Putin’s Syria Victory: Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2016 — President Obama has spent five years insisting that there is no military solution to the Syrian civil war. To judge by the “cessation of hostilities” announced Friday in Munich, Vladimir Putin is about to prove him wrong.
Forget ‘Ending the Wars’ — Let’s Win Them Instead: Jackson Diehl, New York Post, Feb. 10, 2016— ‘The tide of war is receding,” President Obama tirelessly insisted four years ago as he campaigned for re-election.
State of the Union Highlights Jordan’s Rift with Obama: Aaron Magid, Al-Monitor, Jan. 13, 2016— Despite the harsh divide among Republican presidential candidates on foreign policy, the importance of Jordan has been a unifying theme.
Israeli Ascendancy, American Decline: David M. Weinberg, Israel Hayom, Feb. 12, 2016 — I spent half my week in briefings from top political and military leaders about Israel's regional strategic situation.
Obama's Foreign Policy Rebuked – by His Own Intel Chiefs: William Tate, American Thinker, Feb. 13, 2016
America Makes a U-Turn in the Middle East: Tony Badran, Tablet, Feb. 4, 2016
Why Obama Will Get Away With Closing Gitmo: Eli Lake & Josh Rogin, New York Post, Jan. 16, 2016
U.S. and Allies Weigh Military Action Against ISIS in Libya: Eric Schmitt & Helene Cooper, New York Times, Jan. 22 2015
Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2016
President Obama has spent five years insisting that there is no military solution to the Syrian civil war. To judge by the “cessation of hostilities” announced Friday in Munich, Vladimir Putin is about to prove him wrong.
In theory the cease-fire that Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will bring a partial end to the fighting in a week and allow expanded humanitarian aid into the country. This is supposed to be followed by a resumption of peace talks, which collapsed this month as Bashar Assad’s regime backed by Russian warplanes pressed an offensive against moderate Syrian rebels.
In practice, however, this looks like another Russian victory. Russian planes have intensified their bombing of Aleppo, forcing thousands of civilians to flee to the Turkish border through the only corridor that remains beyond Mr. Assad’s control. Mr. Lavrov says the week delay is needed to sort out the “modalities” of the cease-fire, but the real reason is to give the regime time to complete Aleppo’s encirclement.
The cease-fire explicitly excludes attacks on Islamic State (ISIS) and the al Qaeda-backed Nusra Front. This would make sense if the Kremlin weren’t falsely claiming that its targets are “terrorists” even as it neglects to attack ISIS. Expect the charade to go on until Mr. Putin achieves his military and strategic goals.
The fall of Aleppo and other rebel enclaves in western Syria will allow Mr. Assad to consolidate his grip on the most fertile and populated part of the country. Next month’s negotiations can then “freeze” the conflict in place, a tactic Russia used to its advantage after its invasion of Georgia in 2008 and last year’s Minsk agreement over eastern Ukraine. ISIS can be dealt with later, while Mr. Assad can count on U.S. air strikes to degrade ISIS’s capabilities as he deals with his more immediate enemies.
This isn’t the Russian “quagmire” Mr. Obama predicted last year when Moscow stepped into Syria. Mr. Putin has consolidated his strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean with a tough but limited military intervention and minimal casualties. He has strengthened ties to Tehran. He has shown the Muslim world that he’s the power to be reckoned with, which is why Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have backed away from their opposition to Mr. Putin’s gambit.
The Russian has also gained diplomatic leverage that he’ll use to gain further concessions from the U.S. and Europe. This will likely start, but not end, with sanctions relief as Europe and the U.S. gradually acquiesce to his Ukrainian annexations. Mr. Obama will gladly make this trade since the “cease-fire” will ease what had been growing media criticism in the U.S. of his Syrian abdications.
The next U.S. President will inherit the wreckage. This includes the betrayal of the Free Syrian Army and the example it sets for other potential U.S. allies; the non-defeat of ISIS; the loss of credibility with traditional allies in Jerusalem, Riyadh and Cairo; Russia’s renewed influence in the region; the improbable victory of a murderous dictator who Mr. Obama once insisted had to “step aside”; and the consolidation of an Iranian crescent from Tehran through Baghdad and Damascus to Beirut.
Add to that the killing of more than 250,000 Syrians and the greatest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, and this is some record. Mr. Obama might call it success, but George Orwell would have used a different term.
New York Post, Feb. 10, 2016
‘The tide of war is receding,” President Obama tirelessly insisted four years ago as he campaigned for re-election. Even then, the slogan seemed untethered from reality. Not only was fighting in Afghanistan intensifying, with no end in sight, but Syria, Iraq and Libya were all sliding toward civil war.
That Obama stayed with the phrase reflected not just his electoral strategy but an enduring feature of his foreign policy. Having arrived in office with a handful of ideologically driven goals, the president has stubbornly stuck to them regardless of contradictory facts on the ground.
“Ending the wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan was foremost among those objectives. Obama forced the pace of US troop withdrawals from Iraq in order to finish in time for his 2012 campaign, and until a few months ago, he appeared implacably committed to completing an Afghanistan withdrawal before leaving office.
One of the most important questions of Obama’s remaining months consequently is whether — and to what extent — he can let go of his wished-for legacy. Can he accept that it is a vital US interest not just to preserve a US military presence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but to step it up to confront growing threats from the Islamic State, the Taliban and al Qaeda? Can he acknowledge that the “tide of war” is not receding, but — like it or not — swelling?
Three big decisions are on his plate. In October, the president scrapped his plan to reduce the 9,800-strong US force in Afghanistan to an embassy-based contingent of maybe 1,000 by next January, and last month he gave US commanders permission to attack Islamic State targets as well as al Qaeda.
However, he hasn’t yet altered his target of reducing US forces to 5,500 by the end of the year. Nor has he responded to proposals to provide regular combat air support to Afghan forces against the Taliban to stop what have been steady and cumulatively alarming gains by the insurgents. As both the incoming and outgoing US commanders have publicly hinted, Obama will soon be asked, at a minimum, to stop the troop drawdown to prevent an Afghan military collapse.
In Iraq, Obama has allowed the US troop level to creep back up to 3,700 since 2013, counting special forces deployed in Syria. But as The New York Times recently reported, Pentagon officials believe many hundreds more will need to be dispatched in the coming months if Iraqi and Kurdish forces are to have a chance to retake Mosul, the largest terrorist-controlled city. That includes trainers, but also commandos and other front-line personnel — in other words, combat forces. There, too, Obama has not yet made a decision.
Last, but perhaps not least, Obama faces a choice in Libya, where his national-security team believes action is urgently needed to head off an Islamic State entity taking root there. “It’s fair to say we’re looking to take decisive military action,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said last month, reflecting the Pentagon’s view. But not Obama’s: “That’s not in his horizon at the moment,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said at a conference on Libya last week.
How will Obama manage these three decisions? Seven years of evidence suggests he’ll water down his commanders’ proposals and approve only incremental steps. The problem — especially for Obama’s successor — is that decisive action cannot easily be postponed for another year.
That’s particularly true in Afghanistan, as was underlined in a conversation I had last week with Saad Mohseni, the operator of the country’s most popular private television channel, Tolo TV. Tolo suffered a devastating blow last month when a Taliban suicide bomber slammed into a company bus in Kabul, killing seven and injuring 25.
But this assault on one of the country’s greatest achievements since 2001 — free media — was just part of a grim landscape sketched by Mohseni: a government paralyzed by infighting, a stalled economy and a poorly led and demoralized army that is barely preventing a Taliban takeover of several major provinces.
Mohseni’s recommendations echo the generals: Deploy US airpower against the Taliban and call off the troop drawdown. But he’d also like to see Obama appoint a special envoy to help break the political deadlock in Kabul, which is impeding steps to renew provincial governments and the Afghan army. “The United States has huge leverage,” he said. “You can still turn the situation around.” The question is whether a president who dreamed of ending the wars can be persuaded to do it.
Al-Monitor, Jan. 13, 2016
Despite the harsh divide among Republican presidential candidates on foreign policy, the importance of Jordan has been a unifying theme. Donald Trump praised King Abdullah on Twitter and Ohio Gov. John Kasich wished in a presidential debate that Jordan’s king “would reign for a thousand years.” In stark contrast to the Republicans, President Barack Obama downplayed or did not mention Amman’s most critical national priorities — the Islamic State [IS], Palestine and the war in Syria — during his Jan. 12 State of the Union address.
Addressing members of Congress that evening, Obama emphasized, “As we focus on destroying [IS], over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.” The American leader’s assertion that such dire warnings about IS are misguided directly contradict one of Abdullah’s main talking points when traveling overseas.
Over and over — whether at the United Nations General Assembly podium, during an interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose or even in Kosovo — the Jordanian monarch has declared that the battle against IS is “a third world war, and I believe we must respond with equal intensity.”
After IS kidnapped Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh and burned him alive in a cage in February of last year, the Jordanian air force launched a series of strikes against IS targets in Syria and Iraq. Jordan claimed to have killed 7,000 fighters in the days following Kaseasbeh’s execution.
Obama’s minimizing of the IS campaign speaks to a fundamental divergence with Abdullah and has led many leading thinkers in Amman to question America’s determination and willingness to, in the president’s own words, “degrade and ultimately destroy [IS]." If the world’s strongest and most advanced military cannot defeat a far inferior and less organized group, what are Obama’s true intentions?
In addition to IS, the State of the Union illustrated a major policy rift with Amman regarding the Palestinian peace process. Obama did not once bother to mention Palestine or Israel in the speech setting up his administration’s goals for the upcoming year. Here again, Jordanian leaders take an opposite approach to this sensitive issue. House Speaker Atif Tarawneh said in October, “Jordan, under the leadership of King Abdullah II, has placed the Palestinian issue on top of its priorities.” Amman raises the urgent need to create a Palestinian state in almost every meeting abroad.
The Hashemite Kingdom’s difference with the Obama administration is not solely focused on this speech, but rather encompasses a larger policy divide. Since Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts stalled in 2014, the United States has not led an ongoing effort to end the Palestinian conflict. White House Middle East coordinator Rob Malley told reporters in November that reaching a negotiated solution between the parties during Obama’s remaining term “is not in the cards.” In contrast to Amman’s wishes, the Obama administration no longer prioritizes tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a region filled with violence.
Even before the speech, it was difficult to ignore the missing element in Abdullah’s Washington itinerary Jan. 12. After traveling thousands of miles, the king initially could not secure a meeting with Obama because of "scheduling conflicts." However, the two did meet briefly Jan. 13 at Andrews Air Force Base before both departed on separate trips. A longtime and dependable US ally despite the Middle East’s turmoil arrives in the US capital, but Obama could not carve out more than about five minutes for the king.
In addition to the battle against IS, nearly five years of fighting in Syria have dramatically impacted next-door Jordan. Jordan has absorbed over 630,000 Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations (one diplomat estimates that Syrians represent about 20% of Jordan’s population), and Abdullah has repeatedly called for decisive action to end the conflict. Yet, in Obama’s brief mentioning of the bloody crisis that has killed some 250,000 people, the US president appeared satisfied with US policy. Obama cites Syria as an example of the “smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power” by partnering with local forces — despite the fact that the conflict’s violence has only been spreading.
It is no wonder that in recent months, Abdullah has met multiple times with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a US rival, during trips to Moscow to discuss developments in the Middle East. The United States provides Jordan with significant financial aid, but mere monetary assistance is no longer sufficient in tackling the region’s spiraling crises. With Putin demonstrating decisive action in his military intervention alongside Damascus while daylight grows between Abdullah and Obama over IS, Palestine and Syria, the king may question whether the United States is truly a reliable Jordanian ally during such uncertain times.
David M. Weinberg
Israel Hayom, Feb. 12, 2016
I spent half my week in briefings from top political and military leaders about Israel's regional strategic situation. The other half of my week was devoted to analyzing America's Mideast policy and the tracking of the U.S. presidential primaries. The first half of my week filled me with confidence; the second half with despondency.
It is a time of strategic ascendancy for Israel. Alas, it is a time of self-inflicted strategic decline for America. Israel is growing in regional influence; America is shrinking. The implications are far-reaching. Israel's enhanced pre-eminence is a function of Arab state meltdown, Iran's drive for regional hegemony, and the resultant search for new defense and political alliances. Israel's importance also builds-out from its technological prowess and economic perspicacity.
Consequently, Egypt, the Gulf states, Russia, China, India and non-European democracies are pounding the pavement to Israel's doorstep to make common strategic cause — some more openly than others, but defiantly so. We share intelligence and know-how, plan diplomatic strategy and trade in quality goods. We form a bulwark against radical and subversive forces.
All the countries involved in these ascending relationships know that Israel is stable, credible and consistent in building and fulfilling its alliance responsibilities. It is a loyal partner. It understands the necessity of military power in statecraft, and it knows how to utilize it when necessary.
Alas, that is no longer the case with America, after seven years of President Barack Obama. The U.S. has telegraphed its fatigue and is begging to retreat from global leadership. The Obama administration has abdicated regional predominance to Vladimir Putin's Russia and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Iran, while devoting only lip service to the fight against jihadi Islam. It has brow-beaten its friends and bowed before its adversaries. It has abandoned its erstwhile friends and squandered its prestige.
The administration has also fed the American people and the global community the following series of falsehoods that are transparently illusory: Al-Qaida has been defeated, the Islamic State group has been overwhelmed, Iran has been contained and Russia has been reset or tamed.
Worst of all, the Obama administration seems to have set the stage for the collapse into insanity that characterizes the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries. Only an American public so starved for pathways out of the muck into which Obama has dragged the country, in both domestic and foreign affairs, could be tempted into supporting demagogues like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Only a voter desperate for renewed American "greatness" (Trump) and/or American "magic" (Sanders), and seeking a supernatural wand that will break the cowardly spell that Obama has cast over America — could reach for the asinine extremes.
With their volatile temperaments, these outlier candidates promise only confusion. One day they talk about deep retrenchment from American global commitments — the next about more aggressiveness in global affairs. A swashbuckling foreign policy one day — a flaccid, uncaring foreign policy the next. Mega-capitalism one day — super-socialism the next.
America appears to be a forlorn country that is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find a radical antidote to Obama — a failed messiah if there ever was one. In the process, it risks becoming a laughingstock, not just an indisposed and confused superpower.
Everywhere in the world, people are asking: Is Trump or Sanders really the wisest commander-in-chief that Americans can conjure up? How much longer can this scary campaign continue before all the bolts start coming loose on the USS America? Have Americans fallen off their rocker? Needless to say, any extended fall of America from strategic acuity and sensible policymaking has seismic implications for Israel.
It's true, as described above, that today Israel enjoys new diplomatic maneuverability and strategic depth that does not run through Washington. But so much of Israel's armament, political cover and moral support are still dependent on the United States. No less than Americans, Israelis cannot afford further American political folly. Eight years of Obamanian arrogance and waywardness was enough. Please, America, get a grip and elect yourself a levelheaded leader!
Obama's Foreign Policy Rebuked – by His Own Intel Chiefs: William Tate, American Thinker, Feb. 13, 2016 —Barack Obama's foreign policy – and by extension Hillary Clinton's – received a stinging rebuke this week…from Obama's own intelligence chiefs.
America Makes a U-Turn in the Middle East: Tony Badran, Tablet, Feb. 4, 2016—The administration of President Barack Obama seldom missed an opportunity to insist that the alternative to the Iran nuclear deal was a war with Iran, a prospect that has now presumably been kicked further down the road. Middle Easterners are not so lucky: They get to fight their wars with Iran right now.
Why Obama Will Get Away With Closing Gitmo: Eli Lake & Josh Rogin, New York Post, Jan. 16, 2016—President Obama is determined to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and if he decides to do so without Congress, there may be little his opponents can do to stop him. Since his State of the Union Address Tuesday, the administration has sped up the effort significantly. Ten prisoners were transferred this week. Ninety-three prisoners remain, 34 of whom have been cleared for release.
U.S. and Allies Weigh Military Action Against ISIS in Libya: Eric Schmitt & Helene Cooper, New York Times, Jan. 22 2015—Worried about a growing threat from the Islamic State in Libya, the United States and its allies are increasing reconnaissance flights and intelligence collecting there and preparing for possible airstrikes and commando raids, senior American policy makers, commanders and intelligence officials said this week.