(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)
2016 is shaping up to be one where America may contribute to human suffering, undermine its essential allies and make common cause with the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism.
I recently returned from two days of meetings in Congress with senators, congressmen and foreign policy experts.
It’s easier to find an Israeli in Saudi Arabia then it is to find anyone in Congress willing to give a vigorous defense of the president’s Middle East strategy. The vacuums created by America’s hasty withdrawals have left the region in chaos.
Five reasons we have lost the trust of those who looked to us for stability in the region are:
1. The administration’s abandonment of the Iranian people during the Green Revolution of 2009, a potentially real Persian Spring, unlike the chimera of the Arab Spring.
2. The abandonment of American ally Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and the president’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate democratic movement. The administration could not differentiate between an election and democracy, or realize that the Brotherhood spawned Hamas and the leader of al-Qaida.
3. The public snubbing and creation of daylight between Israel and the US in 2009, sending a clear message to America’s other allies in the region that the US could abandon them too.
4. The administration’s abandonment of its own red lines on Syrian chemical weapons, indicating to America’s adversaries that our threats are hollow.
5. The abandonment of our president’s vow to see Syrian President Bashar Assad go makes America seem irresolute.
As Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz:
• Four years ago President Barack Obama announced that “Assad must go.”
• In December Secretary of State John Kerry said “The United States [is] not seeking…regime change [in Syria]”
• Last week White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted that “our position hasn’t changed.”
So what are the dos and don’ts for 2016 for the US in the Middle East?
Regarding the Islamic State (IS): • Despite IS’s high-profile brutality and terrorism that may be our most immediate threat, in the long term, Iran’s desire for hegemony and nuclear weapons is still No. 1. A close second is the inevitable quest by others in the region for nuclear weapons in response to Iran.
• America needs to realize that even if IS is militarily defeated, this will not be the end of radical Sunni Islamism. The anti-Western militant Islamist mentality permeates much of the Sunni world, and will survive more than one lost battle.
• America needs to lead and pressure the Gulf Sunni Muslim states, Jordan and Egypt to create a real Sunni Arab coalition army of literally tens of thousands of troops to fight IS.
• Don’t think that a Sunni Arab army alone can effectively destroy IS. Only American leadership, including American troops, can make this happen.
• Create the long overdue no-fly zone and Syrian safe haven to stem the tide of refugees leaving Syria.
• Remember the words of ambassador Dennis Ross: “The priorities of the Arab leaders revolve around survival and security. [Their] domestic stability comes first.”
• Don’t forget that most of our Sunni allies are allies of shared interests, not shared values. They are on the whole misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic and illiberal.
• Do not empower or legitimize Assad; it only empowers Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians. They are not America’s friends. Degrade IS and Assad, in that order.
• Do not try and recreate a Syrian state along the Skyes-Picot borders. Humpty Dumpty cannot and should not be put back together.
• Don’t be fooled and think that Iranian nuclear aspirations have been quelled by the JCPOA, the Iran Deal.
• In 2016, America must impose consequences on Iran when it breaks UNSC resolutions, as it did in performing illegal missile tests in October and December.
The president promised that the nuclear deal would not stop our sanctioning Iranian human rights abuses and terrorism. Hold him to his word.
Regarding Israel and the Palestinians:
• It is time to stop coddling Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and begin to publicly criticize the PA for its blatant anti-Semitic incitement and corruption, and failure to prepare the Palestinian people for compromise and acceptance of a Jewish state.
• America must return to its stance that Israel is its primary ally in the region.
• Remember that even America’s adversaries will respect the US for refusing to abandon its allies.
• In 2016, come to the realization that the path forward should include legitimizing Israeli building within existing settlement blocs that have been part of every American-endorsed land swap deal.
• Do not think that the Arab world’s priority is the Palestinians; it is not.
• Do not stop all PA funding, as Hamastan or worse could follow. Israeli security experts recommend we continue the funding.
• Don’t listen to progressive leaders like J Street’s Jeremy Ben Ami and his ilk, who want the president to bring an imposed solution for the conflict to “the UN Security Council for approval.”
Two terrorist threats that must not be forgotten in 2016:
• The terrorists’ quest for nuclear and radiologic materials, and the threat of a nuclear or non-nuclear EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) that could fry our electric grid.
Regarding the EU labeling of goods from over the Green Line:
• Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that labeling Israeli produced goods from over the Green Line is not a boycott.
It is a boycott, and will inexorably lead to a boycott of all of Israel in the future.
• Do ratchet up the Congressional pressure on the EU with tangible consequences for its boycott of Israeli goods from over the armistice line. The Lowey, Roskam, Engel and Royce House Resolution denouncing the European Commission labeling guidelines on Israeli products from the West Bank was a good start.
Regarding the international community:
• The UN has become an anti-American organization with a majority of non-democratic tin-pot dictatorships that actively work against our foreign policy interests. We must abandon the notion that a UN vote is what gives the stamp of consensus of the civilized world for security decisions that put our safety, resources and soldiers on the line.
• Do not fund UNESCO, whose politicized anti-Israel agenda has compromised its humanitarian mission.
• America must realize which self-proclaimed human rights organizations and NGOs are in actuality vehicles for anti-American agendas.
• America must finally come to the realization that it is counterproductive to count descendants of the original Palestinian refugees as refugees, as mandated by UNWRA. This must end. America has the leverage, as it is the No. 1 financial supporter of UNWRA.
President Obama is unlikely to change course in 2016. So while Iran cyber-attacks America’s infrastructure and breaks UNSC resolutions on missile testing, the president still claims the Iran nuclear deal is a winner. And while the president still claims victory with a hollow UNSC resolution to end the regional war in Syria, the Syrian people remain cannon fodder for both IS and Assad.
With such a distorted view of reality, 2016 is shaping up to be one where America may contribute to human suffering, undermine its essential allies and make common cause with the world’s chief state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, in Syria, with the help of Hezbollah and Russia. After seven years, we have to say this is not naiveté; it is a deliberate strategy of executive overreach that flies in the face of American values and damages our national security interests.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™) and a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.