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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Obama's Middle East Foreign Policy

What can be expected from future president Barack Obama's foreign policy toward the Middle East? What will be different from the Bush years and what should stay the same?

To the relief of much of the world, Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States. During the Bush administration, the US has lost both prestige and credibility abroad due to its unilateralist and militarized foreign policy, its tendency to ignore consensus with even its closest allies as well as its contempt for the UN. The Bush administration has made the word “imperialist” – erstwhile restricted to marginal left vocabulary – a common descriptive of US foreign policy.

Obama has promised change, both on the national and international fronts, but how will that translate in his future foreign policy, especially in the Middle East where US image has particularly suffered? While we can expect his administration to do many things differently, its take on other issues should be sensibly the same as before.

Obama has promised a prompt and honorable exit from Iraq with the complete withdrawal of combat troops by summer 2010. We can expect him to implement several propositions from the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group, particularly by opening dialog with Syria and Iran.

Read more at Suite101: Obama's Middle East Foreign Policy: International Relations Under New US President-Elect Barack Obama.

However, he has pledged to keep certain level of troops in the country so as to “combat terrorism” but he has not made clear what that really meant. Also, he should be expected to keep US leverage on its client regime in Baghdad intact through its huge embassy and try to curb Iranian influence, which could reawaken tensions with Tehran.

Afghanistan and Pakistan
Obama wants to redeploy troops withdrawn from Iraq to Afghanistan and to make this so-called “good war” against the Taliban-led resistance the main focus of the “war on terror”. He will also pressure NATO allies to send more troops. He is also willing to expand the war to the neighboring tribal areas in Pakistan.

This is at a time when the Bush administration seems on the path of engagement with sections of the Taliban and that military commanders and analysts have stated that the war could not be won by military means. Expanding the war to Pakistan also poses the risk of bringing that country to the brink of failed-statehood and inflame the whole region from India to Central Asia. If Iraq was Bush's disastrous war, Afghanistan (and Pakistan) could become Obama's. Escalating the conflict in the region could also dispel a great deal of goodwill the US may have won in the Muslim world by electing Obama

Read more at Suite101: Obama's Middle East Foreign Policy: International Relations Under New US President-Elect Barack Obama http://www.suite101.com/content/obamas-middle-east-foreign-policy-a77569#ixzz14MVFFlAA

Obama is willing to sit down with Iranian leaders, but at the same time he seems unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of Iran's access to civilian nuclear technology and his statements have not gone beyond the discourse of the “Iranian threat”. He may be willing to enforce tougher sanctions on Tehran which could prove counter-productive in his efforts to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nothing shows that Obama is really willing to accept Iran's status as a regional power and to develop an equal-to-equal relationship between Washington and Tehran. This would only reinforce Iran's strategic partnership with Russia and China, and thus these countries influence in the Middle East.

Israel and Palestine
Obama's strong support for Israel and his declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's forever undivided capital has been met with strong reactions. While he is committed to a new peace initiative with the principle of the two-state solution as basis, he refuses to acknowledge new realities like the popularity of Hamas – to which Obama is opposed to – or the collapse of Israel's regional hegemony after its defeat against Lebanon's Hezbollah in 2006.

In other words, Barack Obama's stated preference for dialog and diplomacy could push Washington into a different Middle East foreign policy direction, with withdrawal from Iraq, engagement of Iran and a credible peace initiative between Israelis and Palestinians. However, it could also prove to be more of the same with a new escalating war in Afghanistan spreading beyond its borders, renewed tensions with Iran and continued one-sided support for Israeli policies against Palestinian rights

Read more at Suite101: Obama's Middle East Foreign Policy: International Relations Under New US President-Elect Barack Obama

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