Michele Bachmann says Obama ‘laid the table’ for the Arab Spring

That’s right: a Republican is giving Obama more credit than even his own party will for influencing –no, inducing — the “Arab Spring.” MSNBC broke the story, capturing footage of Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful, saying that:

“Just like Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s [who] didn’t have the back of the Shah of Iran, we saw the Shah fall and the rise of the Ayatollah. And we saw the rise and the beginnings of radical jihad which have changed this world and changed this nation.”

“So too, under Barack Obama, we saw him put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel. And when he called on Israel to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders, don’t think that message wasn’t lost on Israel’s 26 hostile neighbors.”

“You want to know why we have an Arab Spring? Barack Obama has laid the table for an Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America.”

There are just so many things worth commenting on in this speech, like the strawman of Obama calling on Israel “to retreat to its 1967 indefensible borders,” or the fact that Obama’s casus belli “1967 borders” speech postdated popular uprisings in the Arab world by several months, to say nothing of the total historical amnesia surrounding the Iranian Revolution. Khomeini was a dictator, but then, what was the Shah? Oh yes, a dictator, just like the Arab ones Bachmann now bemoans the loss of. These statements aren’t anything we have not heard from Israeli or American officials and pundits before, though.

It’s true that American imperial overreach has helped revolutionaries in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but this overreach isn’t Obama’s creation. How could a junior senator from Illinois have had a substantial effect on developments even over the past decade? The answer: he didn’t. We are now seeing blowback for decades of support for military dictatorships and monarchies in the Middle East. Indeed, much of the major political upheaval in the region between 2001 and 2010 — Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the Hamas-Fatah schism, revelations about Iran’s nuclear program, Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the U.S.-led regime change in Iraq, Operation Cast Lead — all occurred while George W. Bush was squatting in the White House. These events stirred up the Middle East: they emboldened both Islamist movements and Israeli hardliners, forced the U.S’.s Arab allies into awkward positions with their populations (plus factions of their elites), and altered the post-Cold War status quo by creating a political and military vacuum in Iraq.

This is what Bush left Obama, who only came to the White House as Cast Lead was winding down (and, in fact, remained vigorously silent as Israel pounded Gaza for 23 days). Focused on domestic issues, Obama’s administration basically fell into the Arab Spring, for all his Cairo speech did to “change” the tone in the region. Caught unawares by the fragility of their “secular” stalwarts, Washington essentially resigned itself to the overthrow of Presidents Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak when it became clear that their countries’ security apparatuses — whose equipment and paychecks had long depended on U.S. largesse — were positioning themselves to “manage the transitions” in their countries. (Much as the Soviet Union learned from its Warsaw Pact allies in 1989, the U.S. discovered that the security apparatuses of its
client states were paper tigers more interested in securing their survival alongside the protesters than alongside their bureaucratic bosses.)

Meanwhile, even as Bachmann gives Obama far too much credit for igniting the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, she doesn’t give him nearly enough credit for trying to stomp them out in Bahrain and Yemen. That’s because she has to overlook Obama’s sterling record in joining hands with the Saudis to assist the Bahraini and Yemeni authorities in clamping down on dissent if she wants her charges to have a sheen of sensibility. Give the man some credit, Michele: he’s no “dhimmi” (as Islamophobes sometimes call him) when it comes to the Persian Gulf. He, or rather, our riot gear and UAVs, are standing up for U.S. interests there day and night.

Only in Libya has the Obama Administration taken the initiative — and a controversial one at that.

Bachmann’s response to Israel is also interesting, though certainly not in the way she intended. She condemns him for putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, for emboldening Israel’s enemies (which she defines as every country in the region). “Daylight”: as in Obama actually attempting public criticism of the Israeli policies that have led to increased settlement construction. Daylight: Just like the unremarkable speech he gave a few months ago largely echoing previous administrations’ positions on a two-state solution. But even these moves prompted such a furious response from Netanyahu and Congressional Republicans that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lost his temper and called Israel “an ungrateful ally.”

Fortunately for Israel, such conservative pressure has put the president back on the straight and narrow path . . . even though, as Bachmann fails to realize (or does, but just doesn’t care), he never strayed from that path.

“Daylight” is indeed the last thing any American alliance in the Middle East can withstand. Bachmann has hit the nail on the head, though it was probably unintentional: if the U.S. gives even an inch regarding its client states’ undemocratic behavior, the people of those states will try to seize a mile from us and our cronies.

Rather than ask why this is the case, though, conservatives are waxing poetic for the days when Pahlavis and Hashemites ran the Middle East. Still, Bachmann, and those echoing her comments, do see democratization in the region quite accurately, at least from their Beltway vantage point — as a threat to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East.

About Paul Mutter

Paul Mutter is a contributor to Mondoweiss, Foreign Policy in Focus and the Arabist.
Posted in Israel/Palestine, Neocons, Settlers/Colonists, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 14 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. pabelmont says:

    Was there “daylight” between USA and Hitler in 1938, when BROWNSHIRTS ramped up pogrom attacks on Jews in Germany? Perhaps not, as it took USA a long time to get into that war.

  2. llama lady says:

    Like the Arab Spring was a bad thing.

  3. POA says:

    Perry and Bachman scare the shit out of me. The world should be trembling before the spectre of either of these fanatics getting their hands on the nuclear trigger.

  4. Especially Republicans should know that America needs leaders who put their own country and its national interest first, second and third.

  5. MRW says:

    The CIA engineered Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah. They kept Khomeini in the south of France (near Provence), taught him ‘everything they knew’, counted on him being a good boy when he got back to Tehran by saying his prayers and opening the keys to the remaining oil (don’t forget the Shah was told his reserves would be up in 2016; hence, the nuclear). This was all shades of 1953. The strategic issue to understand was that the US had had control of Iran since that time because of the Cold War, and Iran’s geographical importance. (Look at the map.)

    The CIA parked two real plates for $100 in the embassy vault, two pallets of for-real US currency paper in the embassy basement (Treas. Sec. William Simon did the arranging) to pay for their future operations in-country and weapons–Iran Contra anyone?–which was the real concern for the hostage situation in the embassy. (The Heidelberg printing press was already in the basement; there may have been two.)

    I can’t remember whether they lost the plates because they were discovered, or if they were afraid they may have been, but the US changed the dollar bill to add a magnetic strip and an offset design as a result of this botched operation–slowly, slowly over the next two decades, first the $100 bill, remember?–and decided drug sales were a safer way to fund secret ops thereafter. (The US has done a bang-up job reviving the opium trade in Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taliban had all but eliminated it. Google the Swiss NGO that keeps track of these things for the negligible 2001 figures.)

    It will be interesting to see what the real story of now is in the region in about 20 years.

  6. Keith says:

    As I have commented elsewhere, the fat-cats love Obama and want to see him re-elected. How is this possible when he is a neoliberal warmonger who is screwing his base beyond belief? Easy, scare the left to death with Republican candidates who are so far beyond the pale as to be caricatures of right-wing fanatics. That is why the drift to the right has turned into a stampede. Works every time. The public is rather easily manipulated by those who have the resources to do so. US elections are rituals, a political circus, full of color and noise, diverting attention away from the underlying systems of power and control. Follow the money.

  7. Chaos4700 says:

    You know, it’s bad enough when Democrats give Obama credit he isn’t due, now we have Republicans doing it too?

  8. RE: “…all occurred while George W. Bush was squatting in the White House.” ~ Paul Mutter

    MY COMMENT: That is truly priceless. Much more so than a crummy, old MasterCard®! It really made my day, such as it was.
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    • RE: “…my day, such as it was.” ~ me, above

      ELABORATION: For some reason I woke up this morning on the wrong side of a side-less bed, and I have felt all day like death thrice warmed over in a really cheap, crappy microwave oven. And I don’t even consume any alcohol or illicit recreational drugs!
      Go figure.

      * RE: “I woke up this morning”
      OK, OK, OK, you caught me: I actually woke up this afternoon, not that it’s any of your business! Jesus Pete, whatever happened to the notion of an “author’s prerogative”?

  9. RE: “Michele Bachmann says Obama ‘laid the table’ for the Arab Spring” ~ Mutter

    MY COMMENT: Laid the table? Perhaps she meant to say that Obama “got laid on the table” for the Arab Spring. Or, perhaps she meant to say that Obama “laid everyone at the table” for the Arab Spring. It is even conceivable that she meant to say that Obama “set the table” for the Arab Spring.
    G-d only knows what goes on in Michele Bachmann’s “mind”!

  10. piotr says:

    She meant something like that:
    link to blog.jrid.com
    scroll down to

    Design School: Color Black
    Posted on February 18, 2011 by J. Rhodes Interior Design, Inc.
    Don’t be afraid of the dark! Black is a stunning color to use for interior rooms and of course as an accent.

    Black is sophisticated, seductive and powerful. Black must be used carefully otherwise it can become somber and depressing. Black combines well with khaki and gray and is striking with chartreuse, powder blue and classic white. Black accessories and accents give a room a sense of permanence.

    There you have it: while black accents in the table setting may achieve stunning effect one must be careful. An entire Black President at a table can become somber and depressing. And once our allies got into that somber and depressing mood….

  11. dbroncos says:

    Bachmann gets away with these lies, among others, because they reflect the prejudice of so many Americans.