“American abdication”

A piece argues that America under President Obama has left the Middle East to burn. This Obama style isolationism has been commented many times before now the consequences are being discussed.

Traub opens “In the speech on counterterrorism policy that he delivered last year at West Point, President Barack Obama made clear that the United States would no longer try to fight the terrorist threat abroad on its own, but rather would aim to “more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.” Last month, the Arab League answered that call by pledging to establish a joint Arab military force to respond to the growing chaos in the region”.

He adds “The actual details of this proposed army, including its members, force structure, and location, are to be worked out over the next several months. And as Arab unity — political or military — has often proved to be a mirage, there is good reason to be skeptical that the force will ever come into being. Even if it did, fundamental divisions among Arab states would ensure that a joint force would look more like a shifting coalition of the willing than a collective body like NATO, or even like the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. Nevertheless, a sense of real danger, combined with a fear of abandonment by the United States, has propelled the idea onto the Arab agenda. Egypt, which has pushed hardest for the joint force, worries that extremist violence in Libya will spill across the border between the two countries. After Islamic State fighters in Libya beheaded 21 Egyptian Copts, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a U.N.-backed intervention force, or, failing that, the lifting of the arms embargo on the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tobruk. When the United States and Britain opposed both measures, Sisi apparently concluded that he would have to rely on his fellow Arabs, and began sounding the tocsin for a joint force”.

Worse still the Obama administration is locked in an alternate reality, “The administration defends the Saudis’ resort to force to stem the tide of the takeover of Yemen: The Houthis had placed Scud missiles on the border, while Iran had begun regular flights to Saada, the Houthi stronghold. But the State Department official I spoke to added that the hostilities would have to end soon in order to limit death and destruction, and to bring the Houthis to a political settlement. There is, unfortunately, no sign that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz agrees with that proposition. His apparent plan is to bomb the Houthis into submission”.

Traub continues, “The United States has learned the hard way that it cannot simply prop up governments seen as illegitimate by their own people; that’s why Obama has tried to condition military assistance to Iraq on political reform that offers a significant role to Sunnis. Arab autocrats do not accept this principle. Saudi Arabia reacted to political dissent among the Shiite majority in Bahrain by sending in a military force to help the Sunni monarchy in Manama crush the peaceful movement. The Sisi regime treats domestic dissent as a threat to national security; from Cairo’s point of view, members of the Muslim Brotherhood are “terrorists” — a fifth-column version of the Islamic State”.

He ends the piece “the United States also has a very serious interest in rolling back the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and suppressing al Qaeda and curbing the Houthis in Yemen. Here U.S. and Arab interests converge. The West cannot solve the problem of Islamic extremism; only the Islamic world itself can do that. Obama has said that the United States will henceforward work through partners when it comes to counterterrorism. As one Arab diplomat said to me about the proposed force, “If Obama’s policy is to get the region to take care of its own problems, I think this is a good place to be.” Indeed, from the Arab point of view, it is precisely the American abdication that has necessitated the new Arab activism”.

He concludes tellingly, “When you’re the hegemon, you can tell your partners how to behave; when you’re not, you can’t. The United States can no longer afford to play that role, and in any case doesn’t want to. It must rely on, rather than simply conscript, its partners. And that means it must adapt, more than it has in the past, to its partners’ views. Washington is thus in no position either to oppose the Arab joint strike force or to tell it how and where to act. It really is a lamentable state of affairs. But it’s where we are”.



9 Responses to ““American abdication””

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