September 23, 2018

Refugees a sign of unraveling world order

As the known and secret parts of the Iran nuke deal spin into place like the uncertain number of Iranian centrifuges, President Barack Obama has succeeded in winning one-third-plus votes in the U.S. Senate to defeat attempts to overturn what he deems his legacy foreign policy achievement. Soon, the shouting will be over. Optimists will hope for the best. Pessimists during this Holy Season will pray to G-d that the worst does not happen.

So now would be an appropriate time to look at the P5+1 Iran deal from “ground zero”: the greater Middle East situation—from Afghanistan to North Africa’s Maghreb and the East African Horn—as well as the spillover of the current refugee crisis besetting Europe.

Who among our friends and foes is stable — and who is unstable?

The perennial linchpin of U.S. Mideast policy — Aircraft Carrier Israel — remains securely afloat despite tensions with Washington, and increasing threats at her borders, from Iranian proxies in Lebanon and adjacent to the Golan in the North and Hamastan and the Sinai in the South. For now, a King Abdullah-led Jordan remains afloat thanks to massive help from the US and quiet security help from Israel. Egypt, despite soured relations with the U.S., has for now thwarted the Muslim Brotherhood. The promise of Tahrir Square is but a distant memory as the largest Arab nation is now led by a president whose goal is economic growth and stable security. Otherwise, the region is a total mess.

There is:

– The virtual collapse of the “post-Petraeus” Surge, precarious Iraqi State, concomitant with the rise of ISIS. Will a unified Iraq survive? Not if the Kurds are given a say. As for Christians, they no longer have a say, as the world stood by as historic Christian communities were ethnically cleansed.

– The unraveling of our alliance with Afghanistan’s Karzai regime.

– The emboldening of Iran-backed terrorists along a “Shiite arc” stretching from Iraq to Yemen.

– The panic of the Gulf States, directly adjacent to Iran with weakening U.S. support, and the rise of the Houthi insurgency on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen, the very country the Obama Administration once touted as an anti-terrorist success story.

– The collapse of Libya into chaos following the U.S. “leading from behind” anti-Qaddafi coup. That move was largely engineered by Europeans who, ironically, sought to prevent the refugee exodus that they ultimately made much worse.

– A feckless U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa that has brought no peace to Ethiopia-Eritrea or Somalia, with terrorist atrocities spilling over into Kenya and Nigeria.

And now, Europe finds itself confronting a tsunami of refugees that evokes memories of the millions of displaced persons at the end of World War II.  The crisis in Europe is caused, not only by people seeking a better economic future as on our southern border, but by masses fleeing failed states, internecine violence, civil war and terrorism; people so desperate that parents are literally casting their children onto the waters with the protection of little more than bulrushes.

Refugees from Afghanistan flowing into Pakistan and Iraq, refugees from Syria (some 2 million) flowing into Turkey, Jordan and beyond, refugees from Lebanon fleeing Beirut’s fetid streets, refugees from Libya becoming Mediterranean “boat people,” refugees from Somalia and Eritrea adding to the outflow. You can read their faces and body language: these are people who see no future nor hope of change.

If they survive the stormy crossing, their reception is barbed wire or trains to nowhere in Hungary or Slovakia where neo-fascist politicians promise to give refuge only to “Christians.” Germany is their new promised land, with Chancellor Merkel desperately trying to piece together a continent-wide response.

This is a seminal moment for the European Union. It needs to show real leadership, vision and cohesiveness—but don’t hold your breath.

Not so long ago, any crisis of such proportions would spur a robust American response. But now the world isn’t sure where we stand. Washington failed to knock out ISIS/ISIL when it really was still “a jayvee team,” and failed to enforce our announced anti-Assad “red lines.” The resulting mass murder and mayhem has literally bled over into the Mediterranean refugee maelstrom.

It is into this chaos that the P5+1 — led by the US — has handed a virtual blank check (between $150-600 billion) to the Iranian regime. Tehran has its gameplan of regional hegemony-but what’s ours?

It is hard to imagine that President Obama, in homestretch of his two-term tenure is going to change course in Middle East. From his Cairo Speech to the Iran Nukes deal, he has bet the house that moderate Islamists would emerge from direct engagement. It never happened in Egypt. As for Iran? In 2009, the freedom-starved Iranian people went to the streets of Tehran chanting President Obama’s name. He never answered their plea for help in overturning tyranny,  instead, as with Assad’s Syria, he cut a deal that could keep the Mullahs in power indefinitely.

So it appears that the Europeans will have to solve this latest crisis on their own. But at the least, the American people should demand a robust debate in the media and among presidential candidates of both parties about how the U.S. can again “lead from the front” and prevent the post-WWII global order, including the EU and NATO, from unraveling.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a hisotrian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.