The Middle East: Change you can believe in
“What the hell has he done for the Middle East?”
After the recent violence began between Israel and Palestine, I was asked that question by a friend. My buddy was referring to President Obama of course, and I initially found myself lost for words.
First, I responded by offering one of the facts that gave me relief the day after Obama’s 2008 election. “He hasn’t been pressured into a land war with Iran, and John McCain would have undoubtedly engaged in such a disastrous effort.” Such a war was still possible, and would have had grave consequences.
From a strategic standpoint, it would have been simply idiotic. For those who wanted to understand why it would be outrageously stupid, a bit of research with an open mind would have clarified things. For those who thought that words such as “idiotic” were too harsh, or inappropriate within such discourse, I pointed them to a comment made by Obama’s former Secretary of Defence, a distinguished Republican by the name of Robert Gates: “In my opinion, any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
“And secondly,” I continued my response to my friend, “Obama… ummm… the… honestly… I have no damn clue!” While I wasn’t an expert, it didn’t take a professor to discover any significant undertaking that America had fashioned in the region, or was in the midst of creating.
Even with this lack of action, the media sometimes extended credit to the president for pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq. But anyone with half a brain would have gradually withdrawn from those regretful missions.
Furthermore, Libya was a mess. Syria was an even bigger mess. Jordan wasn’t strong. The dynamics of Egypt after Mubarak – a country whose treaty with Israel was fundamental for a wider peace within the region — had yet to show how they would play out (to the point that Obama looked completely ridiculous in an interview when he couldn’t clearly answer whether Egypt was an ally). All of this wasn’t America’s fault, but the region required American attention. But on many regional issues, unfortunately, there was no great Obama story to tell.
I would have loved to have recited some narrative that stated that, despite their declining influence in the region, the president of the U.S., Barack Obama, masterfully built a coalition while negotiating with the relevant partners, and brought peace to a region where it was long overdue: Israel and Palestine were living side by side in harmony.
But the truth is, every few years, another unfortunate war between Israel and Palestine suddenly unfolds on my TV/computer screens. This time, Hamas’ military leader, Ahmed al Jabari, was assassinated by Israel after the latter emphatically stated it was sick of Hamas launching rockets in its territory.
Currently there are talks in Cairo to see how much this conflict can be tamed. At the time of this writing, there is an official ceasefire announced, but the prospect of long-term peace seems increasingly unattainable.
Has American participation been adequate? I can understand that Obama has had many priorities to attend to, but to refrain from listing this as one of his duties during his first term is disgraceful; appointing former envoy George Mitchell (who later quit) wasn’t enough. If the status quo remains, or the facts on the ground get notably worse in his second term, history will make a mockery of Obama’s handling of international affairs.