By John Bolton
On June 21, President Obama will attend his last summit with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the six oil-producing monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula. Afterward, press handlers will doubtless spin euphemistically that their “mutual exchange of views” was “full and frank.” In plain English, “brutal” (albeit diplomatically polite) would likely be more accurate.
Fundamental strategic misconceptions underlie Mr. Obama’s Middle East actions, including that America should be essentially neutral in the region’s great conflicts; our efforts, over decades, to protect our interests and allies have reduced, not enhanced, peace and security; and a detached, minimalist US role henceforth will permit local actors, without our meddling, to reach their own accommodations more readily. These precepts have caused innumerable foreign policy blunders, including Mr. Obama’s sustained maltreatment of Israel, the Iran nuclear deal, and the failure to suppress the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist threats.
So stated, the basic isolationism of Mr. Obama’s strategy becomes clear, ironically similar to that advocated this year by several presidential candidates. Describing Saudi Arabia and other Arab friends as “free riders” was both revealing and far from casual, as was the president’s previous sneering dismissal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Obama has implemented his approach as rigorously as possible, albeit sometimes deflected by domestic political calculations or bureaucratic forces, particularly the Pentagon, whose institutional culture never accepted his worldview.
But these are simply exceptions from Mr. Obama’s grand strategy, not examples of his core beliefs. And his persistence means that it will not suffice for a new president just to reverse this or that individual policy. Russia’s air base at Latakia is but one concrete example on an unfortunately long list of such durable adverse consequences that merely changing policies cannot erase.
Similarly, the Iran nuclear deal was a US setback of enormous proportions, a diplomatic Waterloo. It cannot be fixed or renegotiated, but must be immediately, unambiguously terminated by the new president. Make no mistake, however, abrogation alone will not restore the status quo ante. Mr. Obama has fundamentally weakened our position by scuttling international sanctions, unfreezing assets and tolerating belligerent Iranian behavior that shows its utter contempt for the deal itself. Tehran has disproved any idea that acceding to its nuclear demands would cause basic shifts in its international conduct. The new president must, therefore, institute planning to oust the ayatollahs, a necessary but arduous task needlessly complicated by Mr. Obama’s mistakes.
The most urgent task, starting Jan. 20, 2017, and not by rhetoric alone, is emphasizing that America has a new strategic vision, as Ronald Reagan did so well in 1981. Reagan could not overnight reverse the decline in US defense capabilities wrought by Jimmy Carter, nor act decisively everywhere he wanted because the list of inherited problems was so long. Nonetheless, Reagan moved quickly to change both the global perception and the reality of America’s resolve and competence.
The new president should, therefore, stress to Middle Eastern friend and foe alike that America is not neutral in the region’s major, long-standing conflicts, and …read more