As we near the end of President Barack Obama’s administration, it becomes fitting to review his global policies during his time in office and determine whether he was an effective leader who left the US and the world in a better place than it found itself when first he took office. Unfortunately, any such review cannot help but reveal that his foreign policy has been a series of unmitigated disasters, especially as it relates to the highly volatile Middle East.
Right from the start, Obama has done next to nothing right in this delicate arena. With the nation of Iran, which is ruled by an absolute Islamist regime but filled with people on the brink of turning their country into a beacon of freedom and friendship for the US, he has failed miserably. Not only has he failed to materially and morally support the Iranian people in their agonizing quest to win liberty and self-determination from their brutal government (which, again, could only benefit themselves and the West), but he has entered into a disastrous nuclear deal with that government that will all but guarantee it is able to acquire nuclear weapons at some point in the future. This, if and when it does happen, will be a catastrophe.
But his bad foreign policy goes beyond even his abandonment of the good people of Iran. By failing to oppose – and in many ways supporting – the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama has empowered that brutal movement. It is as if in his quest to preach acceptance and tolerance of all ideologies (even, apparently, those determined to destroy Western democracy), he forgets that radical terrorism is based in the Middle East and intimately aligned with organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. To be sure, most Muslims in the world are good, peaceful people – but we coddle those who are not at our own great peril.
Obama has also allowed what began as an unstable situation in Syria to mushroom into a full blown humanitarian catastrophe. Really, he has taken next to no action concerning the rebellion against the Assad dictatorship, and once again his failure to act has had negative consequences, resulting in waves of displaced refugees overwhelming Europe and even the United States as they desperately seek a safe place to live. The disaster has also tarnished US prestige, as in the wake of American inaction, Russia has taken the lead in the region.
Although Obama did take action in the Libya instability, he essentially just attacked the Ghaddafi regime, and this was actually a case in which less action may have been preferable. Ghaddafi was, essentially, a progressive who had instituted various social reforms and strengthened ties with the US. By undermining him, Obama paved the way for various radical Islamic factions to take hold in Libya, including, again, the Muslim Brotherhood. The nation remains unstable, which has (among other undesirable effects) spreadwaves of uncertainty through the important and unbalanced oil market.
The Muslim Brotherhood that Obama’s policies and failures to act have done so much to strengthen is bolstered by a number of friends within the Middle East, and one of these has certainly been Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey. Erdogan has allowed Ankara, Turkey’s capital, to essentially become the central hub for meetings of the Brotherhood, and has even been implicated in supplying weapons and personal to the dangerous organization. Nevertheless, Obama has spoken publicly in support of the Erdogan government, even as it was the target of a recent Turkish military coup that attempted to unseat the country’s leader. The try failed, but it became clear whose side Obama is on.
Of course, no discussion of the Middle East or US involvement in the region is complete without mention of Iraq and American handling of the aftermath of its disastrous invasion of that country. In this respect, at least, Obama shares only part of the blame, as he did inherit the catastrophic blunder that had been former President George W Bush’s unfortunate decision to attack Iraq, but Obama’s handling of that situation has been a nightmare. It is clear now that military force never should have been used, but by precipitously withdrawing troops after it already had been when he took office, Obama fundamentally destabilized a region that was already barely holding on. The absence of both the brutal Hussein regime and American military forces to maintain order in the countryside led to the rise of the terrorist group ISIS, which has spread like a plague through Iraq and Syria since the beginning of Obama’s administration and been responsible for countless murders around the world. In many ways, the rise of ISIS was responsible for most of the other issues in the Middle East that Obama has proven so poor in addressing, and it all but owes its existence to him.
There has been scarcely a single political victory in the Middle East to celebrate since Barack Obama took office, and it is easy to look forward to his eminent departure. Once he leaves however, whomever his successor may ultimately be will have quite a job on their hands: a turbulent region, never stable in the best of times, now a hotbed of terrorist activity and its supporters, and often of animosity towards the West. Obama has done virtually nothing to ameliorate and much to exacerbate this enflamed situation; the world can only hope that the next American President is able to reverse this disastrous course.
By Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney, journalist, author and political commentator. He is author of “Iran: The Green Movement”. He has appeared on hundreds of network radio shows, including G Gordon Liddy, Crosstalk America, Les in the Morning, NPR, Jim Bohannon Show and VOA.