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al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia

Despite Everything, Obama’s
First Four Years Were
Beneficial for the Middle East

By Amir Taheri

In light of what many see as the contradictions that govern American policy, Washington’s role has become, in practical terms, increasingly marginal or even irrelevant.

Translated By Jackson Allan

3 February 2013

Edited by Mary Young

Saudi Arabia - al-Sharq al-Awsat - Original Article (Arabic)

Approximately 68 years ago, on Feb. 14, American President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the monarch of Saudi Arabia, aboard the American battleship USS Quincy in the Suez Canal. That meeting was an indication of the role that America would play in guaranteeing stability in the Middle East. Since that time, 11 American presidents from both the Democratic and Republican parties have invariably respected this commitment. Even in 1980, in the midst of a climate of conciliation, President Jimmy Carter defended this approach with a rigid stance, in what was known as the “Carter Accord.”

As for President Barack Obama, his stances have fluctuated between his desire to end America’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs and his fear of appearing weak in front of voters. Ultimately, the result is a kind of contorted, deceptive policy that has shown America as an inconsistent friend whose lack of commitment creates adversaries both inside and outside the Middle East.

Obama appears to have been scarcely in sync with his country’s values, history and global aspirations. Without stating it outright, he has practically portrayed America as an imperial power that, having committed wrongs against others, must now atone for them.

This approach encouraged the Khamenei regime in Iran to hasten its steps toward nuclear power. When Obama entered the White House, Iran was enriching uranium in a few hundred centrifugal apparatuses. Today that number is closer to 12,000 apparatuses, in open defiance of five decrees made by the UN Security Council. In other words, the mullahs consider Washington’s endeavor to “extend the hand of friendship” to mean that it is pulling its hands away from Iran in an act of surrender. After that, Obama, fearful of appearing weak, was convinced that he must support the authoritarian regimes being engulfed by the Arab Spring. Accordingly, just days before President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, Obama’s delegation in Cairo announced its support for a “transitional period under the leadership of President Mubarak.”*

That is to say that, even at that point, Obama was not amongst the ranks of the groups that, calling for democracy, were propelling the Arab Spring. Rather, he was gripped by doubts about them. One source of these doubts was the fact that some of these groups had benefited from the “freedom agenda” that the younger George Bush had launched in 2003. Since Obama considered all of George Bush’s actions to be sins, he needed to come by new allies on his own. That is what he found in the Muslim Brotherhood, even though he was, before this pivotal point, stimulating a conflict with the Iraqis, which he exploited as a pretext for ending his commitment to maintaining and developing Iraq’s security.

Before that, Obama had presented another example of his contorted approach in Libya. The United States had assumed command of the greater part of NATO’s aerial operations against the Gadhafi regime, even though the principle of “leading from behind,” which Obama had adopted, meant that he remained in the background. That is, until the jihadists targeted his ambassador in Benghazi.

Obama employed roughly the same contorted approach in relation to the Syrian issue. So as not to disrupt the present state of mutual understanding between America and Russia, he granted Russian leadership influence over American policy through the United Nations. Thus, it was possible to preserve the general form of the mutual understanding, but in accordance with conditions set by Vladimir Putin.

Another one of Obama’s accomplishments is that he has reeled in America’s relationship with Israel and described Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as a “coward” and “liar.”** Nonetheless, this position has not benefited him much vis-à-vis the Palestinians, who remember well his promise of attaining a Palestinian state during his first year in the White House.

Thus, on account of Obama’s first term of governance, the United States has lost many friends and come out with a larger number of enemies in the Middle East. Accordingly, its image has become one of a hesitant player who, thanks to the harmony [sic] between its components, is unable to make effective use of its tremendous resources. In light of what many see as the contradictions that govern American policy, Washington’s role has become, in practical terms, increasingly marginal or even irrelevant.

Despite that, we must say that the first four years of Obama’s presidency have been good for the Middle East. This is because the incoherence of Obama’s perspective, along with his haphazard blundering, exhausted the morale of Washington’s allies among the leaders of authoritarian regimes. This allowed rapid change to occur in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Additionally, the Islamists who, allied with Washington, gained power in the aftermath of that change are no longer able to resort to using fear of the West as a weapon by evoking hostility toward America whenever they are compelled to cover up their mistakes and justify their failures.

In the meantime, Arab countries, as well as Turkey, must crystallize a new method of dealing with the Iranian challenge, independent of the issue’s American and American-Israeli dimensions.

America’s retreat may also force Israel and the Palestinians to cease waiting in futility for an American Godot to resolve their conflict for them.

* Editor’s Note: This quote, while accurately translated, could not be verified.

** Editor’s Note: These quotes, while accurately translated, could not be verified.



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