(Part one of a two-part series on U.S. Presidents and the Middle East)
For more than four decades United States Presidents have made a mess out of the Middle East. Now the region is boiling over. Americans face $4 per gallon gas. In the wake of all this I thought it is a legitimate question to ask: Why has every President since Lyndon Johnson been so utterly stupid when it comes to the Middle East?
I don’t want to speculate at what is at the root of nearly a half century of incompetence, so instead of spewing a conspiracy theory I decided to just grade the last five Presidents when it comes to their handling of the region.
Beside each President I give a grade. Notice the marks fall progressively until I get to our current President, Barack Obama. I would be delighted to get your feedback on what you think of my grades and how you would mark our recent Presidents when it comes to the Middle East.
Ronald Reagan — C+. I would love to give Reagan a higher grade. After all, he used the U.S. Navy to put Libya in its place, ordering two F-14s to shoot down two Libyan jets in August 1981. He cultivated solid relationships with oil producers like Saudi Arabia that brought the inflation adjusted price of oil to its lowest levels since the 1960s. Yet I can’t give Reagan sterling grades for his Mideast policies.
First he put U.S. soldiers in harm’s way in Lebanon in 1983. The end result was 241 American servicemen killed by truck bombers. Guards posted outside the barracks could not stop the Islamic jihad terrorists because they were under strict orders to have no magazine inserted and no rounds in the chamber of their weapons.
Reagan also looses points for not bringing justice to Moammar Gadhafi after his Libyan agents blew-up Pan Am flight 103 killing all 259 on board and another 11 on the ground in December 1988.
Then there is the fact that Reagan armed Saddam Hussein to the teeth to oppose Iran in a war that lasted eight years. Later administrations would argue that the Iraqi dictator menaced the world with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). That turned out to be untrue, but whatever arsenal Saddam had came from the billions of dollars in aid and technology that was provided by the Reagan administration.
On August 18, 2002, The New York Times wrote:
"A covert American program during the Reagan administration provided Iraq with critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war.”
Reagan also doesn’t score well because of his guns for hostage deal with Iran; that he “forgot” about. When he was pressed on the issue—because it might have meant that he had broken the law—Reagan sounded like the kid who tells the teacher that the dog ate his homework.
George H.W. Bush — C. Some of you might think that Dubya’s dad should get a solid A. After all, he launched Desert Storm, an overriding victory of Coalition Forces that drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and kept a lid on oil prices.
But you might also remember that it was under Herbert Walker’s leadership the U.S. completely missed the fact that Iraq not only had aims on dominating the Persian Gulf—under which sat two-thirds of the world’s conventional oil reserves—but that U.S. intelligence services didn’t notice that Iraqi tanks and troops were massing for invasion of Kuwait.
Then there was the entire lying to the American public by the Bush I administration to justify the war. It started off well with telling the truth—a crazed dictator like Saddam could not control the world’s energy supply. But when the Left leaned on Bush’s argument (which was a great one), his administration changed the story that America had to oppose Saddam because he was the next Hitler. Nobody believed that. So Bush said that Saddam had to be stopped because Iraqi troops were killing Kuwaiti babies in their incubators. It was an incredulous lie, but America got behind him as if he were Franklin Delano Roosevelt leading the nation into World War II.
Operation Desert Storm turned out to be a hiccup when it comes to U.S. wars. The ground war lasted 100 hours. Yet Bush—when he had Saddam on his knees and was able to promote U.S. policies in throughout the Middle East—did a most incredible thing: He stopped advancing U.S. forces at the Iraq border.
Bill Clinton — D: During Clinton’s eight years in office the Middle East was a relatively stable place. The Clinton administration made some important strides in the peace process with Israel and its neighbors. We cannot forget that during the Clinton Presidency cheap oil kept flowing from the region unimpeded.
But none of that can excuse the fact that more than anyone, Clinton was responsible for 9/11. He not only failed to recognize the growing extremism of Islam but he failed to heed warnings that were given to him about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida which by most accounts Clinton saw as a rag-tag group that created no real threat to the United States.
If Clinton’s mind had been on al-Qaida rather than the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for which only he was responsible, bin Laden would have long ago been dead and most of the world would not know his name.
Following 9/11, NBC News reported that the Clinton administration had multiple opportunities to either kill or capture bin Laden but failed because they did not take him or his organization as a serious threat.
George W. Bush — F: I could write a book on how Bush the younger made a mess of the Middle East and only touch on his administration’s mismanagement of the region. (I say his administration because so much of the blame should go to former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz who were the architects of the war against Iraq).
I don’t even hold 9/11 against President Bush. But there are two blunders he should be accountable for:
- The failure to kill and capture Osama bin Laden.
- Launching the war in Iraq with questionable if not downright untruthful intelligence of WMD and with no end-game in sight other than a vague notion of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East (we can see how that has panned out).
So far the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost the lives of more than 5,900 American service men and women. Yet the excuse that the Bush II administration made for not going after bin Laden with “boots on the ground” was they didn’t want to incur heavy U.S. casualties.
Bush compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor. Yet Roosevelt mobilized an entire nation to fight the Axis in response to Pearl Harbor. The Bush II administration made strafing bomb runs over bin Laden’s lair. There was no massive drop of infantry as one might have expected. Instead, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency were sent over with trunks full of cash so they could hire mercenary warlords.
Instead of finishing off al-Qaida, Bush committed most of the U.S.’s full military might against Iraq. No question Saddam Hussein was a bad man. But was he any worse than Moammar Gadhafi? Time will tell but what we do know is that while Bush was prosecuting the war against Iraq, his administration was instrumental in lifting sanctions on Libya.
Nearly one decade after 9/11, U.S. forces are still on the ground in Iraq. That country is rife with corruption and has become a hotbed for terrorism directed against the United States. And we are still fighting what some think is a losing war in Afghanistan.
Barack Obama — F: I would have thought it impossible for any President following George W. Bush to make a bigger mess of the region. Yet Obama has done so, and he has done it in spades. And Obama has been in office just over two years.
Next week I will tell you why I think that when it comes to the Middle East and Islam, no President has been worse than Obama.
Yours in good times and bad,
Editor, Myers’ Energy and Gold Report