President Obama’s first term saw tremendous shifts in Middle Eastern regional dynamics, with several key pro-Western regimes being overthrown and replaced with Islamist oriented government. The Muslim Brotherhood has risen to power across North Africa and al-Qaeda has reestablished itself as a dangerous force amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Iran comes ever closer to crossing the nuclear threshold, which would provoke a regional arms race, mark a retreat of American influence and threaten the interests of the US and its allies. While one could have reasonably expected the Obama administration to realign its policies with changing realities, the president’s recent nominations argue for the negative.
CIA director-nominee John Brennan has been a leading advocate for the Obama administration’s downplaying of the Islamic nature of threats facing the United States. For context, such a strategy is as self-defeating as the refusal to examine Marxist-Leninism in Soviet thought during the Cold War. Addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in May 2009, Brennan said that “describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism; that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America ... Nor do we describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one's community.” Regarding Iran, Brennan argued in a 2008 article in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that the bad relations between the two countries stemmed largely from American “Iran-bashing”, not Iranian policies. Brennan also criticized President Bush in 2007 for continuing to apply pressure on Iran, on the basis of a faulty US Security National Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003. Brennan was also involved in several spectacular intelligence failures, such as permitting a top Hamas official to visit top-secret National Counterterrorism Center, FBI headquarters in Washington D.C., and the FBI training academy at Quantico, and a security breach involving the placing of an operative inside an al-Qaeda cell on the Arabian peninsula.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State nominee John Kerry also has problematic views on the Arab Spring, Iran and Islamic terrorism. According to a recent Washington Post editorial, “Mr. Kerry pushed the more cautious Mr. Obama toward two of his most important foreign policy decisions, the intervention in Libya and the endorsement of Hosni Mubarak’s departure from the Egyptian presidency.” Mubarak’s departure marked a defeat for US interests, as a longtime American linchpin of regional security was replaced with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood regime. Since then, the Egyptian government has drafted an Islamist constitution, abrogated several institutional safeguards and seen increased attacks on the Coptic Christian minority. Similarly, in Libya, al-Qaeda elements were an important part of the anti-Gaddafi rebels and has seen a Salafi fundamentalist resurgence, responsible for the September 11th attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. That same Washington Post editorial noted that Mr. Kerry shares one of Mr. Obama’s greatest weaknesses: an excessive faith in the potential benefits of “engagement” with rogue regimes and dictators. In particular, Mr. Kerry’s repeated attempts to foster a dialogue with Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad offer a case study of how such diplomacy can go wrong.” Only several months before Assad began his campaign of murder against his own citizens, Kerry met him and was convinced by Assad’s tales of being a reformer who sought to make peace with Israel. Similarly, Kerry has been weak on Iran, failing to sign senators’ letters calling for crippling sanctions and a credible military threat.
The possibility of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense has made the ayatollahs skip for joy, with Iran’s English propaganda agency Press TV referring to him as an “anti-Israel ex-Senator”. Hagel isn’t simply opposed to military action against Iran – he’s opposed to any sort of unilateral sanctions, leaving negotiations as the only American option to stop Iran. Never mind that the negotiations since the Bush administration have not borne any fruit. Hagel even voted against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization despite their involvement on attacks on American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. While doing nothing to disarm Iran, Hagel supports disarming the US, calling the Pentagon “bloated” and needing “to be pared down.” Former Secretary of Defense Panetta called such planned spending cuts “devastating”, and would “hollow out the force”.
Obama’s new team will continue his disastrous policy of withering in the face of Iranian intransigence, ignoring the rise Islamist groups in Middle East upheavals, all the while diminishing US presence and influence in the region. Obama’s trio is terrifying indeed.