Sun Mar 31, 2013, 06:35 PM
Purveyor (29,433 posts)
Obama and America’s “Imperial Temptation” in the Middle East
Following President Obama’s address to an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem last week, progressive commentators in the United States hailed the speech as “a passionate appeal for peace” that “placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict squarely back on his agenda.” But those intoxicated by Obama’s rhetoric will soon experience a painful hangover. For the President’s Israel speech and the rest of his Middle East trip were focused, first and foremost, on domestic politics here in the United States. And Obama’s Middle East strategy is marked by a growing discrepancy between the arrogance of America’s regional agenda and its declining capacity to realise this agenda.
Understanding the tragedy of Obama’s Middle East policy requires some historical perspective. Two decades ago, America came out of the Cold War and the first Persian Gulf War with a degree of strategic supremacy like the world had not seen for centuries. This supremacy seemed especially pronounced in the Middle East. Since then, though, America has not been content to maintain its primacy in the Middle East, defend its interests there, and deal effectively with the region’s complex political and security dynamics. Instead, it has succumbed to a post-Cold War temptation to act as an imperial power in the Middle East, trying to coerce political outcomes with the goal of consolidating a pro-American regional order.
The United States did this by retaining military forces on the ground in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states after the first Gulf War—something it did not do, to any significant extent, during the Cold War. It did this by levelling sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime that led to the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, including half a million children. It did this after 9/11 by invading Afghanistan and Iraq and pursuing prolonged occupations that have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is doing this today with escalating sanctions, covert operations, and cyber-attacks against Iran. Linked to all of these policies is Washington’s perpetual insistence that everyone in the region not just accept Israel but tolerate virtually any definition of its security requirements and territorial needs put forward by the Israeli government.
This imperial turn has proven not just quixotic but deeply damaging to American standing, in the Middle East and globally. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama seemed to understand this when he pledged not just to withdraw US forces from Iraq but to end what he called the “mindset” that led America into the strategic mistake of invading Iraq in the first place. But, as president, Obama has pursued the same kinds of policies as his predecessors, extending the damage they did to America’s strategic position.
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