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Opinion: Obama is always wrong on the Middle East | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama pauses while he talks about the Affordable Care Act in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on November 14, 2013.
(REUTERS/Larry Downing)

In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather “internal threats.” Can this be true?

The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.

Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.

It is also interesting to note a recent Washington Post report that revealed the extent of ISIS’s connection with the former ruling Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and that many members of the group are ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s military. This is the same military that was controversially disbanded following the Iraq invasion. Washington has made many mistakes in Iraq, and Obama must bear some share of the responsibility for this.

Obama also gambled, for years, on political Islam being a successful model in the region. This failed, of course, and the Islamists failure has had a long-lasting effect on the entire region following the so-called Arab Spring.

Obama’s mistakes go beyond this, and we now see him making yet another one today. This misjudgment that will have serious, adverse consequences for the Middle East.

So, Obama thinks that the threat to the region is not Iran, but rather an absence of internal reform. This is simply wrong, and demonstrates worrying double standards.

In 2009, when Obama was already in office, the “Green Movement” broke out in Iran. The Iranian authorities violently suppressed the protests, including through the force of arms. Many protesters were killed, and many more arrested. All the while, Obama looked on and did nothing. Indeed, some leading members of this revolt remain behind bars until today. Since then, Iran has not carried out any significant internal reform. During the same period, Gulf states—and particularly Saudi Arabia—have moved forward with the internal reform process.

More than this, we can clearly see Iran’s threatening action in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. This is not to mention the terrorist sleeper cells with ties to Iran that have been uncovered in the Gulf.

So, after all this, how can Obama say that the threat does not come from Iran, but rather from “internal threats?”

We can ask many questions regarding this perplexing view:

Who is responsible for all the sectarian crises and conflicts in our region? Isn’t it Iran?

Who disrupted political reform in Iraq? Who disrupted the Lebanese presidential election? Who is protecting the tyrant of Damascus Bashar Al-Assad?

The aim of this op-ed is not just to respond to Obama’s comments and paint a clearer picture regarding what is happening in the region. We must also take a deep breath and acknowledge that some of our regional states, particularly the moderate ones, have made mistakes.

Why haven’t we seen them leading a diplomatic offensive in Washington in order to explain and clarify our position? Why have we seen this corresponding slow-down in the pace of reform and development in our countries?

How can we explain Obama’s fluctuating position looking for a “magic” solution to the situation in the region, first rushing to political Islam, and then resorting to Iran? Where are we in all this?

Of course, I am not putting forward a conspiracy theory to explain this, for the simplest explanation is that President Obama does not understand our region, and it is enough to compare his vision with that of another US official, such as Gen. David Petraeus in this regard.

But ultimately, we must look to ourselves. Where are moderate Arab states on these issues? Where is our diplomatic response? Why have we failed so badly in the game of influence and lobbying in Washington?