On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech at Cairo University which the White House calls “A New Beginning” meaning a change in the relations between the West and the Middle East North Africa (MENA), the region from Morocco to Iran. It is now seven years later and a useful point to consider whether the policies derived from the speech were successful or not. In the words of Ronald Reagan, are we or the peoples of MENA “better off”?
President Obama opened the speech quoting the Koran, praising Islamic contributions to world culture and describing his personal experiences with Islam. The idea was to shift the thinking of his audience away from nationalism to an Islamic definition. No longer would the peoples of MENA consider themselves as Egyptians or Jordanians but rather their identity would Islamic, something the President would never do with Europe and Christianity.
As former Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Fox’s Sean Hannity in the fall of 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s contribution to the Cairo speech was to force the Egyptian government to give “front row seats” to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, “to the mortification of the Mubarak Government”. In due time, the Mubarak Government was replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood regime until the Egyptian people demanded that the Army save the country, which it did. The intervening years have been difficult for average Egyptian citizens. Tourism has fallen precipitously as Islamic radicals have fought the Egyptian police in Sinai and put bombs on civilian airplanes. Christian Copts, previously a tolerated 10% of the population where they have lived for two thousand years, are wondering if they have a future in the country as attacks by Islamic radical-influenced mobs continue.
Libya under the rule of Col Qaddafi was difficult both for the people of Libya and the West, the Lockerby Pan Am bombing being only one example. However, when Col. Gadhafi saw the American Army drag Saddam Hussein out of a hole in December 2003, a new and improved version of the Colonel made an appearance on the world stage. He stopped all of his weapons of mass destruction programs and even turned over to us the atom bomb plans he got from the Chinese. By the time of Obama’s Cairo speech, the Qaddafi regime, if not all we may have wanted, was making some useful contributions. He was sitting on his own fundamentalists and sharing intelligence.
Today, Libya is a failed state, the county is in chaos, its cities are in ruins, no one knows how many people have died, and the country is the North African Headquarters for ISIS. PBS has recently done a feature on life in Libya and the pictures are very disturbing. Without Qaddafi’s strong hand, the country has become the launching point for tens of thousands of migrants fleeing misrule by African Governments and a better life in Europe. If CNN is correct, ISIS is salting terrorists into the flood of migrants. As her assistant Jake Sullivan told Secretary Clinton in a now-famous email, “it shows [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s] leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish.”, something she doesn’t emphasize on the campaign trail these days.
And then there is Syria. As the Israelis like to point out privately, “The Assad Family is what it is but their ambitions end of the border of Syria. Not so ISIS or any of its allies”. Nobody really knows how many Syrians have died since President Obama decided “Assad must go”. According to Reuters’ early May reporting, close to half a million Syrians who were alive when Obama gave his Cairo speech are now dead. This doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands maimed and traumatized, especially children. Millions have lost their homes and were sent fleeing across the Mediterranean. Syrian cities will take decades and billions of dollars to rebuild, if there were funds to rebuild them, which there aren’t. The Christian community established by St. Paul faces total extinction.
This short space cannot do justice to the disaster which has befallen the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa since President Obama’s Cairo speech lit the fuse of the Islamic death cult of ISIS and its relatives. Just the body count alone makes it the largest human catastrophe the world has seen since the end of World War II. The horrific judgment of President Obama and his team, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has led to nothing but death and devastation for millions of people and there is no end in sight.
• William C. Triplett, II is the former Chief Republican Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee