Middle Eastern nations, ethnicities, and faiths, who wished to live in a liberal democratic society. His goal was to create new cross-ethnic liberal alliances.
President Trump is taking a far more realist view. He has identified traditional American allies who share our interest in stability: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Though only Israel is a liberal democracy and President Trump has repeatedly denied any desire to impose American standards on Arab allies, he is pushing those allies to clean house.
He has shown no interest in developing new regional affinity groups; he has simply insisted that those truly interested in regional stability for their own purposes must join the fight against radical, revolutionary, supremacist, violent Islam.
Coming from a very different perspective, President Obama shared President Trump’s distaste for imposing American values on Arabs or Muslims. Unlike President Trump, however, he saw the existing Arab leaders as relics of the past. Instead, he embraced the region’s revolutionaries. And, unlike President Bush, Obama sought to develop a working relationship with the region’s most retrograde, illiberal ideologues, and theocrats.
President Obama looked to the expansionist, supremacist Islamists as the leaders of the future. He identified two mature, disciplined groups, the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
Throughout his tenure in office, President Obama consistently favored solutions empowering these groups in the hope that they would restrain their less disciplined — if not less brutal — offshoots.
This perspective, and these preferred allies, represents flawed reasoning on a number of grounds — but they are not at all irrational. They require only the belief that, if allowed to consolidate power, these organizations would mature into "normal" authoritarian states rather than totalitarian revolutionaries — much as the Soviet Union matured under Krushchev and Brezhnev in ways that it could not under Stalin.
It explains, however, the entire arc of Obama Mideast policy: His 2009 Cairo speech to an audience packed with Muslim Brothers; his advocacy for the Arab Spring revolutions removing traditional constraints on the Brotherhood; his abandonment of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; his subsequent embrace of Mohammed Morsi’s MB government; his closeness to MB-sympathetic Turkey and Qatar; his focus on a deal that normalized Iran; and his hands-off approach to Hezbollah.
In the Obama worldview, the best way to restrain Hezbollah was to empower Iran.
Americans, particularly those who have not studied the Mideast, are right to feel confused about the varying messages our leadership has sent us in the years since 9/11. By now, most Americans understand that the Bush approach rested too heavily on a Western projection of unrealistic assumptions and hopes.
The Politico.com report is an important addition to a broad understanding of the dangerous and misguided worldview underpinning Obama policy.
President Trump has finally introduced an approach rooted in realism and American interests. Positive consequences are beginning to flow. An understanding of the price his predecessors paid to chase their own ideologies is critical to appreciating how important the Trump redirection is to the cause of global stability.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research. Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy, and an advisor to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. To read more of their reports — Click Here Now.
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