Obama’s Trip to the Middle East Is Quite a Dilemma

On March 19, U.S. President Obama set off for Israel, the West Bank and Jordan to start off the first visit of his second term. Is this visit going to be an opportunity for restarting the Middle East peace process? Will there be any adjustment to the Obama aministration’s Middle East policy? Before Air Force One had taken off, negative remarks regarding this visit were already rife. The White House and Obama also tried to lower the expectations of the public, claiming that no grand peace plan would be in their agenda this time. Obama’s indecisiveness is palpable.

Obama was meaning to make some progress on the Middle East issue. At the beginning of his first term, he had high hopes and talked about the Palestinian-Israeli problem with high gestures when giving his speech in Cairo in June 2009. He reiterated the two-state solution and its role in facilitating the Middle East peace process and hoped for a “brand new” start between America and the Arab world. In the speech he made in May 2011 on Middle East policy, he brought up the suggestion that peace talks between Palestine and Israel should be organized again and claimed that the border between Israel and Palestine must be based on the 1967 lines. Additionally, he expected that the impetus of the Arab Spring would prompt political reforms and democratic movements of the Middle East and North Africa and that U.S. Middle East policy would start a new era.

However, things have gone against his wishes. Not long before the peace talks resumed in 2010, they were interrupted again. The Palestinians thought Obama fell short of necessary action, while the good impression that he left on Israel also worsened. Domestically, his political opponents criticized him for betraying their ally, Israel. Obama seemed to have disappointed all the parties. The Arab Spring turned in to the “Arab Winter,” an increasingly messy situation which deterred America from gaining what it had expected from geopolitics. The security and environment in Israel deteriorated rather than improved. Obama’s enthusiasm for the Arab Spring was obstructed.

The solutions to two other fundamental problems have not been found yet. Obama’s government’s primary goal is to overthrow Bashar Assad’s government without being involved directly. As for the Iran nuclear dilemma, he has persistently stated that he wants to take part in dialogue and adopt only diplomatic means, while at the same time placing more sanctions on Iran and seeking to isolate it by raising further conditions and obstacles.

His indecisiveness can be attributed to the following two points: the complex nature of the problem itself and the diversity of U.S. interests in the Middle East. During the Cold War, under the persuasion of the Jewish party, the U.S. cooperated with Israel, aiming to gain interests in terms of energy and resources.* By exercising a balance of power, the U.S. became deeply involved in the Middle East problem, as it was actively competing with the USSR. After the Cold War, democracy, anti-terrorism and anti-proliferation were marked as the pillars of its Middle East policy, which essentially are merely excuses for them to suppress and annihilate the other parties and therefore have caused more trouble. The root lies in the fact that the U.S. has contradictory goals and thus cannot match its actions to its words.

The Middle East is in chaos. The ‘rebalance’ of the American global strategy introduced in Obama’s first term was oriented toward the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, with a tilt toward Asia. However, the significance of the conflicts in the Middle East rises, rather than falls, and takes up a considerable amount of Obama’s time.

America, with its own power and influence in the Middle East, has the potential to launch the Middle East peace process. If Obama wants to save himself some trouble, he has to know what to give up on, focus less on the U.S.’ own interests and domestic politics and think more from the holistic perspective regarding the stabilization of the situation in the Middle East. This approach is exactly what every U.S. government lacks.

*Editor’s Note: There is no “Jewish party” in the United States. The author may have been referring to the idea of a “Jewish lobby” or else to the political power held by parties in Israel.

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