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Washington’s monochrome foreign policy

President Obama is in effect paying the price of dishonoring his own grand promises on Palestine and Israel during his 2009 visit to Cairo

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

Few American Presidents have embodied the rich cultural mosaic Barack Obama has, however, his approach in handling international problems shows scant regards to the main influential factors that affect regional conflicts and global phenomena, such as ethnic tension, confessional extremism, secessionist crises and terrorist organizations.

The son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, Obama is an example of exciting and beautiful mosaic many had hoped would express itself in a more understanding and sensitive fashion towards what would cause frustration and fears among some groups, and revive grandiose dreams and ambitions of hegemony among others.

His father was Muslim from the Luo people, one of the leading Nilotic East African tribes and Kenya’s major minority constituents. His mother was a well-educated protestant of European origins, and his sister – on his mother’s side – an Indonesian Buddhist whose father was a Muslim. Furthermore, Obama spent part of his early life in Hawaii, the only American state with a non-European majority, and which is geographically closer to East Asia than it is to Europe; in addition to the fact that he also lived for some time with his late mother in Indonesia. Even during his first presidential elections victory he won almost all the U.S. states bordering or overlooking the outside world, while his Republican opponent won the mid-America states.

President Obama is in effect paying the price of dishonoring his own grand promises on Palestine and Israel during his 2009 visit to Cairo

Eyad Abu Shakra

Later on, when Obama entered the White House, in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s foreign adventures, many expected him to bring new dimensions and changes in America’s understanding of the world, in addition to brave approaches and visionary ideas that transcend narrow and short-term interests.

A lot was expected, and indeed a lot was promised … albeit encapsulated in one word “change!”

The other day, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, but two years into his second term in office, it is becoming clear that his only foreign policy achievements has been a policy change towards Cuba. The lifting of the blockade has been both anachronistic and meaningless as it has outlived its usefulness since its declared justification is no longer valid.

During the Cold War, the U.S. political establishment viewed Cuba as a cat’s paw of the USSR strategy to infiltrate the Americas; thus it had to be contained or destroyed at any cost. However, after of the Bay of Pigs Operation, the blockade tightened in the hope that it would bring down the regime of Fidel Castro; but the result indeed was that the USSR itself collapsed and disintegrated before Castro was even weakened. If anything this U.S. view proved two things:

1- That Castro’s regime was not a USSR cat’s paw.
2- That U.S. policies in what it has always regarded as its back garden; i.e. the whole of the Americas were basically wrong, and this may be best reflected in its association throughout the continent with mi8litary dictatorships such as those of Pinochet, Videla, Banzer, and Stroessner et al.

Failure of policies

In the Middle East the failure of U.S. policies has been perhaps evident more than in any other place, and today whenever Secretary of State John Kerry or any senior U.S. official makes a comment, the divergence looks ever clearer between Washington’s actual position and what should be the required remedy.

Two landmarks were very clear in Obama’s State of the Union address with regard to the Middle East; the first his strong and decisive commitment to carry on negotiating with Tehran’s leadership, and his refusal of the GOP’s threats of further sanctions. The second was the clear disagreement between the White House and GOP-led Congress on the latter’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech in the Capitol.

Washington’s official pronouncements on Iran do not hold ground anymore for those Middle East observers of a normal IQ. Indeed, since last year it has become evident that this US president regards Iran as an ally, if not one of America’s most valuable allies in the region; more so since confronting Sunni extremist terrorism of ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations has become America’s top regional priority.

In his address Obama reiterated that diplomacy (with Tehran) was working, and that the collapse of dialogue would globally isolate America not Iran (!). However, words like these must be understood in the context of a full and comprehensive picture-mosaic; one that Obama may be deluding himself that few in the Middle East are aware of.

What President Obama terms as a “diplomatic” approach with Iran is producing on the ground Houthi hegemony in Yemen, a Russian – U.S.-blessed – plan to destroy the Syrian People’s uprising, and entrenchment of Iran’s dominance in Iraq and Lebanon. Anybody who saw Abdul Malek al-Houthi the other day talking and waving his index finger a la Hassan Nasrallah could not have failed to realize that a Houthi-run Yemen and a Hezbollah-governed Lebanon are now in the same boat.

Obama’s promises

As for Netanyahu, President Obama is in effect paying the price of dishonoring his own grand promises on Palestine and Israel during his 2009 visit to Cairo a short period into his first presidential term. These promises are now up in the air due to Obama’s failure to overcome the Israeli Right’s stubborn refusal to facilitate reaching a just, comprehensive and permanent peace, which soon enough led to the tragic events in Gaza.

President Obama’s credibility was shaken at the first hurdle of Israeli intransigence, then it was further damaged when he failed to react when the Arab Spring breeze became a hurricane that uprooted state institutions in Arab countries whose political and social infra-structures have been undermined by dictators, such are the cases of Syria, Yemen and Libya.

At the moment it would be safe to say that during his two years left in the Oval Office, President Obama has to choose either to spend his time clashing with his Republican opponents totally disregarding complex and interconnected international conflicts, thus leaving behind a legacy of endless crises; or behave as a visionary and responsible world leader leaving behind him a legacy of stability and progress.

So far, unfortunately, he seems to be closer to following the first option.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 23, 2015.

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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

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