Former Obama Adviser: Obama’s Weakness Driving Allies Toward Russia

Dennis Ross is a respected, if thoroughly conventional, expert on the Middle East. A Democrat, he has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations as an adviser and envoy. Ross served in the State Department as Hillary Clinton’s Special Advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia. Subsequently, he joined President Obama’s National Security Council staff as a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, which includes the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia. So when Ross writes, in Politico, that Obama’s foreign policy weakness is hurting American interests, we should take notice.

Here are some excerpts:

The United States has significantly more military capability in the Middle East today than Russia—America has 35,000 troops and hundreds of aircraft; the Russians roughly 2,000 troops and, perhaps, 50 aircraft—and yet Middle Eastern leaders are making pilgrimages to Moscow to see Vladimir Putin these days, not rushing to Washington. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to see the Russian president, his second trip to Russia since last fall, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia is planning a trip soon. Egypt’s president and other Middle Eastern leaders have also made the trek to see Putin.

Why is this happening, and why on my trips to the region am I hearing that Arabs and Israelis have pretty much given up on President Barack Obama? Because perceptions matter more than mere power: The Russians are seen as willing to use power to affect the balance of power in the region, and we are not. …

in the Middle East it is Putin’s views on the uses of coercion, including force to achieve political objectives, that appears to be the norm, not the exception—and that is true for our friends as well as adversaries. The Saudis acted in Yemen in no small part because they feared the United States would impose no limits on Iranian expansion in the area, and they felt the need to draw their own lines. In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, Iran’s behavior in the region has been more aggressive, not less so, with regular Iranian forces joining the Revolutionary Guard now deployed to Syria, wider use of Shiite militias, arms smuggling into Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and ballistic missile tests. …

The Russian military intervention turned the tide in Syria and, contrary to Obama’s view, has put the Russians in a stronger position without imposing any meaningful costs on them. Not only are they not being penalized for their Syrian intervention, but the president himself is now calling Vladimir Putin and seeking his help to pressure Assad—effectively recognizing who has leverage. Middle Eastern leaders recognize it as well and realize they need to be talking to the Russians if they are to safeguard their interests. No doubt, it would be better if the rest of the world defined the nature of power the way Obama does. It would be better if, internationally, Putin were seen to be losing. But he is not. …

As I hear on my visits to the region, Arabs and Israelis alike are looking to the next administration.

There is much more. As they say, read it all.