Washington´s middle of the road Middle East policy (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Zalman Shoval 04/10/12)
Israel Hayom Articles-Index-Top
Is the United States on the verge of another strategic failure in the
Middle East? That question will be answered only when the outcome of
the conflict in Syria becomes clear. The Syrian conflict is not only
between the Assad regime and the Syrian dissenters; it is also
between the U.S. and its allies (including Turkey) on one side, and
Iran (and to a certain extent Russia) on the other. The battle is
over influence in the Middle East. Washington wasted time, failing to
accurately read the political map, and despite its current attempts
to compensate, it may already be too late.
The coming days will reveal whether or not a cease-fire agreement can
be struck between the ruling regime and the rebels in Syria. While
nothing is ever final, U.N. and Arab League-sponsored diplomatic
efforts are, at this stage, serving the interests of Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, there is no indication that the political
and military clique surrounding Assad is losing its grip on power.
International calls for Assad to step down have ceased, and he is
even seen as a potential peace partner.
Looking at the situation from a wider diplomatic perspective, the
country that stands to gain the most from Assad´s survival, and
possible empowerment, is Iran – Assad´s biggest diplomatic, military,
and financial backer. If the Baath regime remains intact, Iran will
reap the geopolitical and strategic fruits, at least partially, as it
strives for regional hegemony. Iran will enter nuclear talks with the
West, scheduled to begin next week, with more leverage. This will
manifest itself, or perhaps is already manifesting itself, in
mounting Iranian audacity (it remains to be seen whether U.S.
President Barack Obama´s generous offers regarding Iran´s "civilian"
nuclear program haven´t already whet Iran´s appetite).
Tehran is surely also encouraged by Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz´s
recent declaration that he doesn´t consider the Iranian nuclear
program to be such a big threat. All this will result not only in the
erosion of the U.S.´ status in the region, but also in an increase in
the potential threat Syria and Iran pose to Israel, Jordan and even
Today, the U.S. is aware of what is at stake, even if it is a little
late. The increasingly decisive remarks by American administration
spokespeople are clear evidence of this. In the not-so-distant past,
Washington refused to commit to any particular stance – on the one
hand they called for Assad´s ouster and humanitarian aid for the
rebels, and on the other hand they opposed aggressive measures. Like
they did in Libya, the U.S. administration was content to "lead from
behind" – providing support from the rear, not on the front lines.
In a Washington Post article, former U.S. ambassador to Israel Matin
Indyk explained that this is characteristic of U.S. President Barack
Obama´s foreign policy – as long as U.S. interests aren´t directly
affected. But supporting from behind could mean being left behind.
Will that be the fate of the American policy when the epilogue of the
Syrian conflict is written?
Indyk´s article also reflects the criticism against Obama´s overall
Middle East policy, not just in Syria. He wrote that "despite his
Cairo speech, despite his time growing up in Indonesia, despite his
effort to pressure Israel to freeze settlements and despite his
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama enters his re-election
campaign with his own popularity (and that of the United States) in
the broader Islamic world mired at levels similar to those of the
late George W. Bush presidency."
Last week, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in a
different article in the Washington Post, asked a poignant question
about American attitudes toward the Middle East, namely the Arab
Spring: Won´t abandoning basic national U.S. interests in the Middle
East in favor of supposed humanitarian and democratic endeavors
ensure the demise of both? In other words, Kissinger is wondering if
eventually, Obama´s policy will not only hurt the U.S.´ strategic and
geopolitical standing, but it will also undermine the democratic and
humanitarian values that the Obama administration purports to
endorse. Good question.
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY