Editors’ note: Walid Phares has a new book out on the difference in foreign policy between Obama and Trump titled: The Choice: Trump vs. Obama-Biden in US Foreign Policy. Below is an exclusive excerpt – Chapter 3 – which illustrates the nightmare that Obama brought to U.S. foreign policy.
Soon after landing in the White House, President Obama initiated two major moves, which by the end of May or early June 2009 indicated where his administration was going in terms of national security and foreign policy. It was obvious to me at the time that the country was veering away from the post-9/11 posture and the so-called War on Terror and heading in the opposite direction of demobilization of America on the one hand and the activation of an apologist policy on the other in order to engage with future partners who were actually at the core of terrorism and extremism.
Most Americans in the early years of the Obama administration focused on the domestic agenda and therefore did not see or understand the much wider change of direction that the new team at the White House was implementing: the eventual dismantling of the War on Terror and with it the war of ideas. In other words, the Obama doctrine was telling Americans that our conflict with the radicals overseas was in error because the conflict was caused by us—and therefore we need not only to cease our efforts of resistance against the jihadists, Iran, and the other radicals but jump on a train going in the other direction, one that would lead us to engaging the foes and finding agreement with each of them in order to transform American policy overseas.
The first major benchmark that indicated a massive Obama-Biden change in foreign policy with implications on national security was Obama’s trip to Egypt in spring 2009 and his address at Cairo University. The main idea of President Obama on the political philosophy level was to inform the American public that the United States has been seen as an aggressor against Arabs and Muslims since 9/11—maybe even decades before that. This perception prevailed on U.S. campuses for decades among leftist academics and intellectuals. It was explained as the American branch of Western colonialism. But the urgency behind this U-turn made by the administration in foreign policy perception was in fact linked to how the United States reacted to the 9/11 attacks.
In my own experiences after the 2001 jihadist strikes against New York, D.C., and elsewhere, the immediate reaction after al-Qaeda suicide missions on American soil was explained by a combination of Far Left and neo-Marxist circles actually accusing the United States of provoking the attacks. During the seven years of the Bush administration, both the Islamist lobbies and their Red allies in America were organizing to oppose any form of American self-defense and thus did oppose both the war in Afghanistan and the one in Iraq while also framing them as neocolonialist conquests.
It was imperative for the Obama team to change the national security doctrine that had been approved by a unanimous and bipartisan 9/11 Commission to align with their own narrative. The reality was that for years, before the Obama victory in 2008, a new alliance was being forged between the Islamists in general (the Muslim Brotherhood and the Khomeinist Iranians in particular) and the core left-wing neo-Marxists within the West in general (and the United States in particular). The Obama group belonged to that core—a subset found mostly on campuses but also in parts of the media.
With the alliance already in place, it made sense for the new administration to unleash its plans as early as possible. Hence, Obama’s 2009 address in Cairo was essentially an open invitation through public acknowledgment of his desire for a partnership between his administration and the Muslim Brotherhood. Though Egypt was ruled by authoritarian President Mubarak, Obama’s visit and his praise of the Ikhwan talking points were the opening salvo of a campaign designed to crumble the Egyptian regime and, later, other Arab governments—and replace them with the Brotherhood. The genesis of the Islamization of the Arab Spring of 2011 thus started in 2009.
The Obama speech at Cairo University, in fact, officialized a partnership between the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood, and in general terms with the Islamist movements in the MENA region. One might think that such a move would be checked by the mainstream Republican Party in D.C., but it was not—due to the equal impact of the Qatar and Islamist lobbies on the Republican institution. It did, however, unnerve the conservative sectors of the Republicans both in Congress and in the grassroots while also putting pressure on the traditional liberals in the Democratic Party after the ilk of Joe Lieberman and others.
The major shift towards engaging the Islamists worldwide also opened the door for partnerships with their lobbies and NGOs inside the United States. This led to an unstoppable rise of influence of militant groups such as CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), which in turn became the spearhead of a campaign to silence the critics against Obama’s new policies in Congress and in the media.
But a shift to align with the Muslim Brotherhood was not the only onslaught of the Obama administration in foreign policy; it was simply the first one. Indeed, in the same month of June 2009, President Obama engaged in a second track that would change another U.S. national security policy, one that was established in the early 1980s: the containment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In early June 2009, President Barack Obama addressed a letter to the Grand Ayatollah of Iran, Imam Ali Khamenei, calling on him to begin a new era of cooperation between Tehran and Washington. That letter, which was as apologist as the speech to the Muslim Brotherhood weeks earlier in Cairo, signaled the beginning of a long process that would lead to the negotiation and signing of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. But June 2009 had one more surprise that revealed a third shocking policy shift, one that would divert the country from its longstanding tradition of helping nations facing oppression and seeking freedom.
Indeed, America, in one century—between the First World War, the Second World War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union—had demonstrated its commitment, through blood and treasure, to stand by peoples on many continents as they had been brutalized and oppressed—from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and Latin America. But the events in Iran at the end of June 2009 signaled a drastic third policy change. Millions of Iranians, including many women, took to the streets to protest the suppression by the regime. Many of these protesters held signs in English—one of which called on President Obama by name to help them. Yet to reaffirm that the U.S. would not “meddle” in Iranian politics or stand with the democratic revolution in Iran, a second letter was sent to Khamenei on September 3.
The abandonment by the Obama administration of the Green Revolution in Iran was the benchmark that told me that the American policy of supporting freedom fighters and people’s uprisings against totalitarian governments, the praise for dissidents, and the backing of free societies around the world had ended.
2009 was the year that broke the backbone of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy and rebuilt it into a radical approach inconsistent with the feelings and perceptions of the majority of Americans. Yet most Americans were not informed and educated enough, particularly by their academia and media, to correct such radicalization of policy via their members of Congress—or to elect a new president who would change directions one more time to align policy to once again be consistent with U.S. national security and traditional American liberty principles.
Fears for the Future
Both the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005 and the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 provided indications that peoples in the region had reached critical mass in regard to their tolerance for authoritarians and would eventually protest and demand change. Social media has also evolved and has become much more accessible by ordinary people. In my book The Coming Revolution, I predicted that most countries in the Arab world were going to witness social and political unrests, results I had been waiting for, for many years, to push back against the extremists.
I briefed many members of Congress during that same period of time and convinced them that there were authentic forces of change in the region, including seculars, women, and minorities, and that the United States should immediately partner with them as the authoritarian leaders were going down—and fighting a lost battle to support ailing dictators would not be the right battle for the United States.
My concern was that the moment would be squandered as the Obama administration was racing to connect with the Islamists and the Iranians in the region and thus diverting the resources of the U.S. government to the wrong factions instead of helping civil society forces. I observed how the lobbies of our traditional foes were moving with great speed at all levels within the bureaucracies and the administration. I was also receiving many complaints from Middle East human rights and minorities groups that officials and governments were no longer engaging them like the Bush administration had tried to do. In addition, members of Congress in the Republican opposition (who won the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010) were sharing their fears that the administration had abandoned our allies in the region, not just allies among Middle East minorities, but also Israel. So by the end of 2009, early 2010, I could see the whole picture, and it was a dark and dire one.
Professor Walid Phares served as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016. He also served as a National Security Advisor to Presidential Advisor Mitt Romney in 2011-2012. Professor Phares has been an advisor to the US House of Representatives Caucus on Counter Terrorism since 2007 and is the Co-Secretary General of the Trans-Atlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism since 2008. He is also a Fox News National Security and Foreign Affairs expert.