How did we get to the point where neither a US President nor Egypt’s head of state can tell whether the two nations are allies? It all started in February 2011, according to an in-depth look by the New York Times — or perhaps the summer of 2009. Obama missed an opportunity to get behind the Green Revolution in Iran to avoid “meddling,” and later regretted his decision to play it safe in case the mullahs wanted to talk. The next time out, Obama insisted that the US had to act to support unrest.
Unfortunately, the next time out involved a long-time American ally, as Obama’s own team tried to explain without success:
If this were Hollywood, the story of Barack Obama and the Arab Spring would end there, with the young American president standing with the protesters against the counsel of his own advisers, and hastening the end of the entrenched old guard in Egypt. In the Situation Room, Mr. Gates, Admiral Mullen, Jeffrey D. Feltman, then an assistant secretary of state, and others balked at the inclusion in Mr. Obama’s planned remarks that Mr. Mubarak’s “transition must begin now,” arguing that it was too aggressive.
Mr. Mubarak had steadfastly stood by the United States in the face of opposition from his own public, they said. The president, officials said, countered swiftly: “If ‘now’ is not in my remarks, there’s no point in me going out there and talking.”
John O. Brennan, chief counterterrorism adviser to Mr. Obama, said the president saw early on what others did not: that the Arab Spring movement had legs. “A lot of people were in a state of denial that this had an inevitability to it,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “And I think that’s what the president clearly saw, that there was an inevitability to it that would clearly not be turned back, and it would only be delayed by suppression and bloodshed.”
So “now” stayed in Mr. Obama’s statement. Ten days later, Mr. Mubarak was out. Even after the president’s remarks, Mrs. Clinton was still publicly cautioning that removing Mr. Mubarak too hastily could threaten the country’s transition to democracy.
However, there were consequences to this decision, as well as the decision to pressure the military into early elections. That meant that the only group well organized to contest elections was the Muslim Brotherhood, which now controls both the government and the military. Instead of having a friendly nation keeping the peace and a military aligned with the US, we now have a questionable ally controlled by a group that wants to capture Jerusalem for Islam. That’s why Mohamed Morsi didn’t do much to stop the rioting outside the embassy in Cairo until the US finally and publicly demanded some action.
Perhaps that’s because of Obama’s style of diplomacy, which the Times describes as rather aloof. Jim Geraghty picked up on this as well:
- The tensions between Mr. Obama and the Gulf states, both American and Arab diplomats say, derive from an Obama character trait: he has not built many personal relationships with foreign leaders. “He’s not good with personal relationships; that’s not what interests him,” said one United States diplomat. “But in the Middle East, those relationships are essential. The lack of them deprives D.C. of the ability to influence leadership decisions.”
- Arab officials echo that sentiment, describing Mr. Obama as a cool, cerebral man who discounts the importance of personal chemistry in politics. “You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” said one Arab diplomat with long experience in Washington. “He doesn’t have friends who are world leaders. He doesn’t believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames.“You can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish” with such an impersonal style, the diplomat said.
This same criticism sparked a heated debate between Joe Scarborough and his co-host Mika Brzezinski on Morning Joe today. Scarborough lost patience when Brzezinski tried to dispute the NYT’s point, while Scarborough connected the dots:
“I’m not sure what your criticism is,” Brzezinski said.
“My criticism is that he hasn’t done the job that a commander-in-chief needs to do,” Scarborough replied.
“So he’s weak on foreign policy?” Brzezinski added. “You’re really going to say that?”
Scarborough immediately dismissed Brzezinski’s defense of Obama, and pointed out that even the liberal-leaning New York Times was willing to criticize his diplomatic abilities.
“Mika, I didn’t say that,” Scarborough shot back. “If you’re going to jump in to try to defend a defenseless president, please get it right. What I’m talking about right here is what this New York Times is writing, he doesn’t build personal relationships. That’s hurt us in Washington. It’s why we have gridlock in Washington and it’s why we have a mess in the Middle East. Whether you’re talking about Bill Clinton, the guy who was the master — he was the master, Bill Clinton. George H.W. Bush. They weren’t afraid to talk to other politicians and leaders in the way that built relationships. So, when there was time of crisis, you know what?”
The results of Obama’s diplomacy are on display for all to see. Even the New York Times is now reaching the obvious conclusion.