The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Michele Bachmann: Obama caused the Arab Spring

That's right: a Republican is giving Obama more credit than even his own party will for influencing the "Arab Spring." MSNBC broke the story, capturing footage of Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful saying that:

"Just like Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s [who] didn’t have the back of the Shah of Iran, we saw the Shah fall and the rise of the Ayatollah. And we saw the rise and the beginnings of radical jihad which have changed this world and changed this nation."

“So too, under Barack Obama, we saw him put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel. And when he called on Israel to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders, don’t think that message wasn’t lost on Israel’s 26 hostile neighbors."

“You want to know why we have an Arab Spring? Barack Obama has laid the table for an Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America."

There are just so many things worth commenting on in this speech, like the strawman of Obama calling Israel "to retreat to its 1967 indefensible borders," and the total historical amnesia surrounding the Iranian Revolution (Khomeini was a dictator, but then, what was the Shah? Oh yes, a dictator, just like the Arab ones Bachmann now bemoans the loss of.). These statements aren't anything we have not heard from Israeli or American officials and pundits before, though. Or the fact that Obama's casus belli "1967 borders" speech postdated the start of popular uprisings in the Arab world.

My favorite parts in this tirade against Obama are the parts where she is sorta-kinda right.

American imperial overreach has indeed helped revolutionaries in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but it is not Obama's creation.Decades of support for military dictatorships and monarchies that began in the 1940s are now coming back to bite the U.S. in the ass. And the greatest geopolitical upsets in the region over the past decade —Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and Hama's victory thereafter, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, the U.S.-led regime change in Iraq, Operation Cast Lead — all occurred on George W. Bush's watch.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. resigned itself to the overthrow of Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak when it became clear that those countries' security apparatuses — whose equipment and paychecks have long depended on U.S. largesse — were positioning themselves to take charge of the countries, not unlike how the Soviets lost big time when their supposedly indomitable Warsaw Pact colleagues made a similar choice in 1989. Without a USSR or Saddam to jockey against, the U.S. and its ruling elite allies in the Arab world have become increasingly hard-pressed to hold together their special relationships. 

One form of "Arab Spring" assistance Obama can credibly claim to have rendered is the decision to launch NATO strikes in support for Libya's NTC (which Bachmann opposed).   

Bachmann's most glaring omission in discussing Obama's role in Arab Spring is quite partisan, and really unfair to Obama: she overlooks his sterling record over the past year in joining hands with the Saudis to assist the Bahraini and Yemeni authorities clamp down on dissent in the name of containing both Iran and al Qaeda. Give the man some credit, Michele: he's no "dhimmi" (as Islamophobes sometimes call him) when it comes to the Persian Gulf. He, or rather, our riot gear and munitions, are standing up for our interests there.

My other favorite part is how she says that Obama "put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel." Tsk tsk, look how his attempt to give Netanyahu a tongue-lashing over the settlements emboldened those perfidious Arabs. Fortunately, Israel's friends in the U.S. have put the president back on the straight and narrow

"Daylight," i.e., Obama actually attempting public criticism of Israeli policies that have led to increased settlement construction? Or the unremarkable speech he gave a few months ago largely echoing previous administrations' positions on a two-state solution? Criticism that prompted such a furious response from Netanyahu and Congressional Republicans that even former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lost his temper and called Israel "an ungrateful ally." 

"Daylight" is indeed the last thing any American alliance in the Middle East can withstand. Bachmann has hit the nail on the head, though it was probably unintentional (especially when her foreign policy aide, neocon Frank Gaffney, is such a committeddemocratizer).

I have to admit, her refusal to even pay lip service to the whole "America wants democracy in the Middle East" meme is refreshingly honest. She sees democratization in the region quite accurately — as a threat to U.S. hegemony. And regarding the Shah, she also correctly surmises that if the U.S. gives even an inch over its client states undemocratic behavior, the people of those states will seize a mile from us and our cronies