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SANDERS: The Mideast through Obama’s looking glass

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Only Lewis Carroll could have done justice to the Obama administration's fall down the dark hole into America's latest Middle East misadventure.

Beginning with his Cairo and Istanbul speeches in the spring of 2009, President Obama attempted, indeed, "a new beginning," as speechwriter Thomas E. Donilon — now, significantly, Mr. Obama's national security adviser — termed it.

Were it not so tragic, analogies to Carroll's masterpiece would describe the situation that ensued. See, for example, the Iranian Mad Hatters screaming "Off with their heads!," or an obsequious U.S. mainstream media's Humpty Dumpty-like tendency to define meanings for words at their whim.

In an appeal to Arab-Muslim intellectuals as well as Islam's politicians, the president rewrote Islam's long history of aggression into a chronicle of tolerance. The fables of Arab custodianship of enlightenment when Europe was in the Dark Ages were trotted out. The morbid record of abuse of women, intellectual obscurantism, cheapening of life, barbaric legal codes, child marriage, endogamy and corrupt economic practices at every level in contemporary Muslim societies were all ignored. Flattery was the order of the day: Mr. Obama even alluded to important Islamic contribution to the American ethos, something not even the most chauvinistic Muslims had attempted.

A superficial glance at the United Nations Arab Human Development Report 2002 — facts and conclusions so obvious despite that organization's own twisted biases — would have refuted Mr. Obama's underlying assumptions and his remedies to exorcise the region's problems. Instead, Mr. Obama made apologizing for real and perceived past American failings his order of the day.

Historians will argue forever over the contribution this Obama Doctrine made to the already intolerable chaos the region has seen for decades. But it becomes clearer by the moment that American policy over the past four years has further exacerbated threats to stability in the region, world peace, and above all, American security. Mr. Obama and his advisers:

Fed the irrationality of Mideast debate not only by denouncing earlier strategies but by impugning U.S. motives.

Adopted Muslim "victimization," viewing Israeli-Arab relations as the be-all and end-all of the region's problems.

• Put a misplaced priority of the issue of Israeli settlements, ignoring the concomitant role of a large Israeli Arab minority in any two-state fix.

• Trivialized U.S. sacrifices, refusing personal intervention to save the status-of-forces negotiations for an Iraq alliance.

• Attempted to appease Iran's mullahs, while ignoring their 17-year secret pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

• Trashed Poland and Czech Republic's anti-missile effort, enhancing Tehran's threat to Israel, Europe and the U.S.

• Played revolutionary politics, abandoning longtime allies and rationalizing the Muslim Brotherhood's jihad history.

• Dallied over the Syrian imbroglio, "leading from behind" as competing radical forces drew Syria's neighbors into the crisis.

• Ignored the obvious 9/11 anniversary threat in anarchic Libya and Egypt, helping bring on death and defeat in the events of recent days.

• And, most of all, continue to belittle America's superior force as a main determinant of international relations and the ultimate asset in any diplomatic effort.

There will be no easy road back to even marginal stability in the Middle East, not least because of the inability and cowardice of the region's political class to move into the modern era.

But while the overwhelming Arab economic and social problems remain, Iran's nuclear programs must remain Washington's paramount concern. Suggestions from the usual suspects that some sort of compromise might be achieved, allowing Tehran nuclear weapons capability in exchange for Iran's voluntary halt short of weaponization, only threaten further catastrophe. Past Iranian performance hardly lends credibility to such an arrangement.

When American policymakers again pick up the ball, whether it is this president or Mitt Romney, a publicly proclaimed red line for Iran backed by sincere mobilization of all our resources is the only U.S. policy that can begin to stabilize the region. That decision awaits, with even more horrendous events in the offing if such a policy reversal is not undertaken — and quickly.

Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at solsanders@cox.net and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.

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