Thousands are dead in Syria, with more blood spilled each day. Iran is within arm's reach of a nuclear weapon, threatening Israel's very existence. And in Egypt, 19 Americans are banned from leaving the country, making them veritable hostages in an unfriendly land. All indications are that the Middle East is crumbling, and President Barack Obama's foreign policy is collapsing right along with it.
First look toward Homs, Syria -- ground zero in the 11-month-old uprising against the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad, which is unleashing death upon its people minute by minute and hour by hour. The United Nations estimates that Assad's regime has killed more than 5,000 anti-government protesters in the last 11 months, with 200 killed on Friday night alone. The Arab League has stationed observers in country, whose mission was to oversee compliance with a peace plan. That failed.
The Obama Administration rushed to the United Nations Security Council and attempted to pass a resolution calling for Assad to step aside. Predictably, China and Russia laid down a veto. On Monday, the United States finally closed the doors to its embassy in Damascus and withdrew the diplomatic staff over continuing security concerns. Meanwhile, intelligence experts are examining the risk of terrorists gaining control of Syria's weapons stockpiles should the Assad regime fall.
To the east in Iran, the regime's full-steam-ahead pursuit of nuclear weapons is reaching a crescendo, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently remarking that the country could build a bomb within one year and have the means for delivering it one or two years later.
Finally, in Egypt, officials there published a list of 43 people, including 19 Americans, accused of interfering in Egypt's internal politics. They are not allowed to leave the country and could soon be brought to trial on claims that they illegally funded political groups in Egypt's parliamentary elections. Heritage's James Phillips explains that "they have become hostages in a much larger struggle: the struggle for freedom in Egypt against an unholy alliance between Egypt’s transitional military government and the Islamist political parties who will soon assume power."
President Obama and members of his Cabinet tried to reach Egyptian leaders on the matter, but in the words of Lorne Craner, head of the pro-democracy organization IRI, “things are getting worse . . . We are all scratching our heads over here. I did two tours at State and one at the [National Security Council]. If the president called someone, something gets worked out." But as was the case under President Jimmy Carter, the White House appears helpless while Americans are held captive.
None of these crises occurs in a vacuum -- except for the vacuum of a cogent U.S. strategy for dealing with these ever-worsening conditions. Since President Obama took office, he has pursued a diplomatic strategy of charm and restraint: attempting to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, engaging with Syria and Iran, and withdrawing from Iraq. Now we are seeing the results.
The international rogue that is Iran continues to rise, along with its threat to the world. Thousands are dead in Syria under a brutal dictator while the international community is serving up effete condemnations. America's ally Israel appears ready to take matters into its own hands in order to ensure its survival, while prospects for peace with Palestine remain dim. U.S. citizens are trapped in Egypt as anti-Western Islamists seek to consolidate their power. And Iraq's once-peaceful prospects have been marred by one terrorist attack after another after America's military forces departed. Obama has failed at every turn to safeguard U.S. interests in the region or take effective proactive initiatives to deal with threat of rising extremism and spiraling violence that could lead to regional conflict.
There are actions the United States can and should take. Phillips explains that in Syria, "the best assistance that the United States can give to ease the suffering of Syrians is to help speed the fall of the Assad regime." And it can do it by working with European allies, Turkey, and Arab states to escalate sanctions, provide humanitarian relief to refugees, and provide diplomatic and economic support for the Syrian opposition -- while holding back from military intervention.
To address Israel and Iran, Phillips and James Carafano advise that the United States must have a clear and unambiguous policy that it will protect itself and its interests.
As for Egypt, Phillips writes that America should "freeze U.S. foreign aid to Cairo and give Egypt's new leaders an ultimatum: free the American hostages or permanently lose U.S. foreign aid and any American help in refinancing Egypt's burdensome national debt."
More broadly, President Obama must fundamentally change course toward the Middle East. His policy of engagement has not worked, and the world is seeing the results. The Middle East is crumbling, and an ineffectual and inert Obama Administration is leading from behind with a foreign policy that has entirely failed to cope with the rapidly devolving conditions along the Mediterranean's southeastern shores and beyond, with consequences reaching around the world.