from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Obama’s "New" Middle East Policy: "Modesty" or Pullback?

October 27, 2013

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Today’s New York Times carries a remarkable story about the "new" Obama Middle East policy, based on interviews with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The Times describes the policy as "modest," but that is not the right word. The policy defines an American abandonment of leadership in the region.

On Iran, the new policy seeks a negotiated deal and previous claims that "all options are on the table" are gone. No one appears to have calculated how the American and Western negotiating positions are weakened when the Iranian fear of a military attack is eliminated. A second focus is the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," despite the fact that no sober Israeli or Palestinian official believes a deal can be reached at this time. The third focus is Syria, where the policy now appears to be centered on Geneva talks that are sinking even as the Times article appears in print. I would rate the new policy focus as 0 for 3.

What’s missing? A determination to end the Iranian nuclear weapons program-- and to do so even if negotiations fail or if Iran’s position in the negotiations is unacceptable. A decision to prevent Iranian and Hezbollah expeditionary forces from achieving a victory in Syria that will change the balance of power in the entire region. A commitment to help those individuals in the region who are struggling peacefully for democracy and human rights. An American promise to allies, such as Jordan and the Gulf countries facing Iran, that we will stand by them in the face of refugee crises, economic difficulties, or Iranian aggression and subversion. Add it all up and what is missing is American leadership, and this is precisely the complaint - and the fear - of our friends in the region.

The Times story cannot be dismissed as sheer speculation; it is based on the words of the new National Security Advisor. It will hearten our enemies in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime and Iran, and confirm to our friends there that they will be far more on their own for the next few years than they have been for most of the last few decades. Think of it this way: who will be smiling when reading that article? An Israeli thinking about Iran’s nuclear weapons program, an Egyptian newspaper editor wondering about the limits of free speech, a Jordanian fearing a continuing flow of refugees from Syria and Hezbollah/Iranian dominance there, an Emirati worried about Iranian subversion-- or Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Al Assad, and Ayatollah Khamenei?

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