May 25, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2972

In Saudi Press, Obama Administration Comes Under Criticism for Weakness

May 25, 2010
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2972

Recently, the Saudi London-based press has published op-eds criticizing U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration for its apparent feebleness.

In her May 14 column in the Al-Hayat daily, titled "What Happened to Obama's Standing Around the World?", Raghida Dergham condemned Obama's "twin tracks policy," calling it weak and unfocused, and warning that its targets – such as Iran and the Taliban – are likely to interpret it as submission and to "eat the carrot and break the stick." She also warned the U.S. against neglecting Iraq out of preoccupation with Iran and Afghanistan, and urged it not to leave Iraq vulnerable to Iran's machinations aimed at consolidating its hegemony in the region.

On May 19, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, Al-Arabiya TV director and former editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, wrote in the paper an op-ed titled "Why Has Uncle Sam Fallen Asleep?" He too warned about Iran's interference in Iraq, writing: "If the U.S. believes that it will be able to deal with an Iraqi coalition formed by Tehran tomorrow, then it should think again."

The following are excerpts from both articles:

Raghida Dergham in Al-Hayat: "What Happened to Obama's Standing Around the World?"

"[Obama's] Strategy... has Eroded the Trust in the United States, Deepened the Confusion Regarding [His] Administration's Intentions, and Increasing the Reluctance to Wager on this Superpower…"

In her article, Raghida Dergham wrote: "The twin tracks strategy adopted by the U.S. administration to deal with various issues, from Iran to Afghanistan and even the Taliban, may be clear in the mind of President Barack Obama and in the minds of the leaders of his administration, especially the academics among them. But this does not detract from a prominent fact, namely from what this strategy has done in terms of eroding the trust in the United States, deepening the confusion regarding this administration's intentions, and increasing the reluctance to wager on this superpower – a country that is turning to isolationism in the era of globalization, and whose hegemony as a superpower is receding while [countries] like China fill the vacuum on the international level and the likes of Iran and the Taliban rush to create facts on the ground in order to fill the vacuum on the regional level. It is a loss of status that arouses concern on a global level…

"The matter is not limited to heads of state like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who have tried, and will try again, to disregard the demands of the Obama administration, borrowing from his electoral campaign the useful phrase 'Yes We Can.' Indeed, among those who disdain the U.S. today are Pakistani youths like Faisal Shahzad, accused of [perpetrating] the attempted bombing in Times Square…"

"The greatest fear is that the likes of the Times Square bomber are like a sleeping army spread out in various places, ready to awaken and become operative spontaneously or automatically.

"The fear is that the twin tracks strategy will be misunderstood to such an extent that the carrot will be consumed and the stick broken, based on an assessment that the U.S. in the age of 'Obamism' will never [be willing to] fight, exert pressure, take risks, or surprise [us]... [But] this assumption is misplaced, because 'Obamism' takes pride in its ability [to pursue] twin tracks of a different sort: patience and perseverance on one track, and surprising moves on the other."

"This Administration [Should]... Closely Examine the Dangers of Slackness and Self-Confidence"

"However, even if the wager [pays off], and the Barack Obama administration produces a pleasant surprise – namely the success of the twin tracks [strategy] – it would still be best for this administration to take initiative and closely examine the dangers of slackness and [excessive] self-confidence, [especially] at a time when trust in it is failing. It had better reveal some of the alternatives [it has prepared] in case its current policies fail to produce the hoped-for results. It had better stop pretending that its policies make it more moral [than everyone else]."

The Obama Administration "has Discarded the Reformists in Iran, as Well as Its Obligations towards Darfur in Sudan, and It Is in the Process of Striking Deals with the Regime in Tehran..."

"[The truth is that] the political realism in the age of 'Obamism' places [this administration] on the same level as previous administrations, which practiced such realism to the same extent – [namely to the point] of discarding former allies and [potential] future partners. In fact, it has discarded the reformists in Iran, as well as its obligations towards Darfur in Sudan, and it is [now] in the process of striking deals with the regime in Tehran, which seeks to export the Islamic Revolution. [Furthermore, the Obama administration is trying] to push the relevant forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan to strike deals with the Taliban. It has only one condition [in making these deals]: not that [the Taliban] stop oppressing women, but rather that it sever its ties with Al-Qaeda – as if there are clear criteria [for assessing what it means] to sever these ties.

"First of all, it is Iran that is extending its tentacles [to exploit] the weakness of the Obama administration – especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where this administration wants to [pursue] the twin tracks of 'staying and leaving.' This strategy has made it feel that it desperately needs [the help of] Tehran, which will enable it to 'leave and stay' in Iraq, and perhaps also in Afghanistan.

"[However, this assessment is] wrong, because it ignores the fact that Iran is the one who needs to be party to America's strategy of 'leaving and staying' in Iraq. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran... is feeling nervous, because it understands, much better than the U.S... the patience of its reformists and the meaning of the popular uprising in Iran. It is so nervous that it fears any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which would leave its important neighbor in a state of chaos and [potential] instability.

"There are secret talks taking place behind the scenes between the Americans and the Iranians over the issue of Iraq, and perhaps over other regional issues, such as the 'violent Islamist extremism' in different parts [of the world], especially in Afghanistan. In parallel [to these secret talks], there are [open] talks between the 5+1 and the leaders of the Iranian government on the nuclear issue, as well as [informal] talks, most recently a dinner [arranged by Iranian] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at the residence of the Iranian ambassador in New York...

"If the George W. Bush Administration Handed Iraq to Iran on a Silver Platter... Then the Barack Obama Administration Is Taking the Risk of Consolidating Iranian Hegemony"

"If the George W. Bush administration handed Iraq to Iran on a silver platter by waging the war on terror through [Iraq] and against it, [and using] military [force] to eliminate it from the regional power balance, then the Obama administration risks consolidating the Iranian hegemony in the Gulf region and beyond, [that is,] if it continues to follow a course of slackness vis-a-vis Iran on the issues of Iraq and the nuclear dossier. Iraq must not take second place in America's list of priorities just because the administration is preoccupied with Afghanistan and Iran..."

"The Palestinian-Israeli Dossier is Another Challenge Facing the Obama Administration"

"The Iranian issue, important though it is, is not the only regional issue putting the U.S. administration to the test... The Palestinian-Israeli dossier is another challenge facing the Obama administration, as do the quality and character of U.S.-Syria relations, which [encompass many issues], from Iraq and the issue of terrorism to the Special Tribunal for the [Al-Hariri assassination], as well as the military equipment supplied to Hizbullah and to the Palestinian militias operating in Lebanon.

"A major obstacle to the development of U.S.-Syria relations is Damascus's insistent refusal to relinquish the 'bargaining chip' of the Palestinian factions that challenge not only Lebanon's sovereignty but also the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud 'Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Damascus is cooperating in Iraq, and has made some [positive] steps by 'preventing' extremist groups from 'infiltrating' Iraq to carry out terrorist acts.

"Washington does not like Damascus's method of dealing with it one step at a time, and insists that the Syrian leadership cease its attempts to dwarf the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, Palestinian militias undermining Lebanese sovereignty do not seem to be America's top priority, but the steady stream of advanced weapons crossing over to Hizbullah does arouse Washington's anger. In fact, this has revealed a huge flaw in the [conduct of] the U.S. administration, and has raised further doubts and misgivings as to its trustworthiness, because it places one foot here and one there, and 'another foot in its mouth,' as in the American expression goes."

"What Happened to That Handsome Black Man Who Gave a Speech in Cairo that Aroused Admiration in Many [Muslims] Worldwide?"

"What happened to the man who took the international scene by storm, that amazing U.S. president 'with the confidence of a king' who spoke of [using] justice as a moral compass everywhere, from Sudan to Lebanon? What happened to that handsome black man who gave a speech in Cairo that aroused admiration in many [Muslims] worldwide, [but] who today has become a target of anger and disappointment?

"Perhaps what happened is political realism. Or perhaps the world is not as patient as Barack Obama. It may be too soon to judge [the phenomenon of] 'Obamism,' yet it is [nevertheless] necessary to examine the consequences of the erosion of trust in it, which has led to a deterioration so great that no surprise, no matter how colossal, can save [this administration].

"The complaints of those who raised Barack Obama as their banner and flag in the world might be greatly exaggerated – yet they reflect the fragility of 'Obamism,' which [even to its supporters] seems weak and frightened, dithering between the twin tracks and neglecting obligations."

"Those Who Have Oppose 'Obamism'... Consider the Strategy of the Twin Tracks as Nothing but Submission"

"Meanwhile, those who have opposed 'Obamism' from the beginning consider the twin track strategy as nothing but submission to those who would eat the carrot and break the stick. And this is not just the Iranian leadership or the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also those who today reach Times Square in a dangerous migration to the north, striking at the very heart of 'Obamism.'"[1]

'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed: "Why Has Uncle Sam Fallen Asleep?"

The following are excerpts from Al-Sharq Al-Awsat's English translation of the op-ed by 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed:[2]

"Despite the Clear Importance of the Future [Government of] Iraq, It Seems that the U.S. Administration Is in a Deep Sleep"

"A battle is taking place that will shape the future of one of the most important countries in the Middle East, a future that may shape the destiny of other countries in the region, and whose results will go on to affect the rest of the world.

"Despite the clear importance of the future of rule in Iraq, it seems that the U.S. administration is in a deep sleep, or rather is pretending to be asleep, we don't know which. In either case, the Americans are making a new mistake [in Iraq], whether this is out of negligence or deliberate ignorance. They are primarily responsible for the future of this country that is still practically under their control, [and] they are the ones who designed the state project and formed the current leadership after toppling the former regime. It was also the Americans who put in place the decision-making process for choosing who holds office, i.e. the elections, and drew up the constitution.

"U.S. fighter jets are still protecting Iraqi air space, and their security apparatus continues to monitor every small detail on the ground. More important than all of this, the U.S. has paid a heavy price, and this has cost them the deaths of over 4,000 troops, as well as one trillion dollars, and God only knows the number of Iraqi casualties."

"Is it Reasonable for Uncle Sam to Fall Asleep at this Critical Moment?"

"[Considering all this,] is it reasonable for Uncle Sam to fall asleep at this critical moment in which the leader of Iraq over the next four years is being decided? This is indeed a strange time to fall asleep!"

"Why has Washington, since the end of the elections, remained silent in a strange and suspicious manner? According to a Washington official, President Barack Obama's administration has decided not to interfere, and it prefers for the Iraqis to choose their own president, prime minister, and future government. The U.S. believes that it will be able to deal with whoever wins and becomes the new leader of Iraq.

"However a second [view] of the situation is that the Obama administration wants to escape from Iraq, and does not want to get involved, and the only thing it is concerned with is the scheduled troop withdrawal that is set to begin this summer. This would be an appropriate position if there was a possibility for escape! As for the freedom to choose the government of Iraq, this is a wise choice if this were left up to the Iraqis to decide. However, the regional countries, particularly Iran, are exerting tremendous pressure to determine the future of Iraq, and are utilizing all of their tools to this effect."

"If the U.S. Believes That It Will Be Able to Deal With an Iraqi Coalition Formed By Tehran Tomorrow, Then It Should Think Again... The Americans... Are Making a Historic Mistake"

"If the U.S. believes that it will be able to deal with an Iraqi coalition formed by Tehran tomorrow, then it should think again.

"Until now, [Iraqi] Shi'ite parties have been successful in evading demands placed upon them by Iran to form a coalition that is in harmony with the wishes of Iran. So far the major Shiite parties have refused, but will they be able to continue saying 'No'? Perhaps not!

"Despite our apprehensions, nobody objects to the next Iraqi Prime Minister having good relations with Iran. The problem is only if the Iranians are the ones who choose this.

"As for the Americans, they are making a historic mistake by allowing the Iranians to run Shi'ite parties and impose their viewpoint on them. Iraq will pay the price of this, as will the rest of the world, and the U.S. will pay the highest price of all if Iran succeeds in forcing its will on the Iraqi leadership, because Iran will transform the country into another Lebanon and they will be in control of even the smallest details.

"Iraq represents a life-raft for Iran with regards to dealing with the threats and pressures that the Iranian regime is facing as a result of its nuclear program, and the hostile policies that it is pursuing in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, the Gulf, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Iraq can be a back door through which Iraq can escape the international embargo placed upon it, as well a huge financial treasury, as Iraq's oil production this year is three times [greater than] Iran's. Therefore Iran will be capable of smuggling, exporting, funding, and spending via Iraq. Iran will be able to save itself through Iraq, and without it, the Tehran regime will die. This is a fact that is clear to anybody who is aware of the situation in both countries today."

"By Leaving Iraq in Iran's Hands, [Washington] Facilitates Tehran Taking Hold of the Country with the Second-Largest Oil Reserves in the World"

Washington is spending a lot of money and exerting a lot of effort in order to impose sanctions on Iran. However, by leaving Iraq in Iran's hands, it facilitates Tehran taking hold of the country with the second-largest oil reserves in the world. It is funny that Washington believes that it is laying siege to Iran by attempting to buy off Syria and intimidate Turkey, while at the same time it is leaving Iraq open to Ahmadinejad's regime.

"If you believe this is an exaggeration, then you must [examine] the situation as it stands today. The Iranians have succeeded in ripping off the Americans in Iraq to the point that they have even taken control of former strong U.S. allies such as the Kurds, half of whom have become allied with the Iranian regime. This is unbelievable, but unfortunately it is the truth."

[1] Al-Hayat (London), May 14, 2010.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 19, 2010. The original English text has been lightly edited for clarity.

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