A New York Times report on a major reappraisal of President Obama’s approach to the Middle East tosses this sentence in close to the end:
After vigorous debate, the group decided to make the Middle East peace process a top priority — even after failing to broker an agreement during the administration’s first term — in part because Mr. Kerry had already thrown himself into the role of peacemaker.
Top priority? More like an afterthought.
The actual conclusion of the White House review — and note, this was a foreign policy review that didn’t actually involve the State Department (whose domain is what?) — was that the Middle East is very troublesome and the U.S. has no influence, so let’s just move on.
Each Saturday morning in July and August, Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s new national security adviser, gathered half a dozen aides in her corner office in the White House to plot America’s future in the Middle East. The policy review, a kind of midcourse correction, has set the United States on a new heading in the world’s most turbulent region.
At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.
That includes Egypt, which was once a central pillar of American foreign policy. Mr. Obama, who hailed the crowds on the streets of Cairo in 2011 and pledged to heed the cries for change across the region, made clear that there were limits to what the United States would do to nurture democracy, whether there, or in Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia or Yemen.
The president’s goal, said Ms. Rice, who discussed the review for the first time in an interview last week, is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.
“We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” she said, adding, “He thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.”
Not only does the new approach have little in common with the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush, but it is also a scaling back of the more expansive American role that Mr. Obama himself articulated two years ago, before the Arab Spring mutated into sectarian violence, extremism and brutal repression.
The blueprint drawn up on those summer weekends at the White House is a model of pragmatism — eschewing the use of force, except to respond to acts of aggression against the United States or its allies, disruption of oil supplies, terrorist networks or weapons of mass destruction. Tellingly, it does not designate the spread of democracy as a core interest. [Continue reading…]
A model of pragmatism? Or apathy.