Obama’s Middle East cluelessness

Scott McLeod writes:

Friday’s announcement of George Mitchell’s planned resignation as the U.S. mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict appears to be yet another sign of the disarray and failure in President Obama’s handling of the Middle East. Recently, two articles provided a troubling inside look at the ineptitude that makes Mitchell’s departure unsurprising. A New Yorker piece on the Arab Spring by Ryan Lizza describes Obama’s navigation between realists and idealists, and tags him (per the article’s title) as “The Consequentialist.” Perhaps “The Cluelessist” is more like it.

Lizza’s article this month and “Obama Seeks Reset in the Arab World” by Mark Landler in the New York Times this week relay the narrative of the president’s spinmeisters: the Middle East poses devilishly complicated challenges, and Obama is struggling with them as well as can be expected. Lizza lets an Obama adviser get away with making the concept of “leading from behind” sound like a tool of noble statesmanship rather than a cowardly cop-out. Yet, as Obama prepares to give a foreign policy speech as early as next week, the reporting in these two articles — and now Mitchell’s resignation — add up to an unflattering portrait of a White House wandering the Middle East without a map.

One of the signs is the White House’s effort to erase Obama’s misjudgments from the record. In Egypt, the truth is that the White House failed to see the writing on the wall and foolishly stood by the brutal and corrupt Mubarak regime to the end. As Lizza writes, “Obama decided not to call for Mubarak to step down… Obama’s instinct was to have it both ways.” While Obama supposedly sympathized with the protesters, he clearly didn’t want to alienate other pro-American dictators or risk destabilization in a major Arab country that had made peace with Israel.

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4 thoughts on “Obama’s Middle East cluelessness

  1. Norman

    “O”, this is exactly what we have in a P.O.T.U.S. A big zero. The infrastructure of the U.S. is deteriorating, yet the Government is wasting $Billions on wars that can’t be won, backing the wrong people because those people allow the U.S. Military access to staging areas, complete with the corruption that goes with it. The mind set in the U.S. has been corrupted beyond redemption. The Israeli’s convince the U.S. that the Arabs were the boogieman, but in reality, it’s been the Israeli’s, or their leaders to be more specific. There is no way the U.S. will win, until they shake off the yoke of Israel.

  2. Nemo

    The POTUS and AIPAC and WINEP want to have it both ways. How to acknowledge the change in the Arab world but at the same time keep pliant pro-US rulers in place. The US is not really interested in democracy either in the Arab world or elsewhere. The US is interested in domination either through the “right” leaders or the Israeli hammer.
    In the long run this is a no-win strategy. No US politician wants to acknowledge this. To do so would be to cut yourself off from the funds you need to maintain your spot in Washington.

  3. delia ruhe

    Rami Khouri and Scott MacLeod, hmmm . . . . I am beginning to think it’s time I went back to Chomsky’s take on the US-Israel relationship because none of this is making any sense. I think we’d better start looking harder for what’s in it for the US, because putting it all down to Obama spinelessness is just lazy.

    Chomsky isn’t the only analyst to dismiss the surface appearance of things. Readers might be interested in this piece at My Catbird Seat:


  4. Mike

    US relations in the Middle East is based on three pillars: protect Saudi Arabia at all cost, protect the oil flow to the Western world, and build a set of unbreakable alliances to prevent another all out war against Israel.

    Your piece calls Obama clueless. However, you fail to demonstrate any grounding on our Middle East realities. You fail to understand how rushing to turn out Mubarak would have serious geopolitical impact on the Saudis and on the flow of oil.

    There is currently no reason to believe that Egypt will become democratic. They will have an unstable government with some personal freedoms for a few years. Soon they will be taken over by powerful forces that will make Egypt more conservative and religious — and not a friend of either the US or Israel.

    The Saudi royal family wants to know if it has an indisputable friend in the WH. Will they side with a popular uprising, or will they side with stability? While the US wants these countries to have much greater freedom, even democracy, they do not want a fanatic rise out of mobs. They would much rather have the current King in Saudi Arabia than a lunatic Arab Imam bent on sending the Middle East to war over Israel.

    So which is it: lunatics in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, or the current Obama measured steps?

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