By Claude Salhani
The Obama administration will no doubt be blamed for the sad state of affairs that have plagued parts of the Middle East during its time in office. That would be justified in part in regards to the precarious conditions found in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Barack Obama and his administration failed to act decisively when they should have engaged in a more comprehensive policy in the region.
Equally guilty are previous US administrations, most notably that of George W. Bush, not for its inaction in the region but more for its actions. If Obama will be remembered for his lethargic policy regarding Syria’s civil war, Bush is to be remembered for starting a war in Iraq that was uncalled for. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator but, like other despots in the region, he provided security for his country and kept would-be jihadists at bay.
Of course promoting democracy is a noble objective but before a country embarks upon a perilous journey in attempting to establish a democracy to a place with no prior exposure to its concepts, as was the case with Iraq, the repercussions and fallout of such a venture should have been foreseen and plans made accordingly.
The Bush administration falsely believed that it could install democracy in Iraq as though it were an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all item. As the United States painfully discovered, democracy needs to be carefully applied and slowly moulded to fit the targeted country. Efforts must proceed cautiously and at a pace in line with the country’s culture and traditions. In the Middle East, such a process may take decades.
By contrast, in the United States, politicians have their own concept of time. It is a clock perpetually stuck on a four-year cycle — from presidential election to presidential election. It is very difficult to formulate a comprehensive government foreign policy in the space of a few months in a region where time has a different meaning.
The failure of the United States to predict the fallout from its military intervention in the Middle East has unleashed demons that have since crossed well beyond Iraq’s political and cultural borders and pose a threat to adjacent countries and beyond.
Just as Bush erred in predicting the fallout effects of the US invasion of Iraq, so too did the Obama administration miscalculate the consequences of the “Arab spring”. Now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s and new US President Donald Trump’s narratives are riding on the wave of failure of the Obama administration to predict such fallouts.
Obama overestimated the ability of the “Arab spring” to allow democracy to take root in the region, outgoing CIA Director John Brennan told a Russian news agency. Brennan added that, although the people in the region strived for individual freedom, “the concept of democracy is something that really is not engrained in a lot of the people and the cultures and the countries out there”.
“I think there were very, very unrealistic expectations in Washington, including in some parts of the administration, that the ‘Arab spring’ was going to push out these authoritarian regimes and democracy is going to flourish because that’s what people want,” Brennan said on CNN’s The Axe Files podcast on January 9th.
Preserving the stability and security of Middle Eastern countries should have been given top priority by the Americans before they went in guns blazing and were forced to react to rapidly changing situations in hostile environments. Careful planning would have perhaps reduced some of the mayhem that ensued.
Even hard-line advocates among US political liberals in regards to the Middle East have always maintained that a smaller footprint of the state is better. Now nobody should be surprised by the emergence of neo-authoritarian trends.