Monday, March 14, 2016

Goldberg's "Obama Doctrine"

Jeffrey Goldberg's long Obama interview piece in The Atlantic, "The Obama Doctrine: The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world," is sophisticated puffery, but it is fascinating puffery, a telling portrait of a failed president who owes his presence in the White House to the fact that he convinced voters he would not entangle them in any more needless foreign wars.

That is why the overwhelming focus of Goldberg's piece is on Syria and Obama's refusal to bomb the country at the end of summer 2013 after sarin gas was used in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August. Without going into any detail about why the Ghouta sarin attack was likely a false flag operation meant to force the United States into bombing Damascus, Goldberg does mention that
Obama was also unsettled by a surprise visit early in the week from James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, who interrupted the President’s Daily Brief, the threat report Obama receives each morning from Clapper’s analysts, to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a “slam dunk.” He chose the term carefully. Clapper, the chief of an intelligence community traumatized by its failures in the run-up to the Iraq War, was not going to overpromise, in the manner of the onetime CIA director George Tenet, who famously guaranteed George W. Bush a “slam dunk” in Iraq.
Overall nothing is said -- other than to mention the names of the countries -- about the failed militaristic approach Obama has taken in Yemen and Afghanistan. (See the frontpager today "Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. in Yemen," by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, on how the U.S. has helped to create another failed state to go along with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.)

There are some good lines Goldberg tosses the readers about Obama's loathing of the Saudis:
In private encounters with other world leaders, Obama has argued that there will be no comprehensive solution to Islamist terrorism until Islam reconciles itself to modernity and undergoes some of the reforms that have changed Christianity. 
Though he has argued, controversially, that the Middle East’s conflicts “date back millennia,” he also believes that the intensified Muslim fury of recent years was encouraged by countries considered friends of the U.S. In a meeting duringapec with Malcolm Turnbull, the new prime minister of Australia, Obama described how he has watched Indonesia gradually move from a relaxed, syncretistic Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation; large numbers of Indonesian women, he observed, have now adopted the hijab, the Muslim head covering. 
Why, Turnbull asked, was this happening? 
Because, Obama answered, the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs have funneled money, and large numbers of imams and teachers, into the country. In the 1990s, the Saudis heavily funded Wahhabist madrassas, seminaries that teach the fundamentalist version of Islam favored by the Saudi ruling family, Obama told Turnbull. Today, Islam in Indonesia is much more Arab in orientation than it was when he lived there, he said. 
“Aren’t the Saudis your friends?,” Turnbull asked.
Obama smiled. “It’s complicated,” he said. 
Obama’s patience with Saudi Arabia has always been limited. In his first foreign-policy commentary of note, that 2002 speech at the antiwar rally in Chicago, he said, “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East—the Saudis and the Egyptians—stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality.” In the White House these days, one occasionally hears Obama’s National Security Council officials pointedly reminding visitors that the large majority of 9/11 hijackers were not Iranian, but Saudiand Obama himself rails against Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned misogyny, arguing in private that “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population.” In meetings with foreign leaders, Obama has said, “You can gauge the success of a society by how it treats its women.”
In the end the reader is left with the impression of Obama as a guy who thinks he will always be the smartest one in the room. The problem is brains alone don't solve problems. Obama clearly understands that the Saudis are behind global terrorism and instability in the Middle East but he refuses to confront them. If such confrontation is off limits, and the United States continues to back al-Saud, as Obama does in Yemen, the recent successes -- a working ceasefire in Syria and a closure of the Balkans migrant route into Europe -- will not last long.


My job is taking more of my time and attention. I've gone from posting on this page six out of seven days a week to four or five. My reading is suffering. I'm basically in survival mode. From here on out posts are going to be more sporadic. There could be as little as two or three a week. This week is particularly tough. I'll try to keep the "Hippies vs. Punks" post on Friday. Hopefully things will stabilize at work.

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