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Obama's Imperial Mideast Policy Unravels

By       Message Daniel Lazare       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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Reprinted from Consortium News

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013.
President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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In the 1930s, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased his enemies. Today, U.S. President Barack Obama appeases his friends.

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Barack the Appeaser is the key to unlocking the mysteries of U.S. policy in the Middle East and beyond. Confusing to begin with, U.S. actions reached new heights of absurdity last week when the Obama administration abandoned its long-standing Kurdish allies with virtually no notice and announced that it was backing a Turkish thrust into northern Syria instead.

But there was a problem. Not only had the U.S. approved the same Kurdish offensive, but it had provided arms, money, and air support plus military advice in the form of some 250 US Special Operations forces embedded among members of the Kurdish militia known as the YPG. Although the Turks claimed to be targeting ISIS (also known as Islamic State, IS, ISIL, and Daesh), it was plain from the outset that the real aim was to counter an offensive that had carried Kurdish forces some 20 miles west of the Euphrates River and put them in a position to control nearly the entire Syrian-Turkish border.

Indeed, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a multi-ethnic militia anchored by the YPG, was a real success story, just about the only one Washington has had in the course of its disastrous five-year Syrian intervention. As one analyst put it:

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"Since the creation of the SDF last November, the U.S.-backed coalition was able to roll back IS advances in northern Syria at an unprecedented pace. An effective mixture of multi-pronged offensives and U.S. air support led to the capture of key IS strongholds, including the city of Shaddadi in eastern Syria, the strategic Tishrin Dam along the Euphrates, and more recently IS's former bastion of Manbij, south of the Turkish border."

But now the U.S. had decided to drop the Syrian Democratic Forces despite their sterling anti-ISIS record, and back Turkey even though it didn't seem very concerned about ISIS at all. Vice President Joe Biden laid down the law during a visit to Ankara on Wednesday.

"We have made it absolutely clear," he said, that Kurdish forces "must move back across the river. They cannot, will not, and under no circumstances get American support if they do not keep that commitment, period."

Why the About-Face

What is the reason for such a remarkable about-face? What makes the U.S. think it can get away with cultivating an alliance one moment and dropping it like a hot potato the next? The answer has to do with the phenomenon of liberal appeasement that Obama represents.

President Barack Obama walks along the Colonnade at the White House with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Dec. 7, 2009.
President Barack Obama walks along the Colonnade at the White House with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Dec. 7, 2009.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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Appeasement became a dirty word as a result of the 1938 Munich Crisis when Britain and France decided that allowing Hitler to dismember Czechoslovakia would somehow allay his appetite for more conquests. But in Obama's hands, it has come to mean something different: an endless attempt to satisfy conflicting demands by a growing number of client states.

The states include not just Turkey but Israel, the Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms, plus the dozen East European states that have entered NATO since 1999. If America were an old-fashioned empire, it would issue orders and expect such dependents to fall into line. But as a "democratic" empire, it relies on cajoling, bargaining, and other inducements to achieve "voluntary" consent.

But this has grown increasingly difficult as the web of alliances has expanded. Not only have members grown more fractious and divided, but the original raison d'etre -- countering the Soviet Union -- has faded from view. The upshot is a ramshackle arrangement whose existence is its sole justification and which the U.S. labors to keep afloat simply because that's what global hegemons do.

Enter Barack Obama. A man of liberal but otherwise vague beliefs, his goal was to maintain the status quo while somehow rendering it more democratic. This has meant trying to satisfy everyone and his cousin, Balts and Poles given to flights of paranoia about Russian "expansionism," rightwing Zionists convinced that the Palestinians are a combination of both Haman and Hitler, plus Middle Eastern oil sheiks busily financing jihad when not idling away at the fleshpots and casinos of Beirut.

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Freelance journalist and author of three books: The Frozen Republic (Harcourt, 1996); The Velvet Coup (Verso, 2001) and America's Undeclared War (Harcourt 2001).

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