December 8, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm?

The Middle East is quieter than usual right now, but I'm afraid it's not going to stay that way for much longer. Michael Young in Beirut is concerned, too, and his new piece in NOW Lebanon is a must-read.

Obama has always prided himself on being a realistic assessor of American limitations. However, listening to Hassan Nasrallah gloat at the weakness of the United States, you had to wonder if the US president misses the point. Power and success are in many respects fruits of perception. Just look at Nasrallah himself, who persuaded many a fool that the hecatomb of 2006 was a divine victory for Lebanon. Modesty in the exercise of foreign policy is a bad idea, particularly for the leader of the world’s most powerful country, whose destabilization, whether we like it or not, only destabilizes the global political and economic order.

[…]

Obama’s caution is defensible in some regards. War alone cannot be the benchmark of American power. Nothing would do more to harm the US than for it to sink itself into myriad conflicts it cannot win outright. In some ways, however, Obama failed to pick up on that lesson in the political realm, making ambitious promises concerning several complex Middle Eastern issues, without setting clear priorities, so that today, with little progress evident in any of them, the president stands discredited.

The mounting perception of American weakness will, arguably, be the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East in the coming years. It will alarm Washington’s allies and empower its foes, and Barack Obama’s stiff-upper-lip displays of candor, his persistent enunciation of American inadequacies, will only make things worse. Power may be a source of great evil, but not nearly as much as a power vacuum.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 8, 2009 1:34 PM
Comments

I'm not the least concerned about America losing our strength or resolve. What concerns me is what's going on in the back rooms of this administration in the hopes of maintaining its time in office; I see our naive inexperienced president as clutching at any straw drifting by which may enhance his perception of his "image" everywhere and anywhere. We have a shortsighted "charismatic" politician who is willing to say, movingly and with a convincing air, anything at all which may gain him and his party momentary advantage...depending on his audience of the moment.

This is not the way to be effective in our nation's long term, strategic best interests. Obama concentrates on what's at the end of his lengthening Pinoccio-like nose. What nation in world history has ever been so concerned with its foreign...."image"....?

America's current problem is our current president's "Image" epitomized by those appalling un-Photoshopped "images" of him bowing to the Saudi king and the Japanese emperor. This is a smirk-inducing "image" we should promptly erase.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at December 8, 2009 7:33 PM

OK, so let me try to understand this right.

Power is bad.
And so is powerlessness.

Right.

These guys always want to have things both ways.

(And Michael Young happens to be one of the more astute and courageous ones.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:11 AM

The parallels with Carter are amazing. Russians shipped arms to Nicaragua under Carter, Russians shipping arms to Venezuela under Obama. And Obama has only been in office for 10 months.

Weakness in the Middle East will not turn out well and Obama. I think Nasrallah sees not so much weakness as he sees someone who he believes is on his side! The "radical American left" has always been anti-Israel and now that the radical faction has taken over the Democratic Party and the US Congress, Nasrallah probably has reason to believe that a miracle has happened and he has a US President who is on his side.

That might be enough to cause him to get a little cocky.

Posted by: crosspatch Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:23 AM

"The mounting perception of American weakness will, arguably, be the most destabilizing factor in the Middle East in the coming years. It will alarm Washington’s allies and empower its foes"

the perception of the weaknesses of the American empire are more than perceptions, especially in the ME.

After the Bush era, and the big plans for a new ME and the big deceptions in Iraq for the US and in Lebanon for Israel, someone who has a strategic long term view of the situation must make some bald actions.

In my opinion it takes a great man and president to know the truth and the situation and to take real action not lip service.

but alas the situation in the ME is really complicated, and if the situation will be handled the same as it was handled when Bush was president, the situation will get worse for all the players.

Some concessions and less chauvinism will save America not hurt her.

Posted by: akram sabra Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 1:17 AM

The writer of this comment can't be serious....is this a misprint?...

"Some concessions and less chauvinism will save America not hurt her."

No, of course it's not a misprint....but the sentiment is eagerly pursued by those smugly seeking a foundation for still more concessions; we Americans must wake up to this tactic of the "camel's nose under the tent-flap" infiltration.

However, we're hindered by a naif of a president who bows and apologizes.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 9:00 AM

akram sabra,

...the perception of the weaknesses of the American empire are more than perceptions, especially in the ME.

I mean no disrespect, but that's the same foolishness that caused 9/11 and several decades of terrorism before that. Are people in the ME happy about what their arrogance and their ignorance have brought them?

After the Bush era, and the big plans for a new ME and the big deceptions in Iraq for the US and in Lebanon for Israel, someone who has a strategic long term view of the situation must make some bald actions.

Whatever that's supposed to mean...

In my opinion it takes a great man and president to know the truth and the situation and to take real action not lip service.

What sort of "truth"? And what sort of "action"? This is another meaningless statement, and it's meaningless because you think everyone else is to blame for problems in the ME and therefore it's everyone else's job to fix those problems. This is called "denial" and people who live in denial always see their problems getting worse rather than better.

...but alas the situation in the ME is really complicated...

It's as complicated as the people who live their choose to make it. All the US gets to decide upon is how to deal with people who try to make everything "complicated".

...and if the situation will be handled the same as it was handled when Bush was president, the situation will get worse for all the players.

Why? Did Bush make it worse for "all the players"? Doesn't look that way from where I'm sitting.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 10:44 AM

...but the sentiment is eagerly pursued by those smugly seeking a foundation for still more concessions...

Morningside, I totally agree. No more concessions to terrorism. Ever. That's what caused the whole mess in the first place. Job one for Obama and any future US President is to make sure terrorism is always punished, and never ignored or (worse) rewarded. There's no gray area there. Terrorism is like blackmail or other forms of coercion in that complying with demands just guarantees the extortion will continue, and get progressively worse.

No more unilateral concessions from the US. If people in the ME want the US to do something (or not do something) they can negotiate with us about it the old fashioned way. Or not.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 10:51 AM

Israel knows the differences between diplomatic assaults on it. And, the real deal when there's a need to go to war.

Israel also knows that Obama was raised a muslim. And, his sympathies are for the saud's (a particular political branch-ette of politics), and what he had to do, in the first place to get elected. And, now. Where his party is bleeding away its popularity.

How far different is all of this than the story that goes with Israel's Labor party?

If I had to guess, timing will be everything. Obama's hands get tied the closer we come to the 2010 elections in the USA. And, this timing accelerates, if war fever can be kept under control for years, and not flare up until September 2012. With that time frame being a long shot. There's also an economic global meltdown. Not the same thing as it once was, when the Saud's thought a Bush president would hand them the oil fields in Iraq.

I even have a suspicion (which I can't prove), that one of the reasons the elder Bush did not 'kill Saddam' was actually due to anger at the Kuwaitis, who waited out Gulf War #1 in London. Sipping tea. With a negative attitude.

Rugs get pulled out from under feet in the Mideast all of the time. Then? Some clown comes along and tries to sell you the rug. Hardly stepped upon.

Posted by: Carol_Herman Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 7:24 PM

KaPow! Bam!

Nail-head flattened right smartly!
I'm seizing here on the following by Carol_Herman:

....."I even have a suspicion (which I can't prove), that one of the reasons the elder Bush did not 'kill Saddam' was actually due to anger at the Kuwaitis, who waited out Gulf War #1 in London. Sipping tea. With a negative attitude.

Rugs get pulled out from under feet in the Mideast all of the time. Then? Some clown comes along and tries to sell you the rug. Hardly stepped upon."

I wish I'd said that....but I didn't, so I'll post this:

And,then, some dolt American Government lets itself be finagled into not only buying a rug stained darkly on the underside, but permitting itself to be rolled up inside that rug so that the stains are visible and revealed for all the world to point towards as further examples of our our dollar profligacy and naivete.

Thanks! America! for all your dollars and your lives over all of these decades, and allowing us to then proceed status quo ante. More dollars and lives, please....

My disgust at the hypocrisy behind our "foreign entanglements", as George Washington once famously cautioned against, knows no bounds.

And now some then wonder at the growing American sentiment towards "Isolationism". Count me among those tired of all of this B.S. Where do I sign up?

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 7:50 AM

Oh, I 'm all in favor of isolationism. Let the world solve its own problems. Most of them are self-inflicted anyway. If we act, we get blamed. If we don't act, we get blamed.

Not worth the bother, really.

Akram;

The mid-east needs to grow up and stop looking to outsiders to fix its flaws. They'll be less disappointed with that approach.

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 9:43 AM
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