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Guangming Online, China

Facing a New Problem, theĀ US
Adjusts Its Middle East Policies

By Tian Wenlin

Some analysts say that from looking at Kerry's schedule, it is clear that he is more interested in the Middle East than the Asia-Pacific region and wonder whether or not the United States will do more harm than good in the region.

Translated By Elizabeth Cao

16 February 2013

Edited by Rachel Smith

China - Guangming Online - Original Article (Chinese)

After bidding farewell to "model worker" Hillary Clinton, Americans quickly realized her successor, John Kerry, is even busier than she was. On Feb. 3, newly-appointed Kerry did not wait to make a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, showing that the United States is committed to promoting peace in the Middle East. Some analysts say that from looking at Kerry's schedule, it is clear that he is more interested in the Middle East than the Asia-Pacific region and wonder whether or not the United States will do more harm than good in the region.

The United States is one of the most important influences on the Middle East. Before some of the upheaval in the Middle East, the United States was trying to manipulate some things going on in the region. But the Arab Spring in 2011 apparently disrupted the plans of the United States and now it is left with a dilemma. On one hand, the unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East provides a rare opportunity for the United States to reshape order in the region. On the other hand, the Arab Spring shook up and collapsed many pro-Western regimes, causing America's traditional policies in the region to fail and requiring much effort on the United States' part to fix.

This kind of an interference has manifested in two aspects. On one hand, some more stable, pro-West countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain did not see any power shifts. Those in more hopeless situations like Egypt and Yemen eventually succumbed to the protesters. On the other hand, the radical anti-West countries, such as Syria and Libya, do not hesitate to use military intervention to quiet the protesters.

The "rebalancing" in the Middle East has not eliminated problems for the United States. Rather, it has produced a new series of issues and headaches.

The first is the accelerating spread of extremist religious forces. Secular regimes in the Middle East, such as Libya and Syria, have been the center of the crackdown on these forces, but the West's intervention in these countries has provided an opportunity for them to spread. Syria in the past has been protected from terrorist attacks, but since the Arab Spring in 2011, terrorists have been using Syria as a channel for their plans. Libya is in the same boat. Before the Arab Spring, the Libya jihad had all but disappeared, but the country's political turmoil has allowed for its reappearance. If it does not interfere in the internal affairs of some of the countries in the Middle East, the United States will be allowing for new space and development for these organizations. The growth of these extremist forces is a serious threat for the United States.

The second is the growth of Islam in politics in the Middle East. In a way, it was the United States' political gamble to push for a democratic transition that has allowed political Islamic forces to gain control. Islamic values are seemingly incompatible with Western ones due to the hostility in the political exchanges between the two regions. Allowing for the rise of Islam in politics means that to some extent the United States is losing the ability to control the situation in the Middle East. Morsi, the president of Egypt, went to Iran to participate in the Non-Aligned Movement summit and has also shown support for Hamas in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which all indicates that the new Egypt is pursuing a diplomatic policy away from the United States.

Though the Obama administration was determined to improve relations with the Muslim world, anti-American sentiment has increased during his term rather than fallen. A Pew Center survey in June of 2012 showed that the support rate of the United States in several Muslim countries was slightly lower than in 2008. The higher the level of U.S. assistance to Arab countries, the greater the level of anti-American sentiment. Another June 2012 report put out by the think thank Center for a New American Security showed that many diplomats and military officers, as well as several Arab monarchs, all agreed that gone are the days of United States activities in the Middle East.

When the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed in an attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, who at the time was still secretary of state, asked, "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction?" The answer to this question, which Clinton left behind, could now be Kerry's primary problem.



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