Obama's speech bombs in Middle East
Foreign Policy's Nathaniel Sobel has tracked reaction in the Middle East to President Obama's announcement that the US would expand the war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and not suprisingly, most commenters took a dim view of the speech.
Many of the criticisms echo US domestic concerns about the plan, with a little paranoia directed against Israel for good measure.
An "outsourced" war effort, a "foolish and dangerous" policy that only Israel can be responsible for and that Turkey refuses to participate in. That's a sampling of the reaction in the Middle East to President Barack Obama's plans to widen his campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
Thursday morning, the Middle East woke up to news that Obama expects their governments to sign up for as many as three years of airstrikes and military intervention in Iraq and Syria. The media reaction was decidedly mixed.
Echoing Turkey's opposition to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Arab News reported that "Turkey will not allow a U.S.-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants."
Writing for the Turkish paper Hurriyet, veteran columnist Murat Yetkin accused the Obama administration of "outsourcing" the war against the Islamic State and noted the president's unwillingness to commit ground forces to the effort.
An op-ed contributor for the Jordan Times criticized the American policy as doing Israel's bidding: "The only explanation for this foolish and dangerous policy is Israel."
In the Emirates, the National published an editorial that criticized the speech for leaving far too many questions unanswered. "The speech did not dispel the impression that the US still lacks a clear strategy with specific achievable goals," the paper wrote. "This is not entirely surprising, given that a central tenet of Mr Obama's presidency has been disengagement with the war in Iraq started by his predecessor."
The Arab media remained focused on Thursday's Jeddah summit, which Secretary of State John Kerry is leading along with foreign ministers and officials from Gulf nations, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Though Saudi Arabia has agreed to host a training program for Syrian rebels, there is a lack of clarity about what the Obama administration expects countries in the region to contribute to the fight against Islamic State militants. And on Wednesday, American officials seemed to be downplaying those expectations. "The issue is not about increasing the number of countries who will confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other extremist groups, but about clear actions and positions towards these groups," an American official told the pan-Arab daily Al-Awsat.
To be fair, there was some supportive comments as well.
The Jordan Times reported that King Abdullah said Wednesday that he "voiced Jordan's support for regional and international radicalism-combating efforts." Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri similarly advocated a global anti-terror strategy. "Cairo will discuss every effort which can be made by the alliance to eradicate the phenomenon of extremist groups in the region," a diplomatic source told Asharq al-Awsat while refusing to specify Egypt's political or military role.
Israeli media largely offered cautious support to the president, with one commenter, Orly Azoulay of YNet News pointing out that the president's naive supporters are disconnected from reality.
In countries where the press usually acts as a mouthpiece for oppressive governments, these sentiments can be said to reflect the opinions of leaders across the region. It does not bode well for the president's plan to use local troops to fight Islamic State on the ground.