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The Three Changes Coming to Obama's Approach to the Middle East

Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
February 4, 2011
Foreign Policy


These days, all opinions, commentaries, and bold assertions about American foreign policy should come with a disclaimer: "What I am about to say could look awfully foolish by tomorrow morning." With this understood, three changes in the way the Obama administration approaches the Middle East seem likely to me. (And one of them has to do with the analytical and operational timidity that takes hold when people become too worried about being embarrassed by fast-moving events.)

First, the Egyptian crisis cements the primacy of the greater Middle East in American foreign policy as a whole. Perhaps some people thought that the Barack Obama administration, after skillfully closing out its inherited involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, could then turn to dealing with larger problems of the global future, like the rise of China, nuclear proliferation, or climate change? Well, forget that. The immediate stakes for Washington -- including even for the Obama's political standing at home -- will not seem of comparable significance anywhere outside the Middle East. Obama will regularly face this challenging question: how well are you dealing with new realities in the region? (Remember, although the end of the Cold War was expected to make Eastern Europe less important, people judged Bill Clinton's foreign-policy performance by his handling of the Balkans and NATO enlargement.) Iraq and Afghanistan will be factored into the evaluation. After Egypt, it will be even harder for the president to walk away from Afghanistan with an unsatisfactory outcome.

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