America's second-favorite Iran-Contra schemer, Elliott Abrams, has a bizarre new article in Politico Magazine. Brazenly titled "The Man Who Broke the Middle East," Abrams's piece is a rant about President Barack Obama. If it appears odd that someone would claim that Obama, who came to office in 2009, "broke" the world's most infamously broken region, well, it is. The article is almost criminally confusing and ill-argued, which means that it must count, for Abrams, as recidivism.
Abrams, who was deputy national security adviser during the George W. Bush administration, begins by showing his deep knowledge of the area with this statement: "The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace." Was this actually the state of affairs in that Scandinavia-like neighborhood? Alas no: Israel and the Palestinians were not remotely "at peace"; Lebanon was extremely insecure; and later that year Iran's Green Revolution would explode. Abrams follows this statement with: "U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good."
Let's take the case of Egypt. According to Abrams, the Bush administration succeeded by staying close to Hosni Mubarak's autocratic Egyptian regime, since Abrams is clearly celebrating those close ties above. Three paragraphs later, Abrams scolds the Obama administration for staying close to Mubarak. And then he scolds the administration for its current policy of embracing the new autocratic Egyptian regime, which is probably worse than Mubarak's. As it happens, I agree with him on this last point. But given that Abrams seemed to counsel accommodation in the Bush administration, one gets the sense that he is merely picking up any stone that he can.
Abrams then scolds Team Obama for allowing Iran to move toward the acquisition of a nuclear weapon, which is odd considering that Obama has done much more than the Bush administration to try to dial the Iranian nuclear program back. By Abrams's weird logic, the Middle East was at peace when Iran was developing a nuke without much Bush administration resistance, but is now in a state of chaos, when the United States is applying more pressure. Abrams even makes the doubly bizarre statement that "Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home." Given what we know about Iran's meddling in Iraq and Lebanon before the Obama administration came to power, this is rather mystifying.
Despite all the confusing arguments, Abrams eventually makes clear his real issue with the Obama administration. "From World War II, or at least from the day the British left Aden, the United States has been the dominant power in the Middle East," he writes. "We opposed Suez so the British, French and Israelis backed off; we became the key arms supplier for all our friends and kept the Soviets out; we reversed Saddam’s grabbing of Kuwait; we drove him from power; we drew a red line against chemical warfare; we said an Iranian bomb was unacceptable."
Put aside that we didn't really draw a red line against chemical warfare, or at least we didn't do so until our erstwhile ally Iraq had used chemical weapons. I presume Abrams, like nearly every neocon, believes the United States erred in humiliating our British and French and Israeli allies during the Suez Crisis. (That would be congruent with the rest of his piece, which seems focused on not angering one's friends.) I also presume he now winces a bit about our arming of certain countries during the cold war, especially those (like Iraq) that he eventually counseled war against. And yet he seems to approve of all the policies he mentions. Obama's Middle East record has hardly been successful, but neither was the American "dominance" that Abrams pines for.