Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has played a key role in the misreading of the Mid-East by the CIA and the Pentagon. Panetta’s severe miscomprehension of the Mid-East, and oversimplified worldview, were reflected by his December 2, 2011 speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC.
Panetta was a member of the 2006 Iraq Study Group, which recommended that Iran and Syria be coopted into the effort to stabilize Iraq. He was unfamiliar with a basic Mid-East truism: Iran and Syria have been the historical arch-enemies of Iraq, as well as two of the most ruthless, anti-US terrorist regimes in the world.
Marshaling his experience as a former Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Clinton’s White House Chief-of-Staff and member of the board of the New York Stock Exchange, Panetta has praised the “Technological Youth Revolution” on the Arab Street. He misperceives the eruption of the Islamic political lava, which consumes and destabilizes relatively pro-Western Arab regimes, as an “Arab awakening” and the “March of Democracy.”
Panetta supported the 2009 decision to court the (then) illegal anti-Mubarak, anti-US, subversive, Islamic-supremacist Muslim Brotherhood. He backed the decision to invite Muslim Brotherhood leaders to Obama’s Cairo University speech on June 4, 2009, which was perceived by Egyptians as the abandonment of Mubarak by the US – a repeat of President Carter’s abandonment of the Shah of Iran.
In 2010, he perpetuated the Assad-placating legacy of the Iraq Study Group, considering the return of the US Ambassador to Damascus – after five years of absence – as a worthy engagement with Bashar Assad, who was perceived as a potentially constructive leader by the Obama Administration.
The December 2, 2011 rebuke of Israel, by Secretary Panetta – “just get to the damn table” – was symptomatic of the Iraq Study Group state of mind. The Iraq Study Group believed in the centrality of the Palestinian issue in Mid-East politics, as well as in shaping Arab attitudes toward the US. Therefore, Panetta and his colleagues assume that an American-driven resolution of the Palestinian issue would be a key panacea to regional conflicts, improving Arab sentiments toward the US.
Unimpressed by the Palestinian-free turmoil in each Arab country, Panetta still believes in the Palestinian centrality and in the linkage between the Israel-Palestinian negotiation on the one hand and the seismic developments, which threaten the survival of pro-US Arab regimes irrespective of the Palestinian issue or Israel’s existence.
Undeterred by the anti-Western about-face of Ankara’s policy and the expected 180 degrees turn of Cairo’s alignment in regional and global affairs, Panetta urges Israel to mend fences with Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, as a major step toward regional stability. He maintains that a strategic common ground exists between solidly pro-US Israel and Turkey, which has anointed itself the leader of the Muslim world, Egypt, which is trending toward a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship and Jordan, which collaborated with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Secretary Panetta warns Israel of its isolation in the Mid-East, failing to realize that Israel’s splendid isolation sets it apart from the treacherous, unreliable, unstable and increasingly anti-US region. Contrary to Panetta’s observation, Israel’s isolation from the Arab Street has been its badge of honor, highlighting its shared Judeo-Christian values with the US. Israel’s isolation from the hate-driven region has made it a unique unconditional, democratic, added-value ally of the US, providing the US with cutting-edge commercial and defense technologies, invaluable intelligence and unshakable alliance.
Secretary Panetta’s simplistic view of the Mid-East erodes the US posture of deterrence. His rebuke of Israel forces the Arabs to further radicalize their demands, policy and terrorism, lest they be outflanked by the US from the hawkish side. It does not get them to “the damn table;” it gets them away from “the damn table.”