When Obama became president, he made some substantial revisions to America’s Middle East policy, confirming the following objectives: promoting peace talks between Israel and Palestine; making progress on the two-state solution; gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq and allowing the Iraqis to govern themselves; increasing the troops in Afghanistan and fighting against al-Qaida and its extremist associates; putting isolated pressure on Iran to force it to stop developing nuclear weapons; improving America’s image in the Arab-Islamic world; and preserving America’s dominance in political and economic affairs in the Middle East. However, a year and a half later, these objectives have still not been accomplished.
First of all, peace talks between Israel and Palestine have stalled, thanks to Israel’s tough stance. Since Israel refuses to stop talking about establishing a Jewish settlement, the peace talks are unable to get off the ground. America, steering clear of the settlement issue, forced indirect peace talks to start on May 9. On May 31, the Israeli army attacked an international flotilla carrying relief supplies to Gaza, provoking condemnation from the international society and putting America in an awkward situation. Even so, America still favors Israel.
Second, it is still impossible to discern the direction of the political situation in Iraq. On March 7, Iraq held parliamentary elections. The results have been inspected, confirmed and announced; however, since it is difficult to balance the different interests between the parties, a government has still not been formed. At the same time, after the Americans began to withdraw troops, violent attacks in Iraq visibly increased. The political situation in Iraq has many uncertain factors, which will affect the implementation of America’s withdrawal plans again.
Third, the political situation in Afghanistan is even more chaotic than in Iraq. American high officials accused the Afghan government of being corrupt and incompetent while Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized America for interfering too much in his country’s internal affairs. The situation was so tense that at one point Karzai even threatened to elicit support from the Taliban. In June, the highest military official stationed in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, criticized several top officials in America, exposing the partisan politics of the U.S. Army.
Obama emphasized that America will stick to the original strategy and time frame in Afghanistan, but noted that many American troops will still be stationed there in July 2011, after the troop withdrawal begins. Both the U.S. Army and the intelligence agencies concede that the war in Afghanistan will drag on for a long time.
Fourth, there has been no progress on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. When Obama first came into office, he said that he wanted to have direct talks with Iran, but since neither side was able to make compromises in good faith, the talks did not achieve anything. Western media agencies repeatedly reported that the American and Israeli armies attacked Iranian nuclear facilities. Meanwhile, Iran announced that it will independently produce uranium enriched to 20 percent. America has continued to promote sanctions on Iran in U.N. Security Council meetings and confirmed that it would impose unilateral sanctions on Iran. Iran reacted harshly to these measures. The Iran nuclear issue is still at an impasse.
Additionally, after Obama came to office he showed his good intentions to the Arabic-Islamic world, at one time gaining a favorable impression. However, the actions of the Obama administration in the Middle East, especially the favoritism and indulgence toward Israel, are dismaying. On May 17, the Pew Research Center of America announced its opinion poll results, reporting that the percentage of people who held a favorable opinion about America dropped from 27 percent in 2009 to 17 percent. Fewer than 20 percent of people living in other Islamic countries held a favorable opinion about the United States. The state of affairs shows that even though the U.S. is a dominant power in the Middle East, its ability to lead is declining.
The hot topics in the Middle East are all difficult to resolve in a short amount of time, and the Middle East is still going to be unstable in the long term. The U.S. is not going to give up its right to govern affairs in the Middle East; consequently, it will undoubtedly be deeply involved in the region in the long term. America’s actions in the Middle East have restrained it to a considerable extent, which has affected its ability to fully implement the major points in its global strategy in the East, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
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