Tom Friedman explains that the Middle East turmoil can't be blamed on Obama, and offers some New Math to prove it:
Not Just About Us
Every day the headlines from the Arab world get worse: An Al Qaeda affiliate group, aided by foreign fighters, battles with seven different homegrown Syrian rebel groups for control of the region around Aleppo, Syria. The Iranian Embassy in Beirut is bombed. Mohamad Chatah, an enormously decent former Lebanese finance minister, is blown up after criticizing Hezbollah’s brutish tactics. Another pro-Al Qaeda group takes control of Fallujah, Iraq. Explosions rock Egypt, where the army is now jailing Islamists and secular activists. Libya is a mess of competing militias.
What’s going on? Some say it’s all because of the “power vacuum” — America has absented itself from the region. But this is not just about us. There’s also a huge “values vacuum.” The Middle East is a highly pluralistic region — Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Druze and various tribes — that for centuries was held together from above by iron-fisted colonial powers, kings and dictators. But now that vertical control has broken down, before this pluralistic region has developed any true bottom-up pluralism — a broad ethic of tolerance — that might enable its people to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above.
For the Arab awakening to have any future, the ideology that is most needed now is the one being promoted least: Pluralism. Until that changes, argues Marwan Muasher, in his extremely relevant new book — “The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism” — none of the Arab uprisings will succeed.
We are waiting for pluralism to take hold in the Islamic world? I have the idea that it might be a mistake to hold my breath - haven't the Sunnis and the Shiites been schismatic and hostile for over a millenium? Iran and Saudi Arabia will lie down together with the lion and the lamb when cats and dogs are sleeping together.
Well. I promised some New Math:
Again, President Obama could have done more to restrain leaders in Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Syria from going to extremes. But, ultimately, argues Muasher, this is the Arabs’ fight for their political future. If 500,000 American troops in Iraq, and $1 trillion, could not implant lasting pluralism in the cultural soil there, no outsider can, said Muasher. There also has to be a will from within.
"500,000" American troops? That may well be the total number of soldiers that toured through Iraq, but the maximum US troop level never exceeded 166,300.
And dare we ask for a bit of context? First, Iraq borders collapsing Syria and is importing their problems as Al Qaeda attempts to set up shop in Syria and re-open in Iraq.
Second, what is an appropriate time frame to achieve this change? Japan and Germany seemed to manage a forced transition to democracy, but we still have a troop presence there nearly seventy years later. And I see that we are expanding our troop presence in South Korea, although the active phase of that war ended more than sixty years ago.
For all the attention paid to Syria over the past three years, Iraq’s slow disintegration also offers a vivid glimpse of the region’s bloody sectarian dynamic. In March 2012, Anthony Blinken, who is now President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, gave a speech echoing the White House’s rosy view of Iraq’s prospects after the withdrawal of American forces.
Iraq, Mr. Blinken said, was “less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history.”
Obama brought the troops home and got re-elected. Victory!