President Barack Obama, by picking Susan E. Rice as National Security Adviser and Samantha Power as ambassador to the United Nations, hopes to have rounded off a foreign policy team for attaining his ambition of a policy pivot toward Asia. He wouldn’t be the first US president to delude himself that he can disconnect from the seething, intractable Middle East.
With Chuck Hagel in the Defense Department, John Kerry in the State Department, Rice as National Security Adviser, John Brennan at the CIA and Power at the UN, Obama has assembled a group which advocates American liberal interventionism – maybe in Asia – but certainly not in the Middle East.
Its new makeup offers a temperamental contrast to the outgoing National Security Adviser Tom Donilon: His performance was strictly unemotional (or perhaps he was good at hiding his emotions) and his execution of the president’s policies brilliant and precise, whereas the new duo are emotional, passionate about causes and bring with them the sort of histories that portend lively competition for the president's support – that is unless in the unlikely event, they can line up in unison behind the president’s lead, like Donilon and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough.
Along with an impressive record at the UN, Rice carries the unhappy baggage of her misrepresentation in five TV talk shows of the facts about the Al Qaeda attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi of Sept. 11, 2012, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other US staffers were murdered.
Reciting talking points prepared for her by the CIA and State Department, Rice ascribed the attack to protest demonstrations sweeping Muslim capitals against a tape mocking the Prophet Muhammed.
Rice and Power urged intervention in Libya, but not in Syria
The truth was known from the start to US and Middle East intelligence agencies. Susan Rice stands accused of abetting the Obama administration’s 10-month long cover-up of the facts: There were no demonstrations in Benghazi. The four US diplomats were the victims of a well-planned two-wave attack by a terrorist group, two of whose commanders were Egyptian. One was caught and allegedly committed suicide under suspicious circumstances in an Egyptian prison.
Rice in her new post cannot avoid being haunted by the Benghazi affair. She will be stalked relentlessly by mostly Republican lawmakers, who will not rest until the affair is thoroughly investigated and President Obama or a member of his staff breaks down and admits to the truth. But most of all, because Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri is plotting new outrages to build on their Beghazi success and shock the Obama administration out of its stubborn certainty that the jihadist organization no longer poses an important threat to the US homeland and global interests.
Fresh terrorist attacks are likely to pursue the US President and his White House team and seek out their vulnerabilities.
Samantha Power brings to the White House the record of a brave fighter against genocide. It was she and Susan Rice who, two years ago, pushed President Obama into leading a NATO military intervention in Libya to save thousands of Libyan insurgents in Benghazi who faced massacre at the hands of Muammar Qaddafi.
Yet at present, Powers and Rice are the leading administration voices against US intervention in Syria. Their argument is that, unlike Libya, where the distinction between government troops and rebels was obvious, in Syria, no one can tell who the rebels are and whom Bashar Assad and his army are actually slaughtering.
An Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program is realistic
These nice distinctions work fine in White House counsels as benchmarks for policy-making, but divorce Washington from the realities and dynamics of current Middle East events, thereby creating an inviting vacuum.
However, instead of moderating Barack Obama’s deliberate detachment from Middle East affairs, his new advisers prefer to play up his inclination to reorient his policies on less turbulent Asian lands. And meanwhile, Moscow, Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut and al Qaeda are scrambling to fill the vacuum, using to good advantage the weeks and months remaining until Rice and Power settle into their jobs and US foreign policy is back on track.
Another Middle East element demanding consideration is the possibility of an Israeli attack in the near future on Iran’s nuclear program.
DEBKA-Weekly opened this issue with the exclusive disclosure of an Iranian approach to Israel via Washington, asking Israel to state its terms for calling off an attack on its nuclear facilities. This article also cited Secretary of State John Kerry's comments indicating that President Obama had lifted his veto on a unilateral Israel action against Iran’s nuclear program.
The Iranian nuclear issue and potential Israel action is not just a matter for the US and Iran, but Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang are also intimately involved. Therefore, it is easier to talk about an American policy pivoting towards Asia than to implement it.
The long and short of it is that if Obama continues to run away from the Middle East as he did in 2012 and the first half of 2013, he, Susan Rice and Samantha Power may find the Middle East hotly pursuing them all the way to Asia.