Niall Ferguson Blasts Obama’s Foreign Policy

Niall Ferguson
The Daily Beast
via Business Insider

Newsweek’s new columnist makes his debut in this week’s issue with a cover story on Obama’s Egypt debacle and the strategic vacuum it exposes in the White House.

“The statesman can only wait and listen until he hears the footsteps of God resounding through events; then he must jump up and grasp the hem of His coat, that is all.” Thus Otto von Bismarck, the great Prussian statesman who united Germany and thereby reshaped Europe’s balance of power nearly a century and a half ago.

Last week, for the second time in his presidency, Barack Obama heard those footsteps, jumped up to grasp a historic opportunity… and missed it completely.

In Bismarck’s case, it was not so much God’s coattails he caught as the revolutionary wave of mid-19th-century German nationalism. And he did more than catch it; he managed to surf it in a direction of his own choosing. The wave Obama just missed—again—is the revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern democracy. It has surged through the region twice since he was elected: once in Iran in the summer of 2009, the second time right across North Africa, from Tunisia all the way down the Red Sea to Yemen. But the swell has been biggest in Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country.

In each case, the president faced stark alternatives. He could try to catch the wave, Bismarck style, by lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries and trying to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests. Or he could do nothing and let the forces of reaction prevail. In the case of Iran, he did nothing, and the thugs of the Islamic Republic ruthlessly crushed the demonstrations. This time around, in Egypt, it was worse. He did both—some days exhorting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave, other days drawing back and recommending an “orderly transition.

The result has been a foreign-policy debacle. The president has alienated everybody: not only Mubarak’s cronies in the military, but also the youthful crowds in the streets of Cairo. Whoever ultimately wins, Obama loses. And the alienation doesn’t end there. America’s two closest friends in the region—Israel and Saudi Arabia—are both disgusted. The Saudis, who dread all manifestations of revolution, are appalled at Washington’s failure to resolutely prop up Mubarak. The Israelis, meanwhile, are dismayed by the administration’s apparent cluelessness.

Last week, while other commentators ran around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hyperventilating about what they saw as an Arab 1989, I flew to Tel Aviv for the annual Herzliya security conference. The consensus among the assembled experts on the Middle East? A colossal failure of American foreign policy…

This article continues at Business Insider and first appeared in The Daily Beast.

Related: From

Mika Brzezinski sure thought she had Niall Ferguson nailed when she cricitzed his pessimistic outlook on Egypt’s revolution. All the pictures seem to be sunshine and gummy drops, with no hint of unrest or chaos in the newly free country. But Niall is quick to point out how it’s too early to declare it a success for democracy either. He then proceeds to school the Morning Joe crew through a history of U.S. foreign policy and with his analysis of the current administration’s efforts so far.

Update: Trevor Loudon at New Zeal writes that he disagrees with Ferguson, but has the video from today’s Morning Joe.

Update 2: More Niall at therightscoop:

Niall Ferguson, after detailing the blunders this administration has made over Egypt and calling it a shambles, tells Spitzer that he’s startled at the smooth ride Obama and Hillary have been getting on the American Press…

There’s video at the link.

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