But in the back and forth over this sharp criticism of President Obama and the hubbub over State Department tweets that were later deleted misses the larger point and an undeniable truth: America’s mixed signals on the Middle East are continuing to have deadly consequences.
Since the start of what was romantically termed the “Arab Spring,” America has made wrong moves at every turn that have weakened our standing in the world and sent mixed messages to allies and adversaries alike. As a result, the always volatile Middle East has experienced a rapid deterioration that has brought instability and bloodshed to the region on a scale not seen in decades.
In the initial days of the protests in Egypt that ultimately brought down Hosni Mubarak and his government the United States appeared flat-footed and confused. While we initially voiced support for our long-standing ally, American foreign policy then shifted 180 degrees and we began supporting the efforts of the protestors in Tahrir Square. Imagine the impact our shift must have had on other U.S. allies in the region who are clinging tenuously to stability but could one day face unrest within their own borders (i.e. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States).
In Libya our signals were mixed as we veered wildly from strong rhetoric calling for Gaddafi to go to then allowing other nations to shoulder the burden of helping make it a reality. America is the world’s unquestioned superpower and a force for good in this world, and we lose credibility on both counts when we choose to lead from behind.
Elsewhere in the Middle East Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad continues to unleash the Syrian military on his own people, butchering tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. The Obama administration has decried the violence, but here too has sent mixed signals. As the Syrian revolt began to accelerate our Secretary of State explained that the U.S. would not intervene in Syria because many perceived Assad as “a reformer.”
All of these mixed signals and muddled messages empower our adversaries.