The Times West Virginian

Headline News

January 12, 2014

Analysis: Obama’s grand plan for Mideast shrinks

WASHINGTON — Five years after pledging to remake the U.S. relationship with the broader Middle East and improve America’s image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration’s regional strategy appears to have come unhinged.

President Barack Obama has been confronted by fast-moving and ominous developments from Afghanistan to Tunisia, amid a bitter public power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and has adjusted his first term’s grand plan to restore Washington’s standing and influence.

Now, it’s a smaller vision that seems to rely on ad hoc responses aimed at merely keeping the United States relevant in an increasingly volatile and hostile atmosphere.

His administration has been forced to deal with three years of civil war in Syria. A Western-backed opposition is struggling to topple an autocratic government and repel Islamic fighters who also are destabilizing neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, where al-Qaida has resurged less than three years after Obama withdrew U.S. forces.

The U.S. is struggling to identify a coherent position in Egypt after the military ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president. The administration tried its best to avoid calling the power transfer a coup.

It is losing patience with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is refusing to sign a security agreement with the U.S. The pact would allow the U.S. to leave some troops in the country to help train and assist Karzai’s army in keeping the Taliban at bay after America’s longest conflict ends Dec. 31.

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal against resistance from both sides, in a quest dismissed by some as quixotic.

Yet apart from Kerry’s efforts, Obama’s national security team seems to have settled on a largely hands-off, do-no-harm approach to developments in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Egypt.

This has attracted criticism and concern, not least from traditional U.S. allies such as the Saudis, who like the Israelis and many members of Congress are wary, if not outright opposed to the administration’s engagement with Iran over its nuclear program.

Administration officials, of course, are quick to deny suggestions of indecision, weakness or, worse, political expedience.

They say the president is adopting carefully crafted, pragmatic and diplomatic initiatives for each hot spot — initiatives designed to reduce what current officials believe was President George W. Bush’s reliance on military might and pressure tactics.

While the crises engulfing the Middle East cannot be blamed on Obama, there are growing fears that the U.S.’s Mideast policy has become rudderless and reactive, and may be contributing to worsening conditions and a rise of Islamic extremism, notably in Syria and Iraq.

The administration has been accused of neglecting those countries while focusing on an elusive Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

“The deterioration in this region is just astounding,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem just three days into the New Year as Kerry was making his 10th peacemaking trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“Israel is surrounded by regimes falling apart on all sides. The Iranians are marching toward a nuclear capability. Syria is becoming a cancer infecting the whole region. And I yearn for peace. But more than anything else, I yearn for leadership — leadership for my country to be accounted for at a time when the world needs American leadership.”

An Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is “an important goal and aspiration and would be great for the world,” he said, criticizing the administration in the same city where Kerry was on his 10th peacemaking trip.

“But I’ll be honest with you, as Syria falls into chaos with 130,000 dead, and the king of Jordan and Lebanon deal with the effects of a raging war in Syria, as Iraq begins to fall apart, as the Iranians enrich, we have to put this in the context of the world at large,” Graham said.

Criticism from Republicans such as Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who echoed his colleague’s sentiments at the Jerusalem news conference, is to be expected. But it is coming from other quarters as well.

Senior members of the Saudi royal family have disparaged the United States on Syria and voiced their skepticism of the rapprochement with Iran.

Saudi frustration has become so intense that the kingdom took the unprecedented step of turning down a seat on the U.N. Security Council to protest inaction on Syria, and last week announced a $3 billion gift to the Lebanese army to help it battle extremists.

While publicly welcoming Kerry’s peace efforts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned against his diplomacy with Iran and tried to scuttle it.

Some, including current and former U.S. officials, worry that even the perception of disengagement is problematic and counterproductive. Their litany of complaints stretches from North Africa to Central Asia, and includes:

—a failure to carry through on threats to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government for its use of chemical weapons.

—not taking a tougher stand on the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

—not insisting on keeping a residual force in Iraq or offering greater support to the Iraqi government earlier.

—an inability to seal the deal to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

—seeking out a partnership with Iran while de-emphasizing engagement with nascent democracies in Tunisia and Libya.

The administration has adopted an “uncertain tone” in Iraq that has left a negative impression that is seen “so often in this region,” James F. Jeffrey, an ex-senior State Department official and ambassador to Baghdad, wrote in an essay this past week.

The administration is “seemingly signaling to everyone that ‘Job One’ is not getting us in any sort of military engagement — not just some new Vietnam, but any new cruise missile raid, or small continuing military presence in Afghanistan, or perhaps a few dozen uniformed U.S. (counterterrorism) experts to advise Iraqis on how to take down al-Qaida in Fallujah,” Jeffrey said. “The result has been an extraordinary collapse of our credibility in the region, despite many commendable administration actions.”

Jeffrey makes the case that the administration seems to be trying to insulate itself from criticism and in doing so is actually sending the wrong message.

“What goes missing with such a focus is empathy for the impact our words have on foreigners — our allies, partners, and foes around the world,” he wrote. “They are also an audience, and the former two keep ‘voting with their feet,’ from turning down Security Council Seats to any given Tel Aviv news conference. Until this all changes, chaos will continue to threaten us, in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

The administration adamantly rejects such complaints.

“The policy of the administration is that diplomacy should be the first option,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. She noted that Obama and Kerry have restarted the Middle East peace talks, opened direct talks with Iran and moved to rid Syria of chemical weapons without military strikes.

Just this weekend, she pointed out, Kerry will be meeting with Syrian opposition supporters and Arab League officials in Paris to discuss Syria and the peace process.

“To argue that we are not actively engaged in diplomatic efforts around the world is completely inaccurate and is baseless,” Psaki said.

“The issue with some of these (complaints) is it seems to equate engagement with military action, and engagement should not be measured by military action. Diplomacy is our first priority. ... It’s never in our interests to have troops in the middle of every single conflict in the Middle East or to be permanently involved in open-ended wars in the Middle East.”

Observers such as Jeffrey suggest that reasoning is too narrow.

The administration “conflates any military action with Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as if it’s all a slippery slope — and it isn’t,” he said. “They haven’t sorted out the difference between total war and using military forces intelligently — from the air, from ships, using special forces, using aid, giving weapons, helping people with advice. That’s what we need to do. And there is no easy answer.”

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 22, 2014

  • U.S. outlines case against Russia on downed plane

    Video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, leaving the likely launch site. Imagery showing the firing. Calls claiming credit for the strike. Recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.

    July 21, 2014

  • James Garner Obit.jpg 'Maverick' star James Garner, 86, dies in California

     Actor James Garner, whose whimsical style in the 1950s TV Western "Maverick" led to a stellar career in TV and films such as "The Rockford Files" and his Oscar-nominated "Murphy's Romance," has died, police said. He was 86.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Given life term, drug offender hopes for clemency

    From the very start, Scott Walker refused to believe he would die in prison.
    Arrested and jailed at 25, then sent to prison more than two years later, Walker couldn’t imagine spending his life behind bars for dealing drugs. He told himself this wasn’t the end, that someday he’d be released. But the years passed, his appeals failed and nothing changed.

    July 20, 2014

  • Teen’s death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers

    A few weeks before their prom king’s death, students at an Ohio high school had attended an assembly on narcotics that warned about the dangers of heroin and prescription painkillers.
    But it was one of the world’s most widely accepted drugs that killed Logan Stiner — a powdered form of caffeine so potent that as little as a single teaspoon can be fatal.

    July 20, 2014

  • Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site

    International monitors moved gingerly Saturday through fields reeking of the decomposing corpses that fell from a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, trying to secure the sprawling site in hopes that a credible investigation can be conducted.
    But before inspectors ever reach the scene, doubts arose about whether evidence was being compromised.

    July 20, 2014

  • Without radar, missile may not have identified jet

    If Ukrainian rebels shot down the Malaysian jetliner, killing 298 people, it may have been because they didn’t have the right systems in place to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft, experts said Saturday.
    American officials said Friday that they believe the Boeing 777 was brought down by an SA-11 missile fired from an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

    July 20, 2014

  • For Obama, foreign crises grow more challenging

    Surveying a dizzying array of international crises, President Barack Obama stated the obvious: “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.”
    And then suddenly, only a day later, the world had grown much more troubling, the challenges even more confounding.

    July 20, 2014

  • U.S.: Can’t rule out Russian role in plane downing

    U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that the United States cannot rule out that Russia helped in the launch of the surface-to-air missile that shot down a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

    July 19, 2014

  • Clinton papers: Of Iraq, bin Laden and Supreme Court

    President Bill Clinton’s advisers carefully considered how to explain the president’s military action against Iraq in 1998 as the House was debating his impeachment, according to records from the Clinton White House that were released Friday. The documents also touch upon Osama bin Laden, consideration of military action in Haiti in 1994 and preparationsfor Supreme Court nomination hearings.

    July 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads