National Security

The Middle East Hated Obama, But Love Trump. Here’s Why

“Obama, on the other hand, had a tendency of saying one thing and doing another.”

Politico ran a recent interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in which he claimed that Trump is, on the whole, more popular than his predecessor, Barack Obama. According to Hariri, these warm sentiments can be boiled down to one thing: clarity. Hariri argues that Trump has been clear with his intentions towards the Middle East.

Obama, on the other hand, had a tendency of saying one thing and doing another. Remember, there were red lines that Syria couldn’t cross, such as using chemical weapons. Yet when those red lines were crossed, the United States barely reacted. Instead of punishing Syria for its gross human rights violations, Obama punted to Congress, which ultimately declined to take action.

The decision to bomb a foreign country isn’t one that should be made lightly. After America’s experience and setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to see why Obama would be wary of engaging in yet another battlefront. Yet, threatening an uncrossable red line and then refusing to enforce that line sends mixed messages, and arguably, makes the United States look weak.

With Donald Trump, there was no mixed message. Syria crossed a red line, the United States conducted air strikes against the Syrian military base from which chemical attacks were launched. The effectiveness of these air strikes can be debated, but so far Syria has not used chemical weapons since.

According to Hariri, Obama was naive. His campaign and speech rhetoric frequently championed peace and the need for a more stable, cooperative world. Yet while Obama may have hoped for a more peaceful Middle East, realities on the ground make such hopes near utopian. Indeed, even after promising to rid itself of all chemical weapons, it has become obvious that Syria never lived up to its commitments.

Obama’s inaction, in Hariri’s view, lead directly to the rise of Russia as a regional power. Assad has long been among Russia’s favored allies. However, the power vacuum created Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State has allowed Russia to expand its influence greatly. Indeed, the biggest rival to Russian power in Syria may not be the regime itself, or the rebels opposed to it, but instead Iran, another backer of the Assad regime.

Speaking of Iran, Hariri also argued that Obama’s push to reach nuclear accords to Tehran was likewise spurred by naiveté. Many Middle Eastern leaders were strongly opposed to any thawing in relations between Iran and the West and skeptical that the nuclear accords would actually put a kibosh on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons development.

Just as Assad held onto chemical weapons after promising to give them up, the Iranian regime could be pursuing nuclear weapons technology research in facilities not covered by the international accords.

So far, Trump has upheld the nuclear accords, but many have been calling on him to pull the United States out. Even if Iran does live up to its commitment not to pursue nuclear weapons technology, the flow of money into Tehran will allow the government to fund allies and wars across the region.

While Obama may have pursued nuclear accords with good intentions, Hariri and other critics believe the deal could prove disastrous. Trump’s ability to roll back any such deal, if he choses to do so, remains unclear.

Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is an OpsLens Contributor and political consultant. Brinker has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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