The former president's Middle East project laid the foundation for today's chaos
It’s been over 48 hours since the terror rampage that struck Israel. And in that time there has been a flood of statements of support from around the world as well, of course, as vile celebrations of the deaths of Jews.
But amid all the voices that have spoken, one stands out among them for its silence. For these past 48 hours, Barack Obama has not issued a single word in response to the catastrophe. At the time of writing, he has still not issued a statement of support, or even so much as calls for restraint. One may come soon (and, by the time you read this, may already have arrived), but this vast stretch of silence has already become deafening.
On the face of it, it seems that there’s no possible explanation for this. It may be tempting to think that the former president is conflicted and “working through” his feelings, or that he’s coordinating a statement with his team. But this would miss the point entirely.
The situation unfolding in Israel is precisely the one for which Obama laid the foundation during the eight years of his presidency. The Iran deal, in whose name the administration twisted itself into a moral pretzel, was forced into policy not because Obama has any great passion for the mullahs in Tehran, but because it was predicated on a wholesale restructuring of the Middle East.
In this view, an ascendant Iran would be a counter-balance to Israel. It would force Israel’s hand in dealing the Palestinian situation in the way that Obama and his foreign policy circle believed was the only way. It would counter Saudi Arabian power as well, creating a sort of triangle of tension to maintain balance. But the key to it was to speed up Iran’s march to power by allowing the country to remain at the edge of nuclear breakout, which is what — explicitly — the Iran deal did.
This regional restructuring was supposed to be a policy driven by Obama’s “realism” (as it was trumpeted by the media). But it was never realism. It was a contorted idealism rooted in Obama’s rejection of American exceptionalism, including the notion that Western liberal democratic values deserved any primacy in any part of the world. The hands-off approach would allow regional dynamics to establish local equilibrium without what, in Obama’s view, was the destructive influence of American intervention.
With this motivation in play, Obama supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. He courted Turkey’s theocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “a strong Turkey that would step in and take on the role of a strong power in the Middle East that would allow the U.S. to step back,” a Turkey expert told Politico in 2016. He left Iraq in the hands of Iranian puppet masters. And most infamously of all, he ceded the Syrian battlefield to, of all people, Vladimir Putin.
What’s unfolding in Israel today is part of the plan, the broken eggs of the policy omelette. By the logic of Obama’s foreign policy, a hard strike to Israel could catalyse the balance-of-power reset that the former president had envisioned and for which he laid the policy infrastructure. For Obama, condemnation of Hamas actions would make little sense: in his eyes, the group’s attack is no more than a playing-out of the power logic precisely because Hamas is an extension of Iran.
Today we are seeing the outcome not of mere policy failure, but catastrophe. The result will not be a carefully calibrated set of cantilevers pulling the Middle East into peace-like tension but war, suffering and internal conflict. Obama always fancied himself a great agent of change, a figure upon whom the presidency was virtually bestowed, who would master the world’s greatest problems with his intellect alone, and collect all the rich rewards, prizes, praise and of course the wild jubilation he knew he deserved.
Instead, he has carnage.