February 6, 2011
The Obama Administration and the Middle East: A Half-Time AssessmentBy Barry Rubin
There are people -- many in the media and academia -- who figuratively go bananas if anyone criticizes President Barack Obama. They maintain that he is doing just a great job as if this is beyond any of rational discussion.
And yet what has happened in the Middle East in the first two years of his term?
--The Iranians have continued full speed ahead toward getting nuclear weapons. Though the administration deserves credit for getting higher sanctions through the UN, these have not actually affected the problem.
--The Israel-Palestinian peace process, partly through Obama's mismanagement, has fallen completely apart.
--Lebanon has been taken over by a Hezb'allah-dominated government with Syrian and Iranian tutelage.
--Hamas's control over the Gaza Strip has been stabilized and entrenched due to U.S. policy mistakes.
--Turkey has continued to drift toward the Iran-Syria bloc and disregarded U.S. interests without costs.
--The policy to moderate Syria has failed completely while Damascus is both confident and more aggressive.
--Pakistan seems more and more unstable while not being particularly helpful toward U.S. counterterrorist efforts.
--Obama's charm offensive toward Islamism has yielded no material benefit for U.S. interests.
--The Obama Administration's rush to push out Mubarak's regime has created a very dangerous situation that might spread to other countries.
--Generally, U.S. friends in the region are distressed, doubting they can trust in America's protection; U.S. enemies are encouraged, believing America is weak and in retreat.
It's a bit more complex to assess the two U.S. wars:
--U.S. forces have been largely withdrawn from Iraq, though this was in large measure made possible by the surge that Obama opposed and ridiculed. Iraq's governmental situation is in something of a mess.
--No particular progress has been made in Afghanistan while there are dangerous hints of U.S. concessions to the Taliban, while U.S.-Afghan governmental relations are quite rocky.
Well, nobody said it would be easy. Oh, actually a lot of the Obama people and their supporters did say it was going to be easy. Even if I missed any points or wasn't entirely balanced above -- I welcome suggestions -- this is a terrible record. Worse still, it seems to presage more declines and disasters to come.
It is barely possible to ignore all the above points; hard to distort them into something positive; tempting to blame the predecessor or other countries. Yet at least up to the Egypt crisis that's pretty much what's happened.
So what does this mean? Here are some implications:
--Israel will not take risks or make concessions based on this administration's promises because it doesn't keep its promises or its commitments. The Administration is only proving the ineptness that Israelis already expected.
--But, of course, the same applies to the Palestinian Authority. Do you think it believes the U.S. government is going to protect it from Hamas?
--Do you think the Saudis and Jordanians believe America will protect them from Iran?
--Do you think the democratic oppositions in Lebanon and Turkey and Iran believe the United States will help them despite what he did in Egypt?
--Unintentionally, the mistakes of the Obama Administration has become a factor spreading the power of radical Islamist movements. People aren't going to like that sentence but it is objectively true. Israelis know it; Arabs know it; Iran's leadership knows it.
These are not partisan statements. They are as true as any critical examination of the Bush Administration's shortcomings. If you wish, you can ignore them. But the Middle East cannot afford that luxury.