Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Choices in policy toward the Middle East...foment fear or support moderates

In the wake of the anti American riots in the Muslim world, we are going to hear some important debates in the next couple of months about our foreign policy post Arab Spring.  There are two conflicting  visions:   support of democratic leaning moderates  or a militarily aggressive  America to be feared.
 Per a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal , former Vice President Cheney’ daughter Liz wroteIn too many parts of the world, America is no longer viewed as … an enemy to be feared.” The GOP talking point is  that  Pres. Obama is a weak leader  and that we should make our military more powerful..More powerful to do what?  The kind of leadership Romney promises  is mostly bluster, with little difference with  the Obama administration in proposed actions.


 Times have changed since Dick Cheney was in office post  9/11.  The tactics  of invasion and occupation the Bush administration  applied to Iraq and Afghanistan unintentionally  defined the limits of American power in spite of every ounce of blood and treasure we could pour into the conflicts.  The results were the  longest wars in our history, a huge national debt, the staggering casualties to our military, and a question of whether whatever progress we have made in those countries will stick. The will of the war weary American people to sacrifice in order to conduct another war has evaporated.  The rest of the world knows  that, too, and no fear mongering bluster to the contrary will fool anyone.  
It is not that  Obama does not use fear tactics.  He just made them more surgical with the use of drones, special forces, and better human intelligence.  While the drone attacks have angered many in the Arab world ,   at least there is less  death of innocents and cost in blood and money that invasion/ occupation of  entire nations caused..     
Since  the Arab spring, the US has been riding a nearly out of control tiger.    The Arab street  now controls their own destiny and their democratically elected leaders are still finding their way . Military threats worked with dictators  depending on US support or fearing  consequences, but  bullying tactics breed only more anger among the masses who do not think strategically .    There is also a power struggle  between extremists and  more moderate elements. .The offending film provided the  excuse for violence and exploitation by leaders for their political benefit.  US support of their oppressors in the past  still feeds long standing rage . Arab anger  over unchanging US policy toward Israel will   linger   until there is a  solution,  but many have not  yet credited the supportive role of the US in unhorsing their dictators.
 President Obama demonstrated leadership  these past couple of weeks . Romney    blundered  as he tried to turn a US security crisis into a partisan political talking point and later had to gall to say that if he had been president, these attack on embassies would not have happened.  How so? Drop a few drones on the demonstrators;  light the tinder box of  Arab anger with  bluster? Threaten to invade their countries if they ever let such events happen again? Of course not. He was, as usual long on  criticism and short on what he would do differently.
Instead, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the President used the  events as teaching moments about the values fundamental to US  democracy:  The President  picked up the phone and called l Egypt’s President Morsi, reminding him  that his failure to protect our embassy and to hold back the demonstrators, jeopardized  whether or not we regarded  him as an ally with  the billion in  assistance friendship implied.  By the next day, the demonstrators were moved back, the Muslim Brotherhood called for peaceful demonstrations and the embassy was protected.  
(This is a version of a column that appeared in the e and print editions of the Sky Hi Daily News today)

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