It’s time for the Obama administration to get its act together in both the Middle East and Afghanistan.
In the Middle East, Washington has been far too soft on both Nuri al-Maliki and Mohammed Morsi, two would-be dictators who are moving ever closer to their objective of one-man rule. And it continues to fight Bashar al Assad with little more than words, while the Syrian dictator fights his own people with mortars, bombs, missiles and air strikes. In Afghanistan, U.S. and coalition troops continue to be killed and maimed while progress in standing up a viable Afghan security force is far too slow and the elimination of cancerous corruption slower still. Meanwhile, negotiations for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) for American troops in Afghanistan, without which they cannot remain in that country any more than they have in Iraq, are moving at the slowest pace of all.
Once again, as it did during the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, the administration is turning a blind eye to the democrats in the street in order to “keep open lines of communication” with the tyrants in the palace. In Iraq, Maliki continues to consolidate power at the expense of the Sunnis and the Kurds. The former are already on the verge of launching a new insurrection; the latter are preparing for outright war if Baghdad continues to stifle their hopes for maximizing the benefits of their energy resources. Meanwhile, Washington says not a thing, other than to move ahead with the sale of armaments that the Kurds fear will be aimed at them.
The situation is even worse in Egypt. Morsi and his backers in Muslim Brotherhood have been demonstrating yet again that Islamists see democratic elections as a means to an undemocratic, theocratic end. On November 22, just a day after he helped secure a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, winning exceedingly fulsome praise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular, Morsi issued a decree that prevented any court from overturning his decisions or those of the Islamist dominated assembly that was writing a new draft constitution.
While the administration’s reaction was muted, as it had been during Iran’s Green Revolution, the outcry in Egypt, and renewed demonstrations in Tahrir Square, forced Morsi both temporarily to flee the presidential palace and to rescind his decree. But he did not back away from his ultimate objective: transforming Egypt into an Islamic State. His means for doing so, the constitution that actually was drafted by a small claque of Islamists in the Assembly, includes provisions for the imposition of Shariah Law and grants to Muslim clerics the role of arbiters of civil rights. Despite demands from the non-Islamist opposition that the referendum on the constitution be delayed, Morsi did no such thing.
The draft was put to the Egyptian people for an initial vote on Saturday, December 15, despite violent opposition from all but the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more extreme Salafis. Morsi got his majority on the first ballot; and then another majority on the second ballot held Saturday the 22nd. But the opposition has alleged widespread fraud on the first ballot, and more of the same took place during the final round of voting. Morsi and his supporters have absolutely no intention of giving up power. They continue to prove that for Islamists, “one man, one vote, one time,” is hardly a tired old platitude. Yet the administration still breathes hardly a word about Morsi’s excesses.
As for Syria, the administration finally came around to recognizing the Syrian opposition some two years and 40,000 deaths after the outbreak of the insurrection against Assad. Apart from threatening action if Assad uses chemical weapons, as well as reportedly some training of opposition fighters outside Syria, Washington has not provided what the opposition has long sought: the arms it needs to fight off Assad’s thuggish supporters and his regular army. The rebels are managing to do so anyway; even Farouk al Sharaa, the long-time Assad lackey who now serves as vice president, has all but admitted that the regime’s days finally are numbered. But Washington can expect little by way of thanks from whoever comes to power in Damascus, nor does it deserve any. And if the new regime is Islamist, whether in an extreme Salafi version, or fashioned in the hardly less palatable Morsi style, the administration will have no one but itself to blame.
As for Afghanistan, it has long been clear that the American-led military coalition cannot stabilize the country on its own. Having failed to achieve stability for the better part of a decade, except perhaps for the brief period 2003-2005, the military will not do so now. Meanwhile, the Taliban waits for 2014, when most U.S. troops are meant to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, the warlords flourish, corruption is rampant, and Pakistan blows hot and cold as an American “ally.”
There is no taking back the administration’s egregious error in announcing 2014 as the end-date for active American participation in the Afghan War. But Washington can accelerate both the troop withdrawal and the negotiation of a Status of Forces Agreement that will enable U.S. forces to continue to train Afghan military and police, and hopefully prevent a Taliban takeover of the country. Troop withdrawals should be accelerated for the simple reason that too many young Americans are dying for a cause that cannot be won.