Obama’s Report Card: Quotes from the Second Inaugural

reportcard2006

As a teacher, this is the time of year that I start to evaluate my students and issue some sort of letter grade to their performance in my classroom.

It makes sense then, that I rate this administration also.

As always, I will try to be as neutral as possible.

Today’s grade sheet will look at the Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy, based on his pledges from Monday’s Second Inaugural Address (read the entire transcript here courtesy of The Washington Post).

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Our citizens seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.

Middle East in general–One blunder that President Obama had, and has gone relatively unnoticed since, was his address at the University of Cairo in 2009. There, Obama gleefully acknowledged a pro-Islamic Brotherhood world by defining the Middle Eastern identity as Islamic rather than Arab. Semantics, I know. But think for a second. What is an Arab?

An Arab is anyone in the Middle East or North Africa, whether they are from Morocco or Syria or Palestine or Saudi Arabia. They can be Christian or Muslim, man or woman, they can even be Jewish Arabs that speak Arabic. Arab is an identity.

Why then address the Middle East as Muslim? His intent, maybe, based on the speech, was to show the people that Americans are Muslim also. I can accept this, but he should have addressed the people as Arabic, and that there are Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs living happily in the United States. I think there might be something else behind this… Oh well.

In this case, the president seems to have forgotten who “would do us harm.” Of course, it is not all Muslims, and definitely not all Arabs, but there is a certain element within the Muslim faith that wishes America and its allies incredible harm. So, what damage might addressing a crowd in Cairo in 2009 as Muslim rather than Arab inflict? Tacitly, the United States acknowledges what the extreme Muslim groups believe: The Middle East is Muslim. Good luck Israel. Syria? The probability of an anti-American, pro-Brotherhood group replacing the current regime–strong. Worst of all, it puts Iran–Persian, not Arab, and Muslim–in a difficult place where it will need to assert its own will and power.

Grade: D

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America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice.

Obama proclaims America as a supporter of democracy and that we will be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice. Let’s see how well this stands up to the last four years of his administration.

Egypt–As it stands, the hope of democracy in Egypt is waning. President Morsi is aligning himself with a hard-line, Sharia-based government. If the Muslim Brotherhood gains strength, despite Morsi publicly distancing himself from the group by withdrawing his membership, you will see less rights for women or Christians in Egypt.

Syria–For a time, the Obama Administration supported the Syrian National Council in their war against the Assad regime (the administration has broken ties in October 2012). Unbeknownst to most Americans, the SNC was formed by a large faction of the Muslim Brotherhood. Though, on Mar. 25, 2012, the Brotherhood declared its intention to form a civil constitution, full democracy, equality irrespective of ethnicity, gender, or religion, and freedoms of opinion and belief (Muslim Brotherhood, New York Times), this ideal will probably not come to fruition in Syria as the Salafis–ultra-conservative Islamists within the Brotherhood–continue to gain strength. We may be trading one extreme for another.

India–This is a tough one for Obama. 1. India is a nuclear rival of Pakistan, a nation we are peppering with drone missile attacks. 2. India has issues with the U.S. acknowledging the ISI as a representative of foreign state and deserving of immunity. 3. The United States and India are working on resurrecting economic ties. However, all that said, this administration will be called to the mat as “a source of hope to the poor, sick, marginalized, the victims of prejudice” as more and more Indian women step forward, at great risk to themselves and their families, with rape allegations.

Grade: C- (The “C” is for hope in democracy around the world. The minus is for the fact that these democracies balance on the razor’s edge and could easily tip into a nefarious oblivion).

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Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play…. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality…

Not sure what it was that we “discovered” here. The greatest boom in American ingenuity occurred during the late 1800s, and fair play and competition were the furthest things from reality then. Even the Dot-Com boom of the 1990s had issues with “fair play.”

Hawker-Beechraft–The company was forced to sue the Air Force in order to have “fair play” in the bidding for a government contract which ultimately went to the Brazilian firm Embraer. On the midst bankruptcy now, and almost bought out by a Chinese firm, Beechcraft, as they will now be known, is going to come out of bankruptcy a smaller company. And it still doesn’t have the right to bid on the contract. One issue with Hawker-Beechcraft was that their small business jets (4000, 900x, and 200) are outsold by Bombardier and Gulfstream. They gambled on the market and lost.

“You didn’t build that”–I would dare say that this slip of “fair play” was inserted to counter the campaign assault of the “You Didn’t Build That” despite taken slightly out of context. This administration has made some errors in the business arena–Solyndra, A123, et al–but, so far has been supportive of innovation–Tesla Motors (ignoring that only the 1% can afford one of their cars… yeah, those vilified 1%ers). The jury is still out the impact of ACA on small business and whether they will be able to compete in this new market. Obama’s green energy policy has been a boondoggle–kindly said–or an economic sinkhole for the taxpayer–more blunt. China will continue to dominate this with their connections to European markets and their ability to produce cheaply.

China–the last four years has seen this Administration give way for China to increase its presence in the European market. Individual European nations are courting China for investment dollars. Though Obama has “pivoted” toward China, the Chinese hold the key to whether or not we will be able to maintain our economic vitality.

Grade: C+/B- (though not in ink with ACA outstanding, and four more years of bailouts looming, and China’s growth)

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… nothing…

Okay, not a quote from the speech itself, but a summary of any semblance of a foreign policy. I wasn’t expecting the same rhetoric of GW’s second inaugural, but a bit more than what was said would have been nice.

We are an interdependent world. True, the issues at hand are not as uplifting as the imagery that Obama laced his second inaugural with, but he set out clear, promising objectives for the domestic scene. Where were these for Syria? Iran? Drone bombings?

The President reminded the American people that he took out Osama bin Laden, but this snake has more than one head. AQIM grows in strength in North Africa. Game plan?

I fear that as the U.S. goes forward, our foreign policy will be one of reaction rather than proactive. We will seek out an obscure video vilifying Islam and claim it as the motive behind an attack on the U.S. or its embassies rather than admitting that drone assaults in Somalia or Sudan or Pakistan only infuriate an already angry Islamist group.

Grade: F

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Is Syria Becoming A Political Tool?

Streets of Aleppo, Syria, 19 Sept. 2012

In the pantheon of despotic leaders, it is easily understood that both Libya’s Gaddafi and Syria’s Assad were equal in the tyrannical curmudgeon category. So, then it begs the question why the United States was so willing to bring down the Gaddafi regime, and yet push the Syrian conflict away as though it was a plagued leper?

When the Obama Administration supported the rise of the Arab Spring, it was ostentatiously a support for the rise of democratic regimes in North Africa. If it was truly a support for the rise of democratic governments, then why not the support for Yemen as they had their revolutions also? This opens the door for wide speculation. Let’s put to bed one major inherent falsehood.

Oil. If supporting revolution for oil was really the root of Obama’s outward support, then his administration was misinformed. Though unfathomably cruel, to the point that his own immediate family was trying to distance themselves from him, the Gaddafi family was a great deal more stable than the uncertain future of Libya. In fact, since Libya handed over the Lockerbie bomber to England (and prior), most western oil companies were able to operate in Libya with little to no interference from the Gaddafi government.

So, why then offer aid to an unstable, and mostly unknown, rebellion against Gaddafi, and yet leave hundreds of thousands to die in Syria?

Some reasons bantered about include: Geopolitics, military strength/Allies, local factions, and war fatigue. All but one of these makes sense when looking inward toward U.S. politics. Let’s look at the options in more detail.

1. Geopolitics: As State Farm says, “Like a good neighbor.” In the case of Libya, the choice to send military aid was an easy one–Egypt and Tunisia were already leading the way in the Arab Spring rebellions, so what was there to lose? Syria, on the other hand, borders Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and Jordan. The proponents of geopolitics as the reason we are not involved (or even seeing the events unfolding on television right now) is because the United States does not want to be involved in a volatile Middle East crisis right now. This does not hold water in the fact that the Obama Administration is involved with relations between Iran and Israel (two players in the Syrian game also). What they are really saying is that Obama is playing careful right now…

2. Military Strength/Allies: Weapons of Mass Destruction. Where have we heard that phrase before? It becomes a tricky play when deciding to invade a foreign, sovereign nation. We could call it a humanitarian effort, but we aren’t or we’d be there yesterday. We could call it an attempt to rid a nation of using WMDs against their people. Yes. Syria DOES have bio- and chemical-weapons. They also have a darn strong military. However, so did Gaddafi. His chemical weapons cache was found after his death; a cache that he was supposed to have dismantled in 2003. What Gaddafi did not have, though, is a stable military. He preferred to keep his army fragmented in order to keep a powerful military coup from happening. Either way, WMDs can’t be the reason either. The last thing the President needs in an election year is a war over WMDs.

So then, where does that leave the Allies segment?

Gaddafi was summarily dismissed by even the Arab League. He was a lone wolf, in a wolf kill zone. Assad? He’s got the support of Tehran, and, in turn, Hezbollah and Hamas. It could also be assumed with Tel Aviv’s thorny relationship with Iran at this moment, that Netanyahu would prefer the stable, however bloody, Assad regime than the unknown squabbling for power on his back door.

3. Local Factions: One of the biggest stumbling blocks for the EU, China, Russia, and the United States in dealing with Syria’s uprising is who do we work with. Even the various factions couldn’t tell anyone that answer. In part, the reason the West is avoiding Syria is because Syria cannot tell us who to talk with. If the United States did commit troops to the crisis, would we also be responsible for the clean up, and, who do we pick to rebuild the mess?

4. War Fatigue: Ultimately, the reason that the United States is not dealing with, or even acknowledging the crisis (as seen with the dearth of coverage on the major networks), Syria is because it is an election year. Simply put. Around sixty percent of Americans feel the effort in Afghanistan is a waste, and nearly fifty-five percent want the troops pulled out now. Looking at the geopoliticalmilitary strength/allies, and local factions arguments, what is not being discussed, but hidden in the messages, is that it would be political suicide for any politician to argue for soldiers in Syria. WMD comments would fly from the party machinery. The majority of Americans would vote against the candidate that said we should be in Syria simply because they are tired of Afghanistan. Because of Assad’s military strength, it would be a prolonged war or it would be a television nightmare with civilian casualty numbers soaring higher than Nielsen ratings for the Super Bowl.

Mitt Romney has said that he would be willing to commit troops to Syria if he were elected in order “to prevent the spread of chemical weapons”. Obama, on the other hand, has been more elusive on his Syrian stance and has called out Romney for “suggesting that we start another war.” It is hard to believe that the Obama Administration would see Gaddafi a logical target and ignore Assad and Syria. As it stands, there are reports that the Administration is working via the CIA to funnel weapons through Turkey and Saudi Arabia to the Syrian rebels. As it is, we are war-weary and neither candidate wants to get tied to a strong Syrian policy this close to the election.

Unfortunately for the people fighting for their lives each day on the bloodied streets of Aleppo, America will continue to ignore their crisis for another six weeks, at the least. Maybe then, something will happen; most likely, Syrians will be on their own until after the inauguration, and even then the newly elected President will hope that the crisis in Syria resolves itself.

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part II)

the conclusion to “Today’s Arabic Cold War”.  Read part one here

Let’s look specifically at each of the players and their public and perceived agendas in Syria:

SAUDI ARABIA AND QATAR

Gulf Cooperation Council

With the fall of Egypt during the Arab Spring and Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the two superpowers of the Middle East receded into memory leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Riyadh and Doha. These shifts in regional power have had a tremendous impact on places like Yemen and Bahrain. Sunni forces backed by Riyadh and Doha suppressed the majority Shiite population’s demand for greater rights under Bahrain’s Sunni leadership.

Now, the same forces are at play in Syria where Sunni forces are being amassed to overthrow Assad’s regime. Turkey, Iraq, and the Riyadh/Doha coalition are lending aid, weapons, and soldiers for one singular purpose: Establish yet another Sunni regime.

IRAN

Iranian support for the Assad regime has tarnished what little positive reputation Tehran has had in the world. Should Syria fall, Iran would lose its foothold in the Middle East, and its vital staging area for insurgent attacks on Israel. Tehran withdrew support for Hamas after Hamas Prime Minister Ismial Haniya said, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Iran was one of Hamas’ largest sources of money and weapons, but clearly, Hamas is pulling for a Sunni-Arab victory in Syria. This leaves Iran with only Hezbollah as an ally in the region, and that relationship is only serving to sour the Arab people against Iran. Should the Sunni’s score yet another victory in Syria, Tehran would need to step up support for Lebanon, Hezbollah’s base of operations against Israel and other Arab states.

Tehran has sent arms, cash, and recently, soldiers to assist Assad. There can only be one reason for this: Iran seeks to maintain some semblance of authority in the Middle East.

Iran is quickly finding itself being backed into a corner in the Middle East. Nothing good comes from backing an angry beast into a no win situation. With pressure from the United States against Iranian nuclear programs, Sunni power growth post the Arab Spring, the rise of Riyadh and Doha as power brokers in the region,and a dwindling base of operations in the Mediterranean, Iran can only come out swinging. It will not be long before the angry hornet’s nest wakes up.

RUSSIA

Russia’s relationship with Islam and the Islamic states makes recent behavior by the United States look sainthood worthy.

One just need look at the Russian-Chechen relationship. Over a century of conquest, subjugation, and extermination have brought Muslims, mainly radical Sunni’s, seeking jihad into the region. Russia faces a ruthless Islamic jihadist movement that culminates in airport attacks and other forms of domestic terrorism. Granted, they brought this onto themselves, none the less, as Russia looks at the conflict in Syria, they only see one thing: The possible birth of yet another Riyadh backed Sunni regime.

The United States government either doesn’t understand, or, worse, care, about the impact of our involvement in Iraq and Libya and how these events upset the tenuous balance in the Middle East. For Russia, it is quite clear what happened.

The United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan a mess. Iraq has seen a Shi’ite government establish itself and link itself with Iran, but it faces staunch opposition from Sunni’s and Kurds. The Iraqi government is also spurned by Gulf Arab states, backed by Riyadh and Doha. A Sunni revolt in Iraq is inevitable, but not before more unrest, violence, and support from Saudi Arabia. For Russia, this mean yet another Sunni incursion.

Assad represents a secular leader standing firm against Islamic barbarians raiding the gates of his empire. Russians must ask themselves, if Syria collapses who or what is there to stop the barbarians from moving north toward the gates of Mother Russia? They’d seen Germanic marches into their nation, and now, the few remain buffer states on their southern border are collapsing, exposing a dangerous flank through which Islamic jihad can exact a terrible revenge on the people of Moscow.

The last thing Russia wants is the United States to support the revolt in Syria and then leave it a mess like it has done with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and leaving Saudi Arabia in control. Though relations between Moscow and Riyadh cooled in 2003, with Putin’s return to leadership and Moscow’s uncertainty as to Riyadh’s complete agenda in the Middle East, Russia can ill-afford to allow Assad’s regime to collapse.

ISRAEL

Tel Aviv has been rather quiet on Syria.

Israel has watched from the sidelines as the Arab Spring brought infighting among its neighbors, especially in Egypt. This infighting has strengthened Tel Aviv’s position in the region. Even is a staunchly anti-Israel government is established in Cairo, its ability to inflict damage on Israel has been severely diminished. For Israel, a prolonged conflict in Syria only serves to hinder its enemies and strengthen Israel’s position in the Middle East.

More than that, should Syria collapse into a democratic revolution, Sunni retribution would swiftly cascade upon Hezbollah which has used Damascus as its base of operations. Tel Aviv would rejoice at the ending of the Damascus-Tehran axis of evil.

The real benefit to Assad’s downfall for Israel would be the isolation of Iran in the region. An Arab Cold War would increase Israel’s position in the region as an ideological war festers between Riyadh/Doha and any groups in the newly liberated states that align themselves with Iran.

UNITED STATES

Whether we like it or not, the U.S. has had a “promote democracy” issue since the late 1800s. President Woodrow Wilson created so much chaos in Mexico promoting democracy that he instigated Pancho Villa’s raids into the Southwest.

More recently, the United States has attempted to spread democracy in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What these three nations should teach us is that after the U.S. comes in to “spread democracy” we leave just as quickly leaving the nation to sort it out for itself.

In April 2011, the New York Times uncovered the truth behind the “spontaneous” and “indigenous” uprisings that occurred during the Arab Spring: The United States had inspired them.

“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all)

As with all meddling by U.S. foreign policy, our role in the Arab Spring has set into motion something that Washington wasn’t expecting nor can restrain. While the idea of establishing democracies around the world may be noble, what is created may not resemble the democracy we would enjoy working with. Take Egypt for example, where the Muslim Brotherhood is taking control of the government. How does this play into a Pan-Arabian world where Riyadh is the power broker?

Our current administration has not had the best relationship with Russia, and now, we stand at a crossroads between Putin and Obama over Syria. The Russian’s mistrust American goals, and, more, distrust America’s handling of revolution in the Middle East.

The United States has taken a passive, Hamiltonian stance on foreign policy. However, a sit around and wait for things to shake out and react to it will not work. Several nations are taking active roles in the crisis in Syria, and it may be time for the United States to do the same.

Today’s Arabic Cold War (Part I)

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries.

English: Map of Arabic-speaking countries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The current crisis in Syria poses a complex global issue. It is one the U.S. is opting to stand by and watch unfold; it is choosing to rely on international organizations to protect our own internal interests.

While this Hamiltonian view of foreign policy may have served George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton well, and “well” may be open for debate, now is not the time for the United States to sit on the sidelines hoping for someone else to step up as either the peace broker or warmonger. It will be interesting to see if the issue of Syria comes up in the Presidential debates, and I will be listening to both candidate’s response.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria goes beyond that of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. The players involved in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt were, for the most part, Tunisians, Libyans and Egyptians attempting to establish democratic changes over authoritarian regimes. Responding to the surprise overthrow of President Zine El-‘Abidine Ben ‘Ali in Tunisia, then Russian President Medvedev said, “I think that what happened in Tunisia was a big lesson for governments all around the world. Governments should not sit on their laurels and settle back in comfy chairs, but need to grow and develop together with society, regardless of where they are: in Europe, Africa, or Latin America” (http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/1684).

Syria presents a completely new wrinkle in what has been dubbed the Arab Cold War.

The initial Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 60s was one primarily of ideology in the midst of two superpowers fighting for supremacy. An ideological fight simmered between “conservative” monarchies like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and the more “radical” socialist regimes of Egypt and Syria. At debate was whether “Arab” constituted a common language, culture, history, and identity. This nationalism, it was believed by the radicals, should therefore be the basis of a Pan-Arabian identity that superseded the artificial boundaries that the West had imposed on the Middle East. It was important for the leaders of Arab nations to attempt to monopolize the power and interests of all Arabs; these leaders would take to the airwaves and either promote Pan-Arabian interest, as in the case of Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nassar, or attempt to subdue the rise of radicals within their borders as in the case of Saudi Arabia.

According to Curtis Ryan in “The New Arab Cold War and the Struggle for Syria” the Arab Cold War of the 50s

Many of the same elements — power struggles, ideological and identity conflicts, and proxy wars — are present today. The main difference is that the 2012 version of the Arab cold war does not array revolutionary republics on one side. Over time, the radical republics of the 1950s and 1960s became deep-seated authoritarian states, neither revolutionary nor particularly republican…. On the other hand, the greatest similarity to the earlier cold war is the mobilization of conservative monarchies attempting to block another wave of change across the Arab regional system.

The ideological and identity conflicts rising in the Middle East, and Syria specifically, are the rekindling of tensions between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. In Syria, the rebels are backed by Riyadh and the new Pan-Arabian power of Doha. Recently, forty-eight Iranians were captured in Damascus. Their presence, Tehran confirmed, was for military support. According to Iran, “What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand and regional and global enemies of this axis on the other.”

The better part of the analysis on Syria’s conflict has focused on the conflict be a sectarian Pan-Arabian issue, and this is one possible reason that the Obama administration has remained an outside observer; passively allowing international organizations to attempt peace. However, the crisis in Syria poses an even great threat to international affair, and the players involved could push the crisis into a whole new Cold War.

Tomorrow, I will conclude by looking at the specific players in the new Arabic Cold War.