RubinReports | By Barry Rubin
I did a lot of soul-searching before writing my latest article, “After the Fall: What Do You Do When You Conclude America is (Temporarily or Permanently) Kaput?” Of course, I believed every word of it and have done so for a while. But would it depress readers too much? Would it just be too grim?
Maybe U.S. policy will just muddle through the next four years and beyond without any disasters. Perhaps the world will be spared big crises. Possibly the fact that there isn’t some single big superpower enemy seeking world domination will keep things contained.
Perhaps that is true. Yet within hours after its publication I concluded that I hadn’t been too pessimistic. The cause of that reaction is the breaking story that not only will Senator John Kerry be the new secretary of state; that not only will the equally reprehensible former Senator Chuck Hagel be secretary of defense, but that John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism advisor, will become CIA chief.
About two years ago I joked that if Kerry would become secretary of state it was time to think about heading for that fallout shelter in New Zealand. This trio in power — which along with Obama himself could be called the four horseman of the Apocalypse for U.S. foreign policy — might require an inter-stellar journey.
Let me stress that this is not really about Israel. At the end of Obama’s second term, U.S.-Israel relations will probably be roughly where they are now. Palestinian strategy — both by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — has left the United States no diplomatic or “peace process” option on that front. The problem is one of U.S. interests, especially the American position in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world.
You can read elsewhere details about these three guys. Here I will merely summarize the two basic problems:
1.) Their ideas and views are horrible. This is especially so on Middle Eastern issues but how good are they on anything else? True, they are all hostile to Israel but this isn’t the first time people who think that way held high office. Far worse is that they are pro-Islamist as well as being dim-witted about U.S. interests in a way no foreign policy team has been in the century since America walked onto the world stage.
Brennan is no less than the father of the pro-Islamist policy. What Obama is saying is this: My policy of backing Islamists has worked so well, including in Egypt, that we need to do even more! All those analogies to 1930s’ appeasement are an understatement. Nobody in the British leadership said, “I have a great idea. Let’s help fascist regimes take power and then they’ll be our friends and become more moderate! That’s the equivalent of what Brennan does.
2.) They are all stupid people. Some friends said I shouldn’t write this because it is a subjective judgment and sounds mean-spirited. But honest, it’s true. Nobody would ever say that their predecessors — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus — were not intelligent and accomplished. But these guys are simply not in that category. Smart people can make bad judgments; regular people with common sense often make bad judgments less often. But stupid, arrogant people with terrible ideas are a disaster.
Brennan’s only life accomplishment has been to propose backing radical Islamists. As a reward he isn’t just being made head of intelligence for the Middle East but for the whole world! Has Brennan any proven administrative skill? Any knowledge of other parts of the world? No. All he has is a proximity to Obama and a very bad policy concept. What’s especially ironic here is that by now the Islamist policy has clearly failed and a lot of people are having second thoughts.
With Brennan running the CIA, though, do you think there will be critical intelligence evaluations of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizballah, or even Hamas? Is the CIA going to warn U.S. leaders about the repression against women, Christians, and moderates? Will there be warnings that Islamists are taking over Syria or reports on Islamist involvement in killing Americans in Benghazi? Can we have confidence about U.S. policy toward Iran?
To get some insight into his thinking, consider the incident in which a left-wing reporter, forgetting there were people listening, reminded Brennan that in an earlier private conversation he admitted favoring engagement not only with the Lebanese terrorist group Hizballah but also the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Ask yourself this question: when an American intelligence chief told Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood was a moderate, secular group who approved that line of argument?
Kerry, of course, was the most energetic backer of sponsoring Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad before the revolt began. Now he will be the most energetic backer of putting the Muslim Brotherhood into power in Syria. Here is a man who once generalized about American soldiers in Vietnam as being baby-killers and torturers (such things certainly happened but Kerry made the blame collective, except for himself of course.
As for Hagel, suffice it to say that the embarrassing quotes and actions from him in the past — including his opposition to sanctions against Iran — fueled a response to his proposed nomination so strong that the administration had to back down for a while.
What would have happened if President Harry Truman turned over American defense, diplomacy, and intelligence in 1946 to those who said that Stalin wanted peace and that Communist rule in Central Europe was a good thing?
Obama has been president of the United States for four years. Yet in foreign policy, having some decent and competent people in high positions mitigated the damage. Well, the reins are now loosed; the muzzle is off.
I apologize for being so pessimistic but look at the cast of characters? When it comes to Obama Administration foreign policy’s damage on the world and on U.S. interests one can only say, like the great singer Al Jolson, folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
To get a sense of his thinking, check out Brennan’s article, “The Conundrum of Iran: Strengthening Moderates without Acquiescing to Belligerence,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 618, Terrorism: What the Next President Will Face (Jul., 2008), pp. 168-179. Here’s the conclusion:
“If the United States actually demonstrates that it will work to help advance rather than thwart Iranian interests, the course of Iranian politics as well as the future of U.S.-Iranian relations could be forever altered.”
The Obama Administration followed this advice during its first two years with the result being total failure. The theme of the 2008 article carries over to his view of the Muslim Brotherhood. If the United States shows it is friendly, helpful, and does not oppose their taking power then revolutionary Islamists will become moderate.
For example, he also proposes a U.S. policy, “to tolerate, and even to encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system….” This step, he suggests, will reduce “the influence of violent extremists in the organization.”
Of course, Hizballah does not need to stage terrorist attacks if it holds state power! Terrorism is only a tactic to seize control of countries. If you give revolutionaries their goal then why do they need to continue using such a tactic? Yet putting them in power does not increase stability, improve the lives of people, or benefit U.S. interests. If al-Qaeda, for example, overthrew the Iraqi or Saudi government you would see a sharp decline in terrorist attacks! If the Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt, Tunisia, or Syria it doesn’t need to send suicide bombers into the marketplaces.
The same by the way would apply to anywhere else in the world. If Communist rebels took power in Latin American or Asian countries you wouldn’t find them hanging out in the jungles raiding isolated villages.
In Brennan’s terms, that means the problem would be solved. Instead, the correct response is parallel to Winston Churchill’s point in his 1946 Fulton, Missouri, speech: “I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.”
This is what Brennan — and the Obama Administration — fails to understand regarding this point. The danger is not terrorism but a dangerous revolutionary movement that becomes even more dangerous if it controls entire states, their resources, and their military forces.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, “Israel: An Introduction“, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include “The Israel-Arab Reader” (seventh edition), “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East” (Wiley), and “The Truth About Syria” (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.