A friend I knew from my Washington days has given me permission to share a pessimistic email he recently sent me.
A bit about the writer: Colonel Dermer, or “P.J.” as I know him, recently retired from the US Army. His background and military career was quite unusual, and he has a remarkable bluntness, which is naturally why I took a liking to him. He spent over 30 years in the Army and was thrust into a myriad of US-Mideast issues, almost always in an operational capacity.
PJ filled several roles at various US embassies, including the impossible job of working between the Israeli and Palestinian security services during the George W Bush years.
He is back to the Middle East, this time as a private civilian. He's just completed a regional trip and below is some of the more searing impressions he collected from his contacts, old and new, on the state of the Obama administration and its Mideast policies. [You can tell PJ is newly retired as he still uses "we" to describe the US government (or "USG")!]
After decades of one policy misstep after another we still don't seem to get the Middle East at large. We really don't. And we do not appear to be learning.
I am not so sure if it is ignorance, or a collective intellectual wall that only allows us to frame things from our perspective, or hubris and timidity from those in and around power to really call things as they are.
Regardless, on my recent travels through Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, I once again viewed the effects and consequences of what my friends in the region view as the Obama Administration's continued "fundamental basic policy missteps" for reasons no one is sure of - and more importantly, are afraid to ask.
These perceptions are not boding us well. On this trip two prime examples were voiced: the vacuum after President Obama's heralded Cairo speech last year and the Mitchell Team's continued road to nowhere. Both raised expectations - an elementary mistake in and of itself - and both resulted in nothing. More troublesome, however, is the perception there are no signs of fixing what ails us.
As such, I discovered that Israel and her Arab/Palestinian neighbors have another shared view other than their fight against Islamic extremism. All are asking out loud if we are actually as incompetent as we look - or simply cunning and just playing possum until the right moment.
Their thought pattern is along the lines of what we still hear in Iraq seven years on. If the U.S. really wanted the electricity to be turned on, it would do it - period. Any thinking to the contrary, i.e. that the U.S. really CAN'T do something about what ails us - is an extremely dangerous prospect for all. No one really wants to go there, Arab or Israeli. Why? Because if the U.S. can't do it, then we - those of us that live in the region - are really in big trouble. Consequently, we will be forced to act - either by design or default- to take actions heretofore not allowed on the table. Israel vs. Iran come to mind here?
Palestinians visualize their concern by large billboard ads recently put up throughout the West Bank. The black and white ads show a shadowed caricature of the President with one line noting, "One year with Obama, so what's changed?" USG confidants in the region noted that our hubris still outweighs a willingness to challenge long held assumptions or comprehend how things are on the ground. In any case throughout my trip I heard the disturbing refrain over and over, "Is this the best America can do? Please tell us it is not."
The only comment I'll make here about PJ's note is that it appears based on the viewpoints of American allies in the region (especially the so-called "moderates" - the variety who seek more, rather than less, US regional intervention).
Now that he has retired and is no longer constrained, perhaps he could mix (if he hasn't already like these folks) with some of the Islamist groups, especially those with greater gravitational pull than Washington might care to admit.