Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A reaction to Obama’s interview with The Atlantic

I was left a bit puzzled by Obama's view on America's position in the world, as reflected in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg.

Far from leading, the US is usually the country that stays behind. There are many UN resolutions and treaties were the US is the only or one of the few countries that do not participate. The kind of leadership that the US usually provides is that - by stopping to hit the brakes - it finally allows things to go forward.

Obama criticizes Europe for doing enough to get Libya on track after the overthrow of Gaddafi. Obama misses here the lesson that the Europeans have learned from the 1956 Suez crisis when their operations were sabotaged by the US: do nothing on areas where the US has its own interests and might overrule you. In the case of Libya the US had its contacts and favorites among the new Libyan leaders. One could bet that those would run to the US embassy if they felt they didn't get an important enough role - and would be warmly welcomed there. So - given the inaction from the US - it was predictable that the Europeans wouldn't do anything too.

Obama's attitude towards America's allies is puzzling. He was led by Brittain and France into a war against Libya, he is supporting Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen. And he has rewarded rather than punished increasingly outrageous behavior of Netanjahu. Sure, he criticises those countries. But isn't it a bit ridiculous: a superpower led around by its vasals? Where is the US leadership?

Obama is not the first one to see tribalism in the Middle East. Bush used the same excuse when his Iraq project went wrong. However, both in Libya and Iraq tribalism was much less of a problem before the US intervention. Each time it was the polarization caused by the US that made it a problem.

Nobody would argue that it would be good to shoot an US president and then install his murderer. Everybody is aware that such a killing would have fargoing consequences for the political climate in the country and destroy a lot of trust between people. Yet that is what the US regularly does in other countries. Obama has done more regime change operations than any president before him - oblivious to the fact that such operations always have serious destabilizing effects. Even worse, he has never made any effort to minimize those effects.

Obama's call for an Islamic reformation is bound to fail. Things don't work that way. People change when they feel a need. Not when they are told that they are oldfashioned. Turkey has a rather modern Islam because after the loss of the Ottoman empire it felt the need to reform. Saudi Arabia - on the other hand - never has felt this need thanks to its oil wealth. So it can stick to its medieval convictions and even export them. This export - both explicitly with its support for radical mosques and schools and implicitly by returning guest workers - is what is holding the Arab world back. Here lies also the real ground of the Saudi fear of Iran: its combination of religious conservatism and rather modern policies is an ideological challenge to the Saud dynasty.