by Barry Rubin
Let me explain to you why the Obama Administration’s propaganda leak effort to prove that the president is tough on national security is nonsense. Almost every example with two exceptions—a computer virus against Iran and regime change in Libya–revolves around the willingness to combat or kill al-Qaida leaders, including Usama bin Ladin.
There has never been any question but that the Obama Administration views al-Qaida as an enemy and a danger that should be wiped out. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that this is the only factor that in the world that this administration sees as a national security threat, since al-Qaida is eager to launch direct attacks against targets on American soil.
In contrast, though, the administration does not act against any other possible national security threat be it Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, North Korea, China, Russia, Pakistan, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, the Turkish Islamist regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, or anything else you can think of. The administration obviously has shown its belief that engagement, flattery, refusal to help their intended victims, and concessions can win over these enemies. It has even tried to redefine the Taliban as a group that can be conciliated and given a share in a new Afghan government, despite its involvement in September 11!
The only partial exception to that list is Iran. Yet even there the Obama Administration tried to avoid doing anything for almost three years. Even now the government has been desperate to make a deal with Tehran and it is only Iran’s intransigence—and preference for stalling—that have prevented some bargain. Even on the Iran issue the administration did less than Congress wanted and virtually exempted China, Russia, and Turkey from having to observe the sanctions.
Thus, the one other case of administration “toughness” has been support for Israel’s strategy of using such delaying tactics as computer viruses. Of course, the administration is happy at low-cost, no-risk ideas to postpone its having to deal with Iran having nuclear weapons.
During its term, the administration has also not been tough in terms of helping allies all over the world and a few dozen governments have been very disappointed at U.S. policy.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has pursued withdrawal strategies initiated by its predecessor. This choice seems wise but it should be noted that the Obama Administration has been totally ineffective in Iraq, where the political system is in serious trouble. After all, with no U.S. effort to resolve the conflict in sight, the Shia prime minister has put out an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice-president on a charge of terrorism and the Kurdish president is helping him hide out.
As for Afghanistan, the possibility of a regime collapse and a Taliban takeover is a very real danger that the administration has not been able to counter. The administration favors a “moderate” Taliban participation in government and has found no way, despite billions of dollars of U.S. aid, to get Pakistan to stop backing the Taliban
That leaves Libya. This intervention was done because the Arab League, UN, and European Union all concurred, while the Qadhafi regime was an easy target. It is not yet clear whether this operation will leave Libya worse off and jeopardize U.S. interests. One might note that the Libyan transitional government is stalling on elections, apparently because these might result in a radical, anti-American Islamist regime or regional conflict that would produce a new civil war. At any rate, it was less a bold action than a mere going along with the crowd and whether the operation was of any benefit to U.S. interests is still to be seen.
Finally, there is the jewel in the crown: the assassination of Usama bin Ladin. The administration’s portrayal of this as some courageous decision shows more than anything how weak it is. A normal U.S. government would have taken this choice for granted and not felt the need to stress the president’s alleged machismo. (Even Jimmy Carter didn’t posture over the comparatively brave decision to launch an armed rescue mission of the U.S. hostages held in Iran.) Actually, given Obama’s worldview—don’t make the Muslims mad, fear looking like a bully, ambiguity about the use of force, panic lest failure have a political cost—it was indeed a hard decision. But that supposed difficult pondering, by the White House’s own admission, precisely makes the point about this administration’s weakness.
Generally, the case of Obama being tough is sold by journalists leaving out all of the points listed above. Indeed, they are often very vague about specifics in making the case for a heroic Obama. In normal times, with a media that made some serious effort at balance, they would be laughed off the stage.
As for the allegedly mysterious source of the leaks this is a joke. Anyone who knows how these things work would have no doubt after reading the relevant articles, especially in the New York Times. All of those interviewed are former or current Obama appointees eager to make him look good. These are the people who told the press about national security secrets that relatively few people knew, especially in some detail.
Do these leaks endanger American soldiers and intelligence sources? Ask those at the Pentagon who are outspokenly bitter about self-serving Obama Administration leaks, the British services whose penetration of al-Qaida was irresponsibly revealed, and the Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping to get Osama without a huge U.S. effort to get him released.
Finally, here is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post on what Obama is doing wrong; Ambassador John Bolton on what Obama should be doing; and most surprisingly of all the usually in-the-tank-for-Obama Nicholas Kristof writing in the New York Times of his disgust at the president’s policy on Syria and Sudan.Barry Rubin
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