Arab Spring Cleaning
by Michael Goodell
After watching last week’s events unfold, I have three comments to make about the remarkably nimble performance put in by president Barack Obama’s foreign policy team.
1) Over the years I have been known to criticize our president. Many have suspected that there was nothing he could do that would please me. Which is untrue. I can and will praise him when his actions are praiseworthy.
In the case of Syria, I admit I was wrong about our president and his impressive team of foreign policy experts. There has never been a finer example of the judicious use of “soft power” as has been on display during this crisis. Obama has proved himself to be an accomplished poker player. Clearly, he has been posturing all along as a diplomatic naif. He masqueraded as a coward and incompetent, tabbing anonymous aides to issue such embarrassing characterizations of his strategy as “leading from behind,” or acting “just strong enough not to be mocked.”
I was taken in by this subtle misdirection. I often asked whether Obama was actually that stupid, that naive, that incompetent, or were his policies in fact designed to destroy American power and influence in the world?
Now we have the answer. None of the above. His clever ruse, evidence of a long term view, was to lull our enemies into a state of complacency, to adopt a diplomatic “rope-a-dope” strategy, if you will, and then to strike with steel and force. So it was in Syria. The mere fact that this man, who had seemed so feeble and cowardly to all who took the time to observe him, acted with such vigor, sent shock waves of terror through the hearts of all our enemies.
The Russians, realizing they were about to lose their only client state in the Middle East, were at a loss to respond. Bashar Assad, the chinless dictator, trembled in his very boots. The world teetered at the brink of disaster. I thought this was the result of our foolish president’s abysmal ignorance of the way the world worked. I was wrong. He did this on purpose because, having taken the measure of his opponents, he knew they would blink.
Now we have the happy situation where Syria will identify all their chemical weapons and surrender them to the international community. Having been seduced into thinking he actually came up with this proposal, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is now personally tied to this proposal. Because his credibility is at stake, we can be confident that he will do everything in his power to make Syria comply with the terms of the agreement.
And finally, having induced the United Nations to administer the deal, we have achieved a situation where the international community endorses our policy. If you recall where we stood in the world at the end of George Bush’s presidency, this is incredible progress, an achievement only Obama could have made possible.
2) A happy result of this crisis, and possibly, the key objective behind all Obama and Kerry’s moves, is Russia’s return to the community of responsible nations. You may recall that the unilateralist Bush, under the sway of the Neocons, had marginalized Russia in the Middle East. Yes, they still had their client state, but they had no true power or influence in the region whatsoever. This was quite a fall from grace in just forty years.
Being the sole diplomatic or military force in the region demanded a huge price, both in blood and in dollars, from the United States. Especially given Obama’s shrewd and timely policy shift to Asia, the much-ballyhooed Pivot to the East, it was going to be impossible for us to continue to devote as much time and as many resources to the Middle East.
Now that Russia has been drawn into the region, we can depart, confident that Putin will keep Syria under control, and even more significantly, he will be able to pressure Iran to stop its nuclear weapons programs. No doubt Russian influence will have the same beneficial impact on Iran as it is already having in Syria. Again, this happy turn of events is due entirely to the geopolitical sophistication of the Obama/Kerry/Rice team. In fact, we now have the answer to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s famous question, “What difference does it make?” This is what difference it makes, the difference between a region in flames and a world in which the tides of war are truly receding.
3) My final observation on this matter is that Mylie Cyrus’s enormous talents as a singer and dancer are exceeded only by her good taste and classy judgment.
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