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Leading From Behind

- October 8, 2012

Obama's Record Of Failure In The Middle East And North Africa


"The President Has Been Roundly Criticized For Lacking An Overall Strategy In The Region As Protests Have Spread, Governments Have Been Toppled And Violence Has Escalated." (Sam Youngman, "Obama Considering 'Targeted Sanctions,' Against Syria," The Hill, 4/25/11)

  • "Nonetheless, Obama May Be Moving Toward Something Resembling A Doctrine. One Of His Advisers Described The President's Actions In Libya As 'Leading From Behind.'" (Ryan Lizza, "The Consequentialist," The New Yorker, 5/2/11)

Obama's Handling Of Middle East Unrest Is "Calling Into Question Central Tenets Of His Middle East Policy." "The upheaval over an anti-Islam video has suddenly become Mr. Obama's most serious foreign policy crisis of the election season, and analysts say it is calling into question central tenets of his Middle East policy. Did he do enough throughout the Arab Spring to help the transition to democracy from autocracy? Has he drawn a hard enough line against Islamic extremists? Did his administration fail to address security concerns? Has his outreach to the Muslim world yielded any lasting benefits?" (Peter Baker and Mark Landler, "U.S. Is Preparing For A Long Siege Of Arab Unrest," The New York Times, 9/15/12)

  • After Two Years Of Turbulence In The Arab World, It Is Clear That Obama's "Bold Words And Support For Democratic Aspirations Are Not Enough To Engender Good Will In This Region." "In many ways, Mr. Obama's remarks at the State Department two weeks ago - and the ones he will make before the General Assembly on Tuesday morning, when he addresses the anti-American protests - reflected hard lessons the president had learned over almost two years of political turmoil in the Arab world: bold words and support for democratic aspirations are not enough to engender good will in this region, especially not when hampered by America's own national security interests." (Helene Cooper and Robert F. Worth, "In Arab Spring, Obama Finds A Sharp Test," The New York Times, 9/24/12)


"The Obama Administration's Shifting Accounts Of The Fatal Attack On The American Diplomatic Compound In Benghazi, Libya, Have Left President Obama Suddenly Exposed On National Security And Foreign Policy." "The Obama administration's shifting accounts of the fatal attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, have left President Obama suddenly exposed on national security and foreign policy, a field where he had enjoyed a seemingly unassailable advantage over Mitt Romney in the presidential race. After first describing the attack as a spontaneous demonstration run amok, administration officials now describe it as a terrorist act with possible involvement by Al Qaeda." (Mark Landler, "Shifting Reports On Libya Killings May Cost Obama," The New York Times, 9/28/12)

The Obama Administration's Explanation Of The Benghazi Attack Has Been "Evolving And At Times Muddled." "Her remarks added to the administration's evolving and at times muddled explanation of what happened on the evening of Sept. 11 and into the next morning. Republicans in Congress have accused President Obama of playing down possible terrorist involvement in the midst of a re-election campaign in which killing Osama bin Laden and crippling Al Qaeda are cited as major achievements." (Steven Lee Myers, "Clinton Suggests Link To Qaeda Offshoot In Deadly Libya Attack," The New York Times, 9/26/12)

  • "Every Aspect" Of Obama's Initial Narrative On Libya "Has Unraveled." "Three weeks after an attack in Libya killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, we now know that it did not spring from a spontaneous protest, spurred by an anti-Muslim video, as the Obama administration originally described it. In fact, every aspect of the early account - peddled most prominently by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice - has unraveled." (Editorial, "Shifting Libya Attack Story Raises Red Flags," USA Today, 10/1/12)

Initially, The Obama Administration Said The Attack Was A "Spontaneous" Response To The Anti-Islam Video Despite News Reports That "There Was No Video-Related Anti-US Protest Before The Armed Attack." "Early on, the Obama administration said the protest against a crude US-made anti-Islam YouTube video 'seems to have been hijacked … by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons,' as UN Ambassador Susan Rice said last Sunday. In other words, it wasn't a coordinated, pre-planned attack but something more spontaneous for which there was no 'actionable intelligence,' as Ambassador Rice put it, that might have alerted officials able to protect against it. Since then, White House officials have acknowledged that it was a sophisticated 'terrorist attack.' Meanwhile, news reports have suggested that there was no video-related anti-US protest before the armed attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three other men." (Brad Knickerboker, "White House Pressured To Tell More About Benghazi Attack," Christian Science Monitor, 9/23/12)

  • U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Said The "Best Information" She Had Indicated It Was Not A Terror Attack. NBC's DAVID GREGORY: "You talked about this as spontaneous. Can you say definitively that the attacks that killed Ambassador Stevens and others there was spontaneous? Was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?" AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: "The best information we have at present, first of all, there's an FBI investigation that's ongoing and we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo. Almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted of course by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding."(NBC's "Meet The Press," 9/16/12)

After Days Of Linking The Attack To Protests Against An Anti-Islam Video, The Obama Administration Finally Reached The "Belated Conclusion" That The Attack Was A Coordinated Assault By Terrorists With Connections To Al Qaeda. "For days after the attack, intelligence officials and the Obama administration said it was likely the outgrowth of protests sparked by an anti-Islamic video made in the U.S. Intelligence officials now believe the attack was carried out by local militants who were in contact with regional members of al Qaeda-affiliated groups, using the eruption of protests elsewhere as an opportunity to mount an assault on U.S. installations. That belated conclusion has raised questions about the adequacy of intelligence and security preparations at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad as they confront both old and newer risks." (Siobhan Gorman And Matt Bradley, "Militant Link To Libya Attack," The Wall Street Journal, 10/1/12)

  • National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen Told The Senate Homeland Security Committee That Ambassador Stevens Had Been "Killed In The Course Of A Terrorist Attack On Our Embassy." SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (ID-CT): "So, let me begin by asking you whether you would say that Ambassador Stevens and the three other Americans died as a result of a terrorist attack." NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR MATT OLSEN: "Certainly on that particular question, I would say yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy." (Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs Committee, U.S. Senate, Hearing, 9/19/12)
  • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Said It Was "Self-Evident" That The Benghazi Attack Was An Act Of Terrorism. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack. Our embassy was attacked violently, and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that's self-evident. I would point you to a couple of things that Mr. Olsen said, which is that at this point it appears that a number of different elements were involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in Eastern Libya." (Jay Carney, White House Press Briefing, Washington, DC, 9/20/12)

But When Asked On "The View" If The Attack In Benghazi Was A Terrorist Act, Obama Said It "Wasn't Just A Mob Action," But Refused To Label It Terrorism. "President Barack Obama said Monday that the Sept. 11 attack that claimed the life of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans 'wasn't just a mob action,' but he stopped short of explicitly labeling the assault as an act of terrorism. Obama's comments came as he taped an interview with 'The View' during a brief trip to New York to address the annual United National General Assembly. He had been asked whether the attack on the U.S. Consulate compound in the city of Benghazi was a terrorist act." (Olivier Knox, "Obama: Libya Attack 'Wasn't Just A Mob Action,'" Yahoo News' "The Ticket", 9/24/12)


After His Failure To Engage The Assad Regime, Obama Has Settled On A Policy Of Inaction In Syria

In March 2011, Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton Said Assad Was A "Different Leader" From His Autocratic Father. CBS' BOB SCHIEFFER: "But I mean, how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Assad`s father killed 25,000 people at (inaudible). I mean, they opened fire with live ammunition on these civilians. Why is that different from Libya? This is the friend of Iran, an enemy of Israel?" SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: "Well, if there were a coalition of the international community, if there were the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal. But that is not going to happen because I don't think that it's yet clear what will occur, what will unfold. There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer. What's been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning. But there's a different between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities than police actions which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see." (CBS' "Face The Nation," 3/27/11)

Obama "Initially Eased Some Trade Sanctions On Damascus In A Bid To Woo Mr. Assad." "Mr. Obama sent Mr. Ford to Damascus in January 2011 as the first U.S. ambassador in Syria in over five years. The Obama administration also initially eased some trade sanctions on Damascus in a bid to woo Mr. Assad." (Jay Solomon, "U.S. Moves To Shut Embassy In Syria," The Wall Street Journal, 1/21/12)

In 2009, Obama Decided To Restore The U.S. Ambassador To Syria After A 4-Year Hiatus. "President Obama has decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after an absence of more than four years, marking a significant step toward engaging an influential Arab nation long at odds with the United States. The acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, informed Syria's U.S. ambassador, Imad Mustafa, Tuesday night of Obama's intention, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision had yet to be made public." (Scott Wilson, "Obama Will Restore U.S. Ambassador To Syria," The Washington Post, 6/24/09)

  • In October 2011, Obama Was Forced To Withdraw U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford From Syria Due To "Threats Against His Personal Safety." "The Obama administration has temporarily withdrawn its ambassador to Syria, citing threats against his personal safety following his outspoken criticism of the country's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Ambassador Robert S. Ford returned to Washington because of what U.S. officials called a campaign of 'malicious and deceitful propaganda' in Syria's state-run news media, which they feared could incite violence against the career diplomat." (Paul Richter and Patrick McDonnell, "U.S. Pulls Its Ambassador From Syria," Los Angeles Times, 10/4/11)

The Wall Street Journal : "It Took Months For The President To Call For Mr. Assad To Go-And That's Despite The Assad Family's 40-Year Track Record Of Hostility To The U.S. And Its Support For Terrorism." "That's one of the many mysteries of the Administration's policy toward Syria. Unlike with Egypt, where Mr. Obama was quick to call for Hosni Mubarak's departure despite his 30-year alliance with the U.S., it took months for the President to call for Mr. Assad to go-and that's despite the Assad family's 40-year track record of hostility to the U.S. and its support for terrorism." (Editorial, "If Assad Survives," The Wall Street Journal, 4/9/12)

  • Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT): "More Than Nine Months After President Obama Declared That Bashar Al-Assad Must Go, It Is Clear That Neither Diplomacy Nor Sanctions Alone Will Dislodge The Syrian Dictator." "More than nine months after President Obama declared that Bashar al-Assad must go, it is clear that neither diplomacy nor sanctions alone will dislodge the Syrian dictator. On the contrary, Assad's campaign of killing will continue with no hope of a diplomatic settlement - dragging Syria into a protracted, bloody and increasingly sectarian civil war - until the balance of power inside the country shifts against him. Unfortunately, the United States is not yet doing anything decisive to turn the military tide against Assad - nor will any other country or coalition of countries do enough, absent U.S. leadership." (Senator Joe Lieberman, Op-Ed, "Turn The Tide Against Bashar Al-Assad," The Washington Post, 5/17/12)

Now With The Death Toll Climbing In Syria, Obama's Policy Of "Leading From Behind" Is "Heightening Suspicions That America Is Not Serious About Supporting The Protests." "Washington has instead continued to pursue a strategy of 'leading from behind.' It does so in part out of a belief that a more gung-ho approach may in fact deflect from efforts by members of the opposition' and paint them as the West's stooges, as the government has claimed. But as the killings mount, this policy is merely heightening suspicions that America is not serious about supporting the protests and preparing for a post-Assad Syria." (Salman Shaikh, Op-Ed, "Preventing A Syrian Civil War," The New York Times, 10/12/11)

  • The U.S. "Increasingly Is Being Viewed With Suspicion And Resentment" Because Of Obama's Refusal To Act. "America, once regarded by the Syrian opposition as a natural friend in its struggle for greater freedoms against a regime long at odds with the West, increasingly is being viewed with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries." (Liz Sly, "Syrian Rebels Feel Abandoned, Betrayed By U.S.," The Washington Post, 8/7/12)

Obama's Silence On Syria Prompts Questions From International Community On His Commitment To "Repairing America's Moral Leadership." "But in the furious aftermath of a massacre in Syria that resulted in the deaths of 108 civilians, most of them women and children, Obama has remained quiet. The reticence from a president who has made repairing America's moral leadership in the region a central premise of his administration, and who delivered a speech from the heart of the Arab world three years ago designed to do just that, has disturbed those pressing for stronger international response to the crisis." (Scott Wilson, "On Foreign Policy, Obama Focuses On Economic Issues, Not On Syrian Turmoil," The Washington Post, 6/2/12)

  • Syrians Believe Obama Is More Focused On Reelection Than Protecting The Syrian People. "'This intervention cannot be happened without the participation and the leadership of the United States,' Akil Hashem, who retired as a Syrian brigadier general in 1989, said Thursday morning on CNN's 'Starting Point.' 'And Mr. Obama, unfortunately, whom I voted for him in 2008, and I volunteered in his campaign, he doesn't care about the Syrian people. He cares right now about one thing: reelection. That's it.' 'So we get people killed every single day by the hundreds,' Hashem continued. 'Yesterday, over 200 people. The day before, more than that. And nobody is moving to intervene.'" (Kevin Robillard, "Syrian Officer: Obama 'Doesn't Care,'" Politico, 7/19/12)


Obama Reached Out To The Regime In Tehran, But Ignored Iranian Dissidents

In 2008, Obama Promised To "Stand For The Human Rights" Of Iranian Dissidents. OBAMA: "Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words 'never again' in Darfur?" (Senator Barack Obama, Address At The Victory Column, Berlin, Germany, 7/24/08)

At The Beginning Of His Administration, Obama Reached Out To Iran On Their New Year In A Taped Message And Offered "A New Beginning." "President Barack Obama reached out to Iran on Friday -- the start of the Iranian New Year -- in a video message offering 'the promise of a new beginning' that is 'grounded in mutual respect.'" ("Obama Offers Iran 'The Promise Of A New Beginning,'" CNN, 3/20/09)

  • Obama: "My Administration Is Now Committed To Diplomacy That Addresses The Full Range Of Issues Before Us." OBAMA: "So in this season of new beginnings I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." (President Barack Obama, Videotaped Remarks In Celebration Of Nowruz, 3/20/09)
  • Iran Issued Its Response In The Form Of Long-Range Missile Tests. "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that his country had successfully test-fired a medium-range solid-fuel missile apparently capable of striking Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf region." (Thomas Erdbrink, "Iranian Missile Launch Confirmed; Ahmadinejad Ties Test To Nuclear Program," The Washington Post, 5/21/09)

Obama's Response To The 2009 Green Revolution Was "Strained" In An Attempt To Maintain A Dialogue With The Iranian Government. "The result has been a gradually evolving message that at times has seemed strained, drawing some of the harshest criticism, especially from conservatives, since he took office. . . . Understanding clearly why Mr. Obama is still taking such pains to keep the door open to the Iranian government requires rewinding back to July 23, 2007, and Charleston, S.C. During a Democratic presidential debate at the Citadel, Mr. Obama and the other candidates were asked if, during their first year as president, they would be willing to meet without preconditions with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. 'I would,' Mr. Obama replied." (Helene Cooper, "Bit By Careful Bit, Obama Toughens Stance On Iran," The New York Times, 6/24/09)

  • The Wall Street Journal : "Throughout This Turbulent Year In Iran, The White House Has Been Behind The Democratic Curve." "Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program." (Editorial, "The Peoples' Revolt in Iran," The Wall Street Journal, 12/22/09)

Iran's Nuclear Program Has Expanded Under Obama's Weak Policies

Fearing Higher Oil Prices And "Political Trouble In An Election Year," The Obama Administration Continues To Resist Stronger Actions Against Iran's Nuclear Program. "Officials fear that too powerful a blow to the world's third-largest oil exporter could cause an oil price increase, damaging the global economic recovery, undermining international support for the sanctions campaign and creating political trouble in an election year." (Paul Richter, "Obama Administration Takes Back Seat On Iran Sanctions," Los Angeles Times, 2/17/12)

  • Biden National Security Adviser Antony Blinken Says U.S. Policy In Iran Is Based On "Buying Time And Continuing To Move This Problem Into The Future." "U.S. policy on Iran is aimed at 'buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that - strange things can happen in the interim,' Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser to Vice President Biden and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, said on Monday. 'You never know,' Blinken added." (Chemi Shalev, "U.S. Policy Aimed At 'Buying Time' With Iran, Says Senior Official," Haaretz, 2/28/12)
  • The Washington Post : "The Result Is That President Obama Is Not Even Leading From Behind On Iran; He Is Simply Behind." "The result is that President Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind. At the forefront of the Western effort to pressure Tehran is French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who issued a statement Monday calling on the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada and 'other willing countries' to 'immediately freeze the assets of Iran's central bank' and suspend purchases of Iranian oil." (Editorial, "More Half-Measures From Obama Administration On Iran," The Washington Post, 11/22/11)

"Iran Has Made Substantial Progress In Producing Enriched Uranium In Recent Years - From About One Bomb's Worth When Mr. Obama Took Office In 2009 To The Equivalent Of About Five Bombs' Worth Today." "Mr. Obama and his staff have been trying to avoid a crisis over Iran that would unfold in the last months of the presidential election. But the report, expected to be the last by the I.A.E.A. before Election Day, will lay out a stark reality: Despite increasingly painful sanctions, and a covert program called Olympic Games that aimed to slow the Iranian program with cyberattacks, Iran has made substantial progress in producing enriched uranium in recent years - from about one bomb's worth when Mr. Obama took office in 2009 to the equivalent of about five bombs' worth today." (David E. Sanger, "Signs Suggest Iran Is Speeding Up Work On Nuclear Program," The New York Times, 8/23/12)

Obama "Has Consistently Resisted Previous Congressional Attempts To Impose The Harshest Possible Sanctions," Including Granting Waivers To Countries That Have Not Significantly Cut Back Their Oil Purchases From Iran. "Congress can also curtail the Administration's practice of granting sanctions' waivers to countries that have modestly cut back their imports of Iranian energy. That means setting a threshold-say, a 40% reduction-for any country that finds it still must import Iranian oil. The Administration will resist these stiffer penalties, as it has consistently resisted previous Congressional attempts to impose the harshest possible sanctions. But that's all the more reason for the conferees to present the President with the toughest bill possible, and see where he really stands." (Editorial, "Iran Sanctions Test," The Wall Street Journal, 7/30/12)

  • The Obama Administration Has Now Granted Waivers To "All Twenty Of Iran's Major Trading Partners," Including China, For Their Efforts To Reduce Iranian Oil Imports Ahead Of The Sanctions. "Though economic sanctions still haven't slowed or stopped Iran's nuclear drive, the Obama Administration has decided to make them even weaker. The Iran sanctions regime is looking like the U.S. tax code-filled with loopholes. It's so weak, in fact, that all 20 of Iran's major trading partners are now exempt from them. We've arrived at a kind of voodoo version of sanctions. They look real, insofar as Congress forced them into a bill President Obama had to sign in December. The Administration has spoken incantations about their powers. But if you're a big oil importer in China, India or 18 other major economies, the sanctions are mostly smoke." (Editorial, "Obama's Iran Loopholes," The Wall Street Journal, 7/2/12)
  • Iran "Portrayed The Exemptions As A Win For Iran," Calling Them An "Overt Retreat" By The U.S. "Iranian officials portrayed the exemptions as a win for Iran, despite the fact that the countries were explicitly exempted because they had begun weaning themselves off Iranian oil. Fars News headlined its story on the sanctions, 'U.S.A. backs down against Iran.' 'Such a move is an overt retreat from their earlier stances,' the head of the parliament foreign policy commission, Aladin Borujerdi, told the Iranian Students News Agency. He said it was 'due to decisive stances taken by the Islamic Republic' defending its nuclear program." ("Iran Claims Victory After U.S. Exempts Countries From Oil Sanctions," Los Angeles Times, 3/21/12)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Acknowledged That "International Sanctions Have Yet To Compel Iran To Give Up Its Nuclear Ambitions." "U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledged Monday that increasingly stiff international sanctions have yet to compel Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. But he argued that more pressure eventually would lead Iran to 'do what's right.'" ("Panetta: Sanctions Not Moving Iran Away From Nukes," The Associated Press, 7/30/12)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "We Have To Be Honest And Say That All The Sanctions And Diplomacy So Far Have Not Set Back The Iranian Program By One Iota." "Mr. Romney's warnings on Iran's nuclear capability came after a day of meetings with Israeli officials here in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called existing Iran sanctions ineffective. 'We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota,' Mr. Netanyahu said. 'That's why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation.'" (Sara Murray, "Romney Talks Tough," The Wall Street Journal, 7/30/12)

Netanyahu: "Right Now The Iranian Regime Believes That The International Community Does Not Have The Will To Stop Its Nuclear Program." "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that such declarations were of little comfort. 'However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them,' Netanyahu said, standing next to Panetta at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. 'Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change, and it must change quickly because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.'" (Phil Stewart and Dan Williams, "Israel Tells U.S. Time Is Running Out In Iran Nuclear Dispute," Reuters, 8/1/12)

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