After six years of a presidency riddled with one foreign policy blunder after another, Barack Obama sought to defend his record on the international stage in an "arranged" interview last week with administration apologist Thomas Friedman of The New York Times.
"You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities," Obama explained.
That formulation is woefully vague and fails to distinguish Obama in any way from any past American president, which is what a "doctrine" should do. It certainly lacks the distinct resonance of Teddy Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick." Yet it is consistent with a defining statement Obama made to the foes of freedom in first inaugural speech: "[W]e will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Even so, six years in and we are still trying to figure out where President Obama is trying to steer the course of world affairs. The reset with Russia, the shunning of Europe, the anticipated pivot to Asia—where have they taken us? Does he really have a clear direction? Or are we witnessing a hopelessly random series of events that has left the world twisting in the wind, with the Middle East in particular caught in an utter free fall.
Obama's regional score card is one of unmatched ineptitude. His withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan were predictably premature, risking all the American capital and blood invested there. Libya was liberated from a ruthless dictator only to descend into tribal and jihadi chaos. He has overlooked every anti-Western antic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, while bullying Israel and berating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at every turn.
In Egypt, he threw loyal ally president Hosni Mubarak under the bus in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then cut off aid to Cairo when the masses demanded the overthrow of his successor, Mohamed Morsi.
The Saudis watched in shock and are looking for support elsewhere. In Syria, he has dithered between toppling President Bashar Assad for using chemical agents against his own people and preserving his regime as a bulwark against the brutalities of Islamic State (IS). He boasted of Yemen as a model for fighting terror only to see it overrun by a radical proxy militia of Iran. And he has bent over backwards to placate Tehran in pursuit of an elusive deal that is most assuredly setting off a nuclear arms race in a Middle East already in flames.
In short, Obama has alienated allies and coddled enemies all the while chasing some goal that has yet to be clearly identified.
Were these deliberate steps that unwittingly led to anarchy? Or is it a case of unprecedented incompetence? Some analysts say this folly flows from his leftist ideology, which views Western societies as still tainted by the evils of colonialism.
Others focus on his apparent desire to achieve an historic American rapprochement with Iran following the disastrous breach of 1979. These are valid points, yet they fail to adequately explain why Obama has been willing to appease the ayatollahs with their apocalyptic dreams, while estranging and even endangering traditional American allies in the region. There has to be something deeper driving him.
My own take is that Obama is indeed motivated in part by a leftist worldview but also by a religious outlook that is best described as Chrislam. This is an emerging theological viewpoint which sees both Christianity and Islam as equal paths to God and equally valid sources of moral precepts, and Obama has developed his own unique brand of it.
Obama professes to be a Christian and I accept that. But one cannot ignore the fact that he also grew up in an Islamic culture and that it is still part of what shapes his identity and mindset. As a result, he has demonstrated more concern as president for defending Islam than any of his predecessors in office.
Sure, president George W. Bush was quick to proclaim Islam a "religion of peace," but that was a pragmatic policy statement aimed at pacifying the Muslim world during times of immense global tensions.
In contrast, Obama has gone well beyond any prior administrations, even stating in his Cairo speech in 2009 that: "I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
So not just a policy but a presidential duty to defend Islam! And in carrying out this new duty, Obama not only has repeatedly defended Islam as a morally equal faith but also has used those occasions to point out flaws in Christianity. And while past Christian generations did err in brandishing the sword in the Crusades and in using the New Testament to try to justify the enslavement of black Africans, this president has gone so far as to actually question the moral integrity of certain Christian scriptures. In doing so, he has crossed a line that no Christian should countenance.
Obama's inclination to shield Islam from criticism runs so deep, he even feels compelled to pronounce who is a Muslim and who is not. As a Christian, it is not my place to say who is a Muslim; that is for them to decide. And the most basic tenet of Islam, extending to every stream of the faith, holds that if one professes: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah," then you are a Muslim. I have to accept that and no doubt this is the profession of every wretched warrior fighting today for IS or al-Qaeda or Boko Haram. Yet for some reason, Obama insists otherwise.
So we have an American president saddled with a distinct burden to defend Islam even at the expense of Christianity, not to mention long-defined American interests abroad.
That is more closely what I would define as the Obama doctrine, thus distinguishing him from past presidents.
Arriving at the heart of his real agenda, I would submit that Obama's enduring cultural identity with Islam and concern for its perception and welfare has motivated him even to hope for the healing of its deepest rift—the centuries-old bitter schism between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam.
This would mean that Obama saw his rise to the Oval Office as a unique opportunity to try to set into motion a process which would lead to a repair of the historic breach between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam, largely as a means to stabilize the notoriously volatile Middle East.
His chosen Sunni partner for this venture was the Muslim Brotherhood and his Shi'ite partner was none other than Iran. If successful, the two sides would have mutually defined their respective spheres of influence and worked toward a more peaceful regional configuration. It is just that events have overtaken him, Obama's strategy is in shambles, and he has been taking a lot of his frustrations out on Israel, and especially Benjamin Netanyahu.
Setting his sights on Iran as his Shi'ite partner was a given, as there was no other suitable alternative. But why bank on reaching such a polarizing nuclear deal requiring major compromises with such an untrustworthy regime? In one of his last public appearances before his recent passing, Yehuda Avner—the esteemed adviser to five Israeli prime ministers—offered up a valuable insight into Obama straight out of one of his biographies.
In one chapter, Obama recalls his days as a community organizer in south Chicago and his tactics for resolving violent flare-ups on the streets. He first sought to identify the worst thug among the various gang leaders and go to him first in a bid to bring him over to the good side. You threaten him a little, you massage his ego, you offer him something, and you slowly restore calm, all the while ignoring the other parties involved.
This insight alone goes a long way towards explaining Obama's six years of careful engagement with Iran and his benign neglect of those regional allies most threatened by Tehran's renegade nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood was Obama's preferred Sunni partner because it was: 1) An organized, ascending political force with a broad regional network of national chapters and authentic Islamic credentials.
2) Not overtly anti-Western in its rhetoric; its leaders were more patient about achieving their long-term goals and could dress up in suits and ties and go to American and European universities to understand us better, but never to assimilate.
3) Not overtly tied to the Western powers and therefore untainted by their colonial baggage, unlike Mubarak or the Saudi royals; such US-backed oppressive regimes were now out of vogue.
4) More open to reconciliation with Shi'ite Islam than other potential Sunni partners, such as the Saudi monarchy or Egyptian generals, and certainly more so than such radical Sunni groups as al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
On this last point, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, has a record of hostile pronouncements toward Shi'ite Muslims, but he also signed on to the Amman Statement of 2005 which was a major declaration by leading Sunni and Shi'ite clerics that recognized the Shi'ite scholars in Qom as one of the eight accepted "schools" of Islamic jurisprudence. In other words, Qaradawi signaled his willing to consider Shi'ites as fellow Muslims, paving the way for a possible historic reconciliation.
President Obama, in turn, signaled his desire to partner with the Muslim Brotherhood during his famous Cairo speech—an overture not so much grounded in what he said there but in the "optics" surrounding that ground-breaking event.
Although Arabists in the U.S. State Department had been cultivating a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood for years, they never openly displayed it in a way that challenged Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who considered them mortal rivals. But Obama changed that by instructing his team to seat the movement's leaders on the front row of the auditorium at Cairo University, an unusual site for the speech in the first place as it normally should have been delivered in the Egyptian parliament.
Offended, Mubarak begged out of attending the speech, citing the death of his grandson two weeks earlier.
This undermining of Mubarak occurred several years before the upheavals of the Arab Spring reached Tahrir Square and finally toppled him. But it legitimized and energized the Muslim Brotherhood and helped pave their way to power. With Mohamed Morsi ruling over Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Muslim Brotherhood regime ensconced in Turkey, two of the major Sunni states were set up for Obama's grand vision of rapprochement with Iran, and more could be expected to follow. During his lone year in office, Morsi even hosted senior Iranian officials in Cairo – breaking the 30-year diplomatic freeze imposed by Egypt since it blamed Iran for playing a role in the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981.
But then the wheels started coming off.
The shockwaves of the Arab Spring rolled through Cairo once more and the generals were back in power. Other nations were rocked by its turbulence – Syria, Iraq and now Yemen. The Muslim Brotherhood has been left with Ankara and Gaza. And Obama is left holding a very suspect deal with an exultant Iran.
The problem with this plan was not only its enormous risks for a far-fetched reward, but the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood—while not openly anti-West—is still endemically anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, and it ultimately aspires to a global caliphate.
These are traits that it shares with Iran, as well as with IS. So why Obama should have been considered it a palatable partner will now be up to history to judge.
David Parsons, a media and public relations director with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, is an attorney, minister and Middle East specialist who served for seven years as a contributing editor for 'The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition.'
This commentary is republished with permission from The Jerusalem Post; www.jpost.com
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