U.S President Barack Obama has defended his 2013 decision not to intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war in an interview in the Atlantic. He has blamed everyone except himself. His list of scapegoats include the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Pakistan.
Obama said he was “very proud” of his decision not to take military action and breaking with conventional foreign policy wisdom, something he called the “Washington playbook.”
In the interview, Obama stood firmly by his decision to avoid ordering a strike against Bashar Assad’s chemical weapon infrastructure, despite having declared the previous year that the use of such weapons would cross a “red line.” Assad used chemical weapons and poisonous gases no less than 35 times according to official sources.
According to Washington sources Obama was afraid action against the Syrian regime would alienate Iran and derail the nuclear talks. A Washington insider said last August that President Obama rendered himself impotent by listening to his pro-Tehran advisors.
The decision not to strike stunned U.S. allies and some of those most closely involved in the process at home – Secretary of State John Kerry told friends he believed he “got f**ked over” according to the Atlantic article.
Obama also accused Middle East countries, particularly Saudi Arabia of being “Free Riders”.
In response Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud (left), former Ambassador to the USA wrote a scathing article in the Asharq Al-awsat this week slamming Obama’s accusations – “We are not “free riders Mr. President… We shared with you our intelligence that prevented deadly terrorist attacks on America.
“We initiated the meetings that led to the coalition that is fighting ISIS, and we train and fund the Syrian freedom fighters, who fight the biggest terrorist, Bashar Assad and the other terrorists, Al-Nusrah and ISIS. We offered boots on the ground to make that coalition more effective in eliminating the terrorists”.
More bluntly Turki asked whether Obama had “pivoted to Iran so much you equate the kingdom’s 80 years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world.”
Interestingly a CNN/ORC Poll in early March found that a strong majority, some 58%, say Obama has failed in “making the country safer.” Meanwhile, 60% say he has failed to “improve America’s image around the world.” Two-thirds of voters say he has failed to “handle ISIS.”
Obama has not solidified a legacy as an effective global statesman. He squandered the opportunities afforded to him over the last eight years to make a real difference. Arab journalists as far back as 2013 were asking how could such an intelligent President, who won a second term have accomplished so little in international affairs.
In the summer of 2009 his eloquent and idealistic speech to the Arab world at Cairo University elevated expectations for action with clear and principled American leadership. Almost eight years later, to the disappointment of many, the Obama administrations’ Middle East strategy has proven to be short-sighted, incoherent and contradictory.
In the Middle East and even in Europe Obama is perceived as a dithering president. Writing in the Daily Telegraph in January Charles Krauthammer listed some of his most flagrant failures. “In October 2015, Iran test-fired a nuclear capable ballistic missile in violation of Security Council resolutions. Obama did nothing.”
This month Iran’s military tested two ballistic missiles. Again President Obama has done nothing.
The Iranian nuclear agreement, reached last July was hailed by the administration as a landmark deal making the world a safer place. It is supposed to allow U.N. inspectors to press for visits to Iran’s military sites. Iran was allowed self-inspection and declared itself clean. The Obama administration lifted sanctions, empowered Iran with over $100 billion of frozen funds, and access to world financial markets. This effectively aligned the US against its allies and broader American interests in the region.
In his 2011 speech at Fort Bragg about withdrawal from Iraq, Obama said the US would leave behind “a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.”
Events since proved him wrong. Iraq has witnessed sectarian violence, suicide-bombs and mass murder. Ex-Prime Minister Maliki was a disaster, a corrupt bully who implemented divisive policies at the behest of Iran. His sectarianism backfired dramatically in 2014 when the Iraqi military disintegrated as ISIS attacked Mosul. Obama failed to stand up to Maliki. Iran removed him and replaced him with Haider al-Abadi (below).
Many analysts believe Iran was the winner. The US negotiating team had been the weakest link giving away more and more concessions whilst the Iranian team remained firm. The Iranians were aware that both President Obama and John Kerry were desperate to sign. Last June news leaked that Obama had written letters to Iranian President Rouhani virtually begging him to sign a deal.
The Iranian leaders celebrated by announcing that the world super powers had acknowledged Iran’s right to become a nuclear power. Obama’s pro-Iran advisors tried to reassure the president by telling him that such rhetoric was for local consumption.
In Syria, the Obama administration had effectively handed the agenda to Putin and Iran. Obama and Kerry are seen by the world as appeasers of Iran and Russia. In short, Obama Betrayed his allies to appease the Mullahs of Iran.
This edited article by Nehad Ismail originally appeared in the The What & The Why