Is Obama Failing in the Middle East?

Even The New York Times admits the president’s credibility in the Middle East has been diminished.

President Barack Obama reads The New York Times aboard Marine One, May 22
President Barack Obama reads The New York Times aboard Marine One, May 22 (White House/Pete Souza)

The Obama Administration got off to a promising start in the Middle East. It announced to refocus on the war in Afghanistan; the president himself delivered a fine speech in Cairo, Egypt, in which he called upon the Muslim world to end “the cycle of suspicion and discord” and special envoys were appointed for Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Israel and Palestine.

Now, almost a year later, the new strategy doesn’t seem to have amounted to much yet. Even The New York Times, typically supportive of the Democratic administration, has to admit that Barack Obama’s credibility in the region has “diminished”. The awkward strategy of publicly demanding a settlement freeze from the Israelis and getting none has deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. The administration, writes the paper, “apparently had no plan for what they would do if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no.”

Netanyahu offered a compromise — a ten month freeze, exempting Jerusalem and the construction of schools, synagogues and 3,000 homes that were already being built. Although this went far beyond anything Israel had promised so far in relation to the settlements, the president insisted on more and in doing so, he strengthened the Palestinians in their resolve. They rejected the offer.

Moreover, neighboring Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, now refuse to play ball until Israel stops building settlements altogether. In the process, the president’s very intent — to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again — is evermore unlikely to become a reality.

The Times, nevertheless, has hope still and declares that Obama has “no choice but to keep trying” lest extremists instigate another war. “Stalemate is unsustainable,” though the Israelis may not feel the same way.

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