In recent days, we have witnessed an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that left four Americans dead, the breach of our embassy and violent protests in Egypt, and a subsequent political spat between the White House and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney blasted the Obama administration for taking an apologetic stance in the wake of the attacks, pointing to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that he described as “akin to an apology.”
But in the back-and-forth over this sharp criticism of President Obama and the hubbub over State Department tweets that were deleted misses the larger point and an undeniable truth: America’s mixed signals on the Middle East are continuing to have deadly consequences.
Since the start of what was romantically termed as the “Arab Spring,” America has made wrong moves at every turn that have weakened our standing in the world and sent mixed messages to allies and adversaries alike. As a result, the always volatile Middle East has experienced a rapid deterioration that has brought instability and bloodshed to the region on a scale not seen in decades.
In the initial days of the protests in Egypt that ultimately brought down Hosni Mubarak and his government, the United States appeared flat-footed and confused. Although we initially voiced support for our long-standing ally, American foreign policy shifted 180 degrees and we began supporting the efforts of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Imagine the impact our shift must have had on other U.S. allies in the region that are clinging tenuously to stability but one day could face unrest within their own borders (i.e., Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states).
On Libya, we veered wildly from strong rhetoric calling for the toppling of Col. Moammar Gadhafi to allowing other nations to shoulder the burden to make it a reality. America is the world’s unquestioned superpower and a force for good, and we lose credibility on both counts when we lead from behind.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Syrian President Bashar Assad continues to unleash the Syrian military on his own people, butchering tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. The Obama administration has decried the violence but here, too, has sent mixed signals. As the Syrian revolt began to accelerate, our secretary of state explained that the U.S. would not intervene in Syria because many perceived Mr. Assad as “a reformer.”
All of these mixed signals and muddled messages empower our adversaries.
Keep in mind that in the midst of all this violence and uncertainty, a virulently anti-American fundamentalist Islamist regime in Tehran is brazenly marching toward nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Obama has said that all options are on the table to prevent this eventuality, but does anyone really believe that? The Iranians certainly don’t — otherwise, they would have scaled back their efforts rather than defiantly ramping them up. America is watching and waiting while subterranean centrifuges in Iran are spinning.
For Israel, America’s closest ally in the region, the dangers to its security are grave and the future is uncertain. But the haunting prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and the seething violence in so many neighboring countries is far bigger than Israel’s problem alone and is truly a global threat.
Before things get even worse, America must move past our foreign policy blunders and demonstrate the true global leadership we have been sorely lacking under Mr. Obama.
The Middle East is aflame, and further mixed signals by the United States will only add fuel to the fires.
• Armstrong Williams, author of the 2010 book “Reawakening Virtues,” is on Sirius Power 128 from 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m. Mondays through Fridays. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside. Read his content on RightSideWire.com.
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