You thought Jimmy Carter was bad? Carter at least continued decades-old American policies – if on a sort of “less of same” basis, compared to his predecessors. Whatever America’s policies had been, Carter would shave them off on the margins. When the Soviet Union, say, invaded Afghanistan, Carter wouldn’t do anything stupid, or paranoid. He’d boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics. Stuff like that.
Obama, by contrast, is just abandoning American policies. That, at least, is the perception of our alarmed allies in the Middle East. The allies have reason to be concerned.
Consider three treatments from the last three days. First, a 6 January piece by Thomas Erdbrink in the New York Times, bellwether media organ of the Obama administration:
U.S. and Iran Face Common Enemies in Mideast Strife
Even as the United States and Iran pursue negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program, they find themselves on the same side of a range of regional issues surrounding an insurgency raging across the Middle East. …
Critics of United States policy say that that Obama administration is strengthening Iran at the expense of traditional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel. …
Analysts in Iran say that Tehran is pursuing a clever strategy, using the United States to undermine its greatest regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
Jonathan Spyer expands on regional concern in a piece for the GLORIA Center:
Gulf States Scramble to Realign
Evidence is currently mounting regarding a major US policy shift in the Middle East, based on a general rapprochement with Iran. As this strategy takes shape, traditional US allies in the region are becoming increasingly worried. … [T]hose who have the most to lose are the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. Control of the Gulf, which is vital to global energy supplies and thus the global economy as a whole, has been the linchpin of American policy in the Middle East for the last half-century. A strong alliance with the Arab monarchies that dominate the Gulf was the core of this policy, and this is what appears to be changing; a move with massive implications for the Gulf states and the region in general.
There are currently strong indications that some Gulf countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have concluded that the Americans are indeed abandoning the region. As a result, these Gulf states are doing their best to assemble alternative alliances in order to meet the challenge.
The danger is not one of an Iranian force crossing the Persian Gulf to attack the Saudis directly. Rather, it is one of regional subversion, support of proxies, and the consequent building of alliances and the establishment of client states. This strategy has brought Iran into alliances with Iraq and regime-controlled Syria, as well as rule by proxy in Lebanon.
What this means, as Spyer points out, is that the conventional American armed-forces presence in the Gulf region is mismatched with the emerging nature of the challenge from Iran. A mere force presence isn’t indicative of a useful American commitment. There has to be evidence of a policy.
The bottom line, in fact, is that there is such evidence; it just hasn’t been articulated from Washington. The conclusions to be drawn from it are grim. One such conclusion is outlined by Tony Badran at NOW.com (emphasis added):
The open secret
The US partnership with Iran and Hezbollah is becoming increasingly obvious
Over the past few days, Iranian and Hezbollah-aligned media have dedicated much attention, and animus, to news of the death of Majed al-Majed, the former emir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, who was recently apprehended by the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Iranians and their Lebanese arm have systematically pushed a storyline tying Majed to Saudi intelligence. The purpose of this messaging campaign is to isolate Riyadh while playing up the emerging US alignment with Iran across the region – a proposition that seems to enjoy support in the US media and policy circles. …
Tehran’s messaging campaign is aimed at the Americans, and the Iranians are fully aware that they have a sympathetic ear in Washington. For instance, Iranian officials cannot have missed how some in the Obama administration deliberately leaked US displeasure with the Saudi intelligence chief. One such leak disclosed how, in meetings with US officials, Secretary of State John Kerry “singled out Prince Bandar as ‘the problem,’ complaining about his conduct.” The reason Bandar is “the problem” is because he’s not falling in line with President Obama’s Syria policy, even if it favors Iranian interests over Saudi’s.
The alignment of US policy with Iran’s interests extends beyond Syria to Iraq and Lebanon – a fact that Iranian and Hezbollah messaging does not fail to highlight. Pro-Hezbollah pundits now talk of a “front against terrorism” that intersects with US efforts and priorities, stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.
A month ago, in a piece at NRO, Spyer and Benjamin Weinthal laid out how the Obama administration was reportedly opening a direct communications channel with Hezbollah (no speculation I’m aware of that it involves Valerie Jarrett).
Hezbollah, of course, remains a designated terrorist organization, according to the U.S. State Department. But it’s not clear these days what that means for U.S.