President Obama is putting on the hard sell to market the nuclear deal he reached with Iran. On July 14, in announcing the agreement, he said: “This deal shows the real and meaningful change that American leadership and diplomacy can bring—change that makes our country and the world safer and more secure. We negotiated from a position of strength and principle—and the result is a nuclear deal that cuts off every pathway to a nuclear weapon.”
He promised that this agreement would put Iran and the entire region on a path away from “violence and rigid ideology,” a path towards “tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflicts,” a path that “leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.” In conclusion, he said, “This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”
Stirring words. But are they credible? Aside from the specifics of the Iran deal, it is possible to look back on the president’s litany of pronouncements about the Middle East to assess the reliability of his promises. Here are a few highlights.
In 2011, President Obama joined an international coalition of countries to drive Muammar Qaddafi out of power. On August 22, after Qaddafi’s ouster, he said: “A season of conflict must lead to one of peace. The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people. Going forward, the United States will continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC [Transitional National Council]. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners in the international community to protect the people of Libya, and to support a peaceful transition to democracy.”
A year later, on July 7, 2012, he said, “The United States is proud of the role that we played in supporting the Libyan revolution and protecting the Libyan people, and we look forward to working closely with the new Libya—including the elected Congress and Libya’s new leaders. We will engage as partners as the Libyan people work to build open and transparent institutions, establish security and the rule of law, advance opportunity, and promote unity and national reconciliation.”
In fact the United States did precious little to bolster the legitimacy of Libya’s nascent democratic regime. Partly as a result of that failure, Libya transitioned not to democracy but to anarchy—anarchy in which U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Now Libya has, in effect, no government, and the country is divided among warring militias, with the Islamic State playing an increasingly prominent role.
In 2011, President Obama made a halfhearted effort to win renewal of the Status of Forces Agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in Iraq. When negotiations, which had begun in the middle of the year, bogged down, the president, rather than getting personally involved in the talks, instead announced that all U.S. troops were coming home. But don’t worry, he said. Their departure would not imperil Iraq’s future.
On October 21, 2011, he promised: “With our diplomats and civilian advisers in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative, and accountable. We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture, and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty. . . . Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization. . . . So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength.”
A few weeks later, on December 12, 2011, he hosted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at the White House. In a joint appearance, Obama said: “The prime minister leads Iraq’s most inclusive government yet. Iraqis are working to build institutions that are efficient and independent and transparent. . . . In the coming years, it’s estimated that Iraq’s economy will grow even faster than China’s or India’s. . . . People throughout the region will see a new Iraq that’s determining its own destiny—a country in which people from different religious sects and ethnicities can resolve their differences peacefully through the democratic process.”