OBAMA’S SEPTEMBER SURPRISE PROVES POPULARITY CAN’T BE PURCHASED

By JONATHAN ROSENBLUM

Judd Gregg, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire and President Obama’s first choice for Secretary of Commerce, penned an op-ed piece two months ago entitled “Heading toward a Sept. surprise,” in which he noted that September has often proven to be a month of disaster. The Great Depression started in September (though Black Monday came in October); in 2008, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns both failed in September, and the world stood on the brink of another massive depression.

Gregg even offers a partial explanation for September’s unfortunate prominence: “It seems September is the point in the year where people assess where they have gone, and what the next year will be like, and make investment decisions based on their conclusions.”

One thing Gregg does not do, however, is note that September almost always overlaps with the Days of Judgment, when Jews too assess where they have gone astray in the past year and where they would like to go in the year to come.

Jews too can think of many wake-up calls around this time of the year. The so-called Al Aksa intifada broke out just before Rosh Hashanah 5761, and claimed over a thousand Jewish lives over the next two years. The U.S. presidential election was deadlocked heading into Rosh Hashanah of 2008/5769. By the time Rosh Hashanah was over, Barack Obama had taken a large lead, which was never again threatened.

Nothing of that magnitude took place this past Rosh Hashanah. But the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists and the overrunning of the U.S. embassy in Cairo by irate mobs, just days before Rosh Hashanah, could yet have a decisive impact on the 2012 presidential election. Those two events and wave of anti-American riots throughout the Muslim world that followed dramatically exposed some of the conceits of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Of late, the President has juxtaposed his calmness and foreign policy experience in comparison to the allegedly inexperienced Romney. That is a bit rich for someone who entered office with neither any foreign policy experience nor any other experience of the slightest relevance to the presidency. His major adult achievement, prior to entering the White House, was to have written not one but two autobiographies, which we now know to be false in many respects – or filled with brilliant literary devices, if you will, according to the special dispensation that hovers over Obama.

THE ESSENCE OF OBAMA’S foreign policy approach was his near mystical belief in his own powers of persuasion and the force of his charisma. Early in his presidency, he flew off to personally make the case for Chicago as the 2016 Olympic host city, only to be overwhelming rebuffed by the Olympic selectors. One can only imagine the ruthless Vladimir Putin’s amusement at the neophyte’s confidence that he could charm him to push a “reset” button on U.S.-Russian relations, with the abandonment of previous American commitments to the Poles and Czechs and dramatic reductions in the American nuclear arsenal thrown in as additional inducements.

In no area did the President display greater confidence in his magical abilities than with respect to the Muslim world. He touted his formative years spent in Muslim Indonesia and his knowledge of the Koran as marvelous tools to place relations with the Islamic world on a completely new footing. Five years of futile negotiations between the Europeans and Iran over its nuclear program did not suggest to the new president that his hand “extended in friendship” might also be rebuffed. And so five has become nine.

In his much praised 2009 Cairo speech – to which he insisted that Muslim Brotherhood representatives be invited – Obama proclaimed, without a scintilla of evidence, the identity of Islamic and American values: “[Islam and America] share common principles – principles of justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings . . . Let there be no doubt Islam is part of America.”

The speech was filled with apologies to the Muslim world for a litany of American sins, including having acted “contrary to our ideals” in the interrogation of Muslim prisoners. He implied that anti-Muslim prejudice, Islamaphobia, lies behind criticism of Islamic intolerance, anti-Semitism, misogyny: “We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”

An aspect of that outreach effort was to “put daylight” between the United States and Israel, with strong criticism of Israeli settlement policy and a misguided effort to equate Palestinian suffering with that of Jews during the Holocaust.

How have these efforts fared? Recent events provide a partial answer. Obama raised expectations that he could not possibly fulfill. His criticism of Israeli settlements effectively ended all direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, as the former were emboldened to demand Israel’s acquiescence to a return to the 1967 borders as a pre-condition for negotiations. America’s ability to influence events in the Muslim world is, in every respect, less than it was in 2008.

The hasty abandonment of Mubarak and the equally ill-conceived support for a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt cost the United States its most reliable Middle East ally outside of Israel and raised concerns among other traditional American allies. America is today, in Islamic eyes, including most notably those of the Iranian mullahs, viewed as neither a reliable friend nor an enemy to be feared. It has had no influence over events in Syria, despite America’s vital interest in who succeeds Bashar Assad and in depriving the Iran-Hizbullah nexus of its Syrian link.

Nor has weakness resulted in popularity – not that such popularity would be worth much. America’s unfavorability ratings in both Egypt and Jordan are higher than they were at the end of George W. Bush’s second term.

RECENT EVENTS should have put to end forever, the myth that popularity can be purchased with obsequious bows or rhetorical flourishes. They exposed the United States’ foreign policy as both incompetent and fantastical.

The night prior to the assassination of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy personnel in Benghazi, one of those slain, Sean Smith, posted online a premonition of what was to come: “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.” Yet nothing was done to protect the compound.

As early as September 8, an Arabic website called for the burning of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, unless certain demands were met (none of which involved an offensive movie), and Raymond Ibrahim of the Middle East Forum published an article on September 10 entitled, “Jihadis Threaten to Burn U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” Yet nothing was done, and the U.S. Marine guards at the compound were not provided with any ammunition to protect the compound.

Equally feckless was the administration’s reactions to the attacks. Secretary of State Clinton plaintively wondered how such a tragedy could have taken place in Libya, after everything the United States had done for the people of Libya. Despite the $1.3 billion dollars in emergency aid recently provided Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, it did not occur to Clinton to warn President Mohamed Morsi of dire consequences if the American embassy was violated. Instead terrified personnel within the compound were left to Twitter their revulsion at an anti-Islamic video said to have triggered the rioters, in the vain hope of chilling their ardor.

Four days after the Benghazi and Cairo attacks, Press Secretary Jay Carney continued to insist that the violent protests were not a response “to United States policy, and obviously not the administration or the American people, but to “a film we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.” In part, this is political spin: Carney cannot simply state the obvious – the President’s outreach to the Islamic world has been a total failure.

Carney’s description of a spontaneous outpouring of righteous indignation does not pass the laugh test. The Libyan assassins were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, not the usual side-arms for overwrought protestors. The leader of the Cairo rioters was Muhammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Al-Qaeda chief honcho, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The video in question only became known because a radical Salafist station in Egypt broadcast it to create a pretext for an attack on the U.S. embassies.

Worse even than the political spin are indications that the administration believes its own fables. Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called a Florida pastor asking him not to publicize the video. Worst of all, the administration kow-towed to Egyptian President Morsi’s demand that the producer of the video be prosecuted. Brown-shirted U.S. Probation officers knocked on his door in the middle of the night to take him away for interrogation about possible probation violations.

So intent is the administration on not refuting Obama’s Cairo equation of American and Islamic values that it is consistently downplayed the jihadi impulse in the Muslim world as a marginal phenomenon and described the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Al-Qaeda and Hamas are spawn, as a moderating influence.

When Mitt Romney had the temerity to say that it is never a good idea for the American government to apologize for American values, the mainstream media rose up with unanimity to decry his politicizing the tragedy. Not a word about the President carrying on with a Las Vegas campaign event or his failure to participate in a national security briefing the next morning, even as additional U.S. embassies were overrun.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Brig.-Gen. Anthony McAuliff, the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, responded to the demand to surrender Bastogne to the Germans, who had encircled his troops and badly outnumbered them, with one word: “Nuts.” The coming election will determine whether something of that spirit still remains in America. Or whether, as Lee Smith puts it, a new dispensation reigns: If you murder our diplomats and ransack our embassies, we will tell other Americans to shut up so as not to give offense.

Jonathan Rosenblum blogs at http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/.

JEWS, MUSLIMS UNITE OVER GERMAN CIRCUMCISION BAN

Jews and Muslims sometimes don’t want to publicly acknowledge this – but their religions have much in common.

One religious tradition is to circumcise new-born boys.

In Germany, that common tradition has resulted in the uniting of Jews and Muslims, protesting together against a court ruling banning circumcision in one part of the country.  Although the court order only affects that one region, doctors elsewhere in Germany are declining to perform circumcisions for fear that they may be putting themselves in legal jeopardy. READ MORE

Survey: Most Muslims seek democracy

D.Y.C. Music photo

More than a year after the first stirrings of the Arab Spring, there continues to be a strong desire for democracy in Arab and other predominantly Muslim nations, a new Pew Research Center poll finds.  Solid majorities in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government, as do a plurality of Pakistanis. These publics do not just support the general notion of democracy – they also embrace specific features of a democratic system, such as competitive elections and free speech.  Meanwhile, the United States is not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East.

A substantial number in key Muslim countries want a large role for Islam in political life. However, there are significant differences over the degree to which the legal system should be based on Islam.

While democratic rights and institutions are popular, they are clearly not the only priorities. In particular, the economy is a top concern.  Views about the economic situation in these countries are grim, although Turkey is an exception.

Majorities in all six nations polled believe women should have equal rights as men, and more than eight-in-ten hold this view in Lebanon and Turkey.  However, while many support the general principle of gender equality, there is less enthusiasm for gender parity in politics, economics and family life.

Extremist groups are largely rejected in predominantly Muslim nations, although significant numbers do express support for radical groups in several countries.

The survey was conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey from March 19 to April 20.  This report includes a special section on public opinion in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began.

 

Muslims, Jews work together to stop California circumcision ban movement

California's anti-circumcision movement fails. urbangarden photo/Flickr

By JONATHAN WOLFMAN

Several months back I wrote a lengthy piece for Nikki Stern’s www.doesthismakesense.com on the self-styled Intactivist Movement and its effort to place on the ballots in San Francisco and San Francisco referendae that it hoped would ban circumcision in those jurisdictions.

Here’s the end-game.

This past July a Superior Court judge, in response to requests from dozens of Muslim, Jewish and secular medical and constitutional rights organizations, cut down the ballot initiative saying that only the state (and not cities, towns, villages, one-mule farms, or sincere-but-sincerely-lunatic pop-culture movements) could create or slice into medical law.

Now, the California legislature has dealt the death cut to the Intactivists. It has passed (and Governor Jerry Brown has signed) a bill that will prevent any further potential circumcision bans. Muslim and Jewish groups in the state are celebrating their joint victory, as a ban would have struck at the root of their first amendment freedom of religious expression.

With all California foreskins now saved by this joint Muslim and Jewish effort, it cannot be long in coming that we’ll see a rise in overall interreligious cooperation toward peaceful resolutions to all of our long, drawn-out, pent-up problems.

Jewish filmmaker refutes clash theory

By LEWIS GROPP

COLOGNE, Germany – Out of Córdoba is a documentary film about the greatest but least known chapter in European history: Muslim Spain. For almost 800 years, vast swathes of the Iberian Peninsula were under Muslim control. Al-Andalus, as Moorish Spain was known, is to this day viewed as an era marked by tolerance, with Jews, Christians and Muslims living for the most part peacefully together under the banner of convivencia (coexistence). Córdoba was the capital in a region that represented a leading cultural and economic centre – of both the Mediterranean and the Muslim world as a whole.

In Out of Cordoba, which was released last year, but which can now be bought at educational institutions across the United States, Jewish-American filmmaker Jacob Bender counters the idea of the clash of civilisations by invoking the tolerant spirit of Cordoba and tracing the life stories of two 12th century philosophers: the Jewish Maimonides and the Muslim Ibn Rushd. As Bender explains at the start of his film, following the terror attacks on his home city of New York, he felt the need to discover new hope and idealism as a way of refuting the clash theory. Retracing history in the spirit of Ibn Rushd and Maimonides and, to a certain extent, Bender’s own pilgrimage of hope, shows that tolerance and free thought – historically and today – can help bridge even the most entrenched divides.

Maimonides and Ibn Rushd were philosophers, legal scholars and doctors who were proponents of Aristotelian ideas and advocates of logical and free thought. In modern day Córdoba, the film follows Bender as he meets people who are inspired by the spirits of both men, among them an imam that reads out a fatwa, a religious opinion, against Osama bin Laden, branding him an infidel owing to his violent crimes.

Bender also speaks to the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, who says that Maimonides and Ibn Rushd are an expression of his work as a diplomat. The two figures are historical examples, Moratinos explains, that the coexistence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam does not inevitably lead to conflict and confrontation, but that it can be a mutual inspiration to aspire to extraordinary cultural achievements.

The film’s audience accompanies Bender as he retraces the historical journeys of Maimonides and Ibn Rushd across the Mediterranean region. He heads to Morocco where he meets André Azoulay, a Jewish citizen and senior adviser to the Moroccan king. Azoulay speaks of cultural dialogue and emphasises how urgently we need to listen to the message of tolerance of both these men from Córdoba. “Maimonides taught us Jews to make our Judaism an instrument of reconciliation, not a dogmatic tool where fundamentalism finds refuge,” he says. “In the Muslim world, [Ibn Rushd] represents the same rationalism.”

One of the film’s most moving moments is Bender’s encounter with Rabbi Arik Ascherman in Jerusalem. Bender says that he could initially see no scope to include contemporary politics in a film about Maimonides. Efforts by Ascherman to secure Jewish-Muslim reconciliation – with recourse to Jewish religious traditions and Maimonides – seemed to suggest otherwise.

“One thing that Maimonides taught us is that you can’t hide your head in the sand; you can’t avoid tough issues,” says Ascherman. “You have to grapple with them head on. We must resolve the conflicts we’re confronted with. And so we must find a way to see God’s image in our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Ascherman’s view is that the status quo should be turned on its head and religion made a part of the solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a voice quivering with outrage, the Rabbi describes the injustices and the violence that have befallen many Palestinians as bulldozers destroyed their houses in East Jerusalem. He describes his organisation, Rabbis for Human Rights, as the “conscience of Israel”, a place where rabbis campaign for the rights of their compatriots, Israeli Palestinians and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

The film’s last word goes to David Burrell, a Christian professor of theology, who stresses that Ibn Rushd and Maimonides were pioneers in critically examining their own religious traditions, and who engaged with traditions that were not initially theirs.

In the end, after following in the footsteps of Ibn Rushd and Maimonides and seeing today those who are still very much inspired by these figures, Bender looks at the silhouette of Jerusalem, a city which has become a synonym for human discord, and he says that at the end of his journey, he cannot but help be inspired to believe in the possibility of alternatives to the clash of civilisations and the power of interfaith reconciliation.

Lewis Gropp is a freelance journalist based in Cologne, Germany. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

A stranger in your own country

Bengali man shopping in London

By PETER PATON

As Britain’s Jewish community faces rising tides of antisemitism and persecution at the hands of extremist Muslim groups and individuals due to the influx of millions of illegal Muslim immigrants into the UK which primarily occurred under the reign of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his New Labour Party, questions have to be asked urgently and solutions found quickly to this rising and perplexing problem.

The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 was meant to be a boon for British tourism, commerce and business. But the dream has turned sour, as millions of illegal Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers mainly from Pakistan, Arab states and Africa flooded through the lax security systems of the tunnel. They came under the guise of economic migrants, turning London into Londonstan and other major British cities into closed door Islamic enclaves. This left the indigenous British people feeling like strangers in their own country, and Britain’s Jewish community feeling the backlash of militant Islam, from the countless mosques and radical madrassas which have sprung up all over.

Migration experts and political figures in the British establishment have been wracking their brains for decades to try and find the answer to restore the delicate balance of multiculturalism within the UK without wrecking the British economy and disenfranchising other minority groups like the well integrated Jewish communities. But, to date, they have failed. Prompting Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to declare, “Multiculturalism has failed in Great Britain, ” sparking the current and controversial debate on mass illegal immigration, which is also affecting every other European country.

A compelling school of thought has now arisen in the land. It holds that Britain must go back to the drawing board, close the Channel tunnel and make Great Britain an island again with a fortress mentality. This would give opportunity to lay the foundations for returning the country to a prosperous, well integrated and forward thinking pioneer model for the rest of the Europe and the world in general to emulate. Otherwise they face the imminent risk of antisemitism escalating in the UK and other European nations.

Peter Paton is an international PR and Strategic adviser.

Obama and the Arab Spring

Afghan war is stalemated. DVIDS photo by Cpl. Colby Brown

By GEORGE FRIEDMAN
STRATFOR Global Intelligence

President Obama gave a speech last week on the Middle East. Presidents make many speeches. Some are meant to be taken casually, others are made to address an immediate crisis and still others are intended to be a statement of broad American policy. As in any country, U.S. presidents follow rituals indicating which category their speeches fall into. Obama clearly intended his recent Middle East speech to fall into the last category, as reflecting a shift in strategy if not the declaration of a new doctrine.

While events in the region drove Obama’s speech, politics also played a strong part, as with any presidential speech. Devising and implementing policy are the president’s job. To do so, presidents must be able to lead — and leading requires having public support. After the 2010 election, I said that presidents who lose control of one house of Congress in midterm elections turn to foreign policy because it is a place in which they retain the power to act. The U.S. presidential campaign season has begun, and the United States is engaged in wars that are not going well. Within this framework, Obama thus sought to make both a strategic and a political speech.

The United States is engaged in a  broad struggle against jihadists. Specifically, it is engaged in a war in Afghanistan and is in the terminal phase of the Iraq war.

The Afghan war is stalemated. Following the death of Osama bin Laden, Obama said that the Taliban’s forward momentum has been stopped. He did not, however, say that the Taliban is being defeated. Given the state of affairs between the United States and Pakistan following bin Laden’s death, whether the United States can defeat the Taliban remains unclear. It might be able to, but the president must remain open to the possibility that the war will become an extended stalemate.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, but that does not mean the conflict is over. Instead, the withdrawal has opened the door to Iranian power in Iraq. The Iraqis lack a capable military and security force. Their government is divided and feeble. Meanwhile, the Iranians have had years to infiltrate Iraq. Iranian domination of Iraq would open the door to  Iranian power projection throughout the region. Therefore, the United States has proposed keeping U.S. forces in Iraq but has yet to receive Iraq’s approval. If that approval is given (which looks unlikely), Iraqi factions with clout in parliament have threatened to renew the anti-U.S. insurgency.

The United States must therefore consider its actions should the situation in Afghanistan remain indecisive or deteriorate and should Iraq evolve into an Iranian strategic victory. The simple answer — extending the mission in Iraq and increasing forces in Afghanistan — is not viable. The United States could not pacify Iraq with 170,000 troops facing determined opposition, while the 300,000 troops that Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki argued for in 2003 are not available. Meanwhile, it is difficult to imagine how many troops would be needed to guarantee a military victory in Afghanistan. Such surges are not politically viable, either. After nearly 10 years of indecisive war, the American public has little appetite for increasing troop commitments to either war and has no appetite for conscription.

Obama thus has limited military options on the ground in a situation where conditions in both war zones could deteriorate badly. And his political option — blaming former U.S. President George W. Bush — in due course would wear thin, as Nixon found in blaming Johnson.

For his part, Bush followed a strategy of a coalition of the willing. He understood that the United States could not conduct a war in the region without regional allies, and he therefore recruited a coalition of countries that calculated that radical Islamism represented a profound threat to regime survival. This included Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jordan, and Pakistan. These countries shared a desire to see al Qaeda defeated and a willingness to pool resources and intelligence with the United States to enable Washington to carry the main burden of the war.

This coalition appears to be fraying. Apart from the tensions between the United States and Pakistan, the unrest in the Middle East of the last few months apparently has undermined the legitimacy and survivability of many Arab regimes, including key partners in the so-called coalition of the willing. If these pro-American regimes collapse and are replaced by anti-American regimes, the American position in the region might also collapse.

Obama appears to have reached three conclusions about the Arab Spring:

  1. It represented a genuine and liberal democratic rising that might replace regimes.
  2. American opposition to these risings might result in the emergence of anti-American regimes in these countries.
  3. The United States must embrace the general idea of the Arab risings but be selective in specific cases; thus, it should support the rising in Egypt, but not necessarily in Bahrain.

Though these distinctions may be difficult to justify in intellectual terms, geopolitics is not an abstract exercise. In the real world, supporting regime change in Libya costs the United States relatively little. Supporting an uprising in Egypt could have carried some cost, but not if the military was the midwife to change and is able to maintain control. (Egypt was more an exercise of regime preservation than true regime change.) Supporting regime change in Bahrain, however, would have proved quite costly. Doing so could have seen the United States lose a major naval base in the Persian Gulf and incited spillover Shiite protests in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province.

Moral consistency and geopolitics rarely work neatly together. Moral absolutism is not an option in the Middle East, something Obama recognized. Instead, Obama sought a new basis for tying together the fraying coalition of the willing.

Obama’s conundrum is that there is still much uncertainty as to whether that coalition would be stronger with current, albeit embattled, regimes or with new regimes that could arise from the so-called Arab Spring. He began to address the problem with an empirical assumption critical to his strategy that  in my view is questionable, namely, that there is such a thing as an Arab Spring.

Let me repeat something I have said before: All demonstrations are not revolutions. All revolutions are not democratic revolutions. All democratic revolutions do not lead to constitutional democracy.

The Middle East has seen many demonstrations of late, but that does not make them revolutions. The 300,000 or so demonstrators concentrated mainly in Tahrir Square in Cairorepresented a tiny fraction of Egyptian society. However committed and democratic those 300,000 were, the masses of Egyptians did not join them along the lines of what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in Iran in 1979. For all the media attention paid to Egypt’s demonstrators, the most interesting thing in Egypt is not who demonstrated, but the vast majority who did not. Instead, a series of demonstrations gave the Egyptian army cover to carry out what was tantamount to a military coup. The president was removed, but his removal would be difficult to call a revolution.

And where revolutions could be said to have occurred, as in Libya, it is not clear they were democratic revolutions. The forces in eastern Libya remain opaque, and it cannot be assumed their desires represent the will of the majority of Libyans — or that the eastern rebels intend to create, or are capable of creating, a democratic society. They want to get rid of a tyrant, but that doesn’t mean they won’t just create another tyranny.

Then, there are revolutions that genuinely represent the will of the majority, as in Bahrain. Bahrain’s Shiite majority rose up against the Sunni royal family, clearly seeking a regime that truly represents the majority. But it is not at all clear that they want to create a constitutional democracy, or at least not one the United States would recognize as such. Obama said each country can take its own path, but he also made clear that the path could not diverge from basic principles of human rights — in other words, their paths can be different, but they cannot be too different. Assume for the moment that the Bahraini revolution resulted in a democratic Bahrain tightly aligned with Iran and hostile to the United States. Would the United States recognize Bahrain as a satisfactory democratic model?

The central problem from my point of view is that the Arab Spring has consisted of demonstrations of limited influence, in non-democratic revolutions and in revolutions whose supporters would create regimes quite alien from what Washington would see as democratic. There is no single vision to the Arab Spring, and the places where the risings have the most support are the places that will be least democratic, while the places where there is the most democratic focus have the weakest risings.

As important, even if we assume that democratic regimes would emerge, there is no reason to believe they would form a coalition with the United States. In this, Obama seems to side with the neoconservatives, his ideological enemies. Neoconservatives argued that democratic republics have common interests, so not only would they not fight each other, they would band together — hence their rhetoric about creating democracies in the Middle East. Obama seems to have bought into this idea that a truly democratic Egypt would be friendly to the United States and its interests. That may be so, but it is hardly self-evident — and this assumes democracy is a real option in Egypt, which is questionable.

Obama addressed this by saying we must take risks in the short run to be on the right side of history in the long run. The problem embedded in this strategy is that if the United States miscalculates about the long run of history, it might wind up with short-term risks and no long-term payoff. Even if by some extraordinary evolution the Middle East became a genuine democracy, it is the ultimate arrogance to assume that a Muslim country would choose to be allied with the United States. Maybe it would, but Obama and the neoconservatives can’t know that.

But to me, this is an intellectual abstraction. There is no Arab Spring, just some demonstrations accompanied by slaughter and extraordinarily vacuous observers. While the pressures are rising, the demonstrations and risings have so far largely failed, from Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was replaced by a junta, to Bahrain, where Saudi Arabia by invitation led a contingent of forces to occupy the country, to Syria, where Bashar al Assad continues to slaughter his enemies just like his father did.

Obviously, if Obama is going to call for sweeping change, he must address the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Obama knows this is the graveyard of foreign policy: Presidents who go into this rarely come out well. But any influence he would have with the Arabs would be diminished if he didn’t try. Undoubtedly understanding the futility of the attempt, he went in, trying to reconcile an Israel that has no intention of returning to the geopolitically vulnerable borders of 1967 with a Hamas with no intention of publicly acknowledging Israel’s right to exist — with Fatah hanging in the middle. By the weekend, the president was doing what he knew he would do and was switching positions.

At no point did Obama address the question of Pakistan and Afghanistan or the key issue: Iran. There can be fantasies about uprisings in Iran, but 2009 was crushed, and no matter what political dissent there is among the elite, a broad-based uprising is unlikely. The question thus becomes how the United States plans to deal with Iran’s emerging power in the region as the United States withdraws from Iraq.

But Obama’s foray into Israeli-Palestinian affairs was not intended to be serious; rather, it was merely a cover for his broader policy to reconstitute a coalition of the willing. While we understand why he wants this broader policy to revive the coalition of the willing, it seems to involve huge risks that could see a diminished or disappeared coalition. He could help bring down pro-American regimes that are repressive and replace them with anti-American regimes that are equally or even more repressive.

If Obama is right that there is a democratic movement in the Muslim world large enough to seize power and create U.S.-friendly regimes, then he has made a wise choice. If he is wrong and the Arab Spring was simply unrest leading nowhere, then he risks the coalition he has by alienating regimes in places like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia without gaining either democracy or friends.

Obama and the Arab Spring is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

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