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Obama and the Middle East

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Arab Today, arab today Obama and the Middle East

Baghdad – Arabstoday

January 9 was no banner day for the US in the Middle East. In Baghdad, a series of bombs killed at least a dozen people and wounded more than 50, underscoring America\'s failure to establish security prior to the departure of its troops from Iraq. In a speech in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad refused to step down despite months of increasing violence and international condemnation. \"When I leave office it will be by the will of the people,\" he said. Finally, Iran sentenced the former US marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati to death for spying for the Central Intelligence Agency - the first time since the 1979 Revolution that Iran had ordered the execution of an American. It would be hard to more clearly state the central thesis of Fawaz Gerges\' forthcoming book, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America\'s Moment, than with the events of January 9, 2012. \"America\'s ability to act unilaterally and hegemonically, unconstrained by the local context, has come to an end,\" he said during an interview at Chicago\'s InterContinental Hotel last month. Gerges, a US citizen born to a Christian family in Beirut, holds the Emirates Chair of the Contemporary Middle East at the London School of Economics. After focusing on terrorism in recent books - including 2005\'s bestselling Journey of the Jihadist and last year\'s The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda - his new work, out in May, returns him to a subject he has been writing about for decades. \"Obama is correct not to take ownership of the Arab uprisings, because we\'re seeing changes from within the region,\" Gerges adds. \"You might say Obama is the Gorbachev of America\'s foreign policy in the Middle East.\" The book begins shortly after the Second World War, when the US treated Arab countries dismissively, its eye towards Soviet containment. American support for the creation of Israel, the 1953 coup in Iran, the oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian hostage crisis, the US intervention in the Gulf War and George W Bush\'s policies in the wake of 9/11, all played their part. \"The US is seen as a supporter and sustainer of the autocratic order in the Middle East,\" Gerges says. \"This culminated in the Iraq War, and reinforced the perception that the US cannot be trusted, that it was neocolonialist.\" This is the legacy inherited by Obama, who sought a new beginning by offering respect and seeking broader engagement in his landmark June 2009 speech in Cairo. \"No system of government can or should be imposed on any nation by any other,\" he said. \"That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people.\" Obama tends to hedge in this way, approaching contradiction. He denounced Bush\'s ideological promotion of democracy and hawkish international stance but has since backed intervention in Libya, expanded drone strikes in Pakistan\'s tribal areas and sent 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. Similarly, the Obama team hoped his outreach in Cairo would allow the US to \"cut the umbilical cord to the Middle East\", says Gerges. \"From day one, they believed that America\'s future was in the Pacific, and believed the US was on a very costly detour in the Middle East.\" At the time, national security adviser Thomas Donilon saw Washington\'s influence as too strong in the Middle East and too weak in Asia, according to Ryan Lizza. In his lengthy, widely read Obama profile in The New Yorker in May, Lizza argued that \"the Arab Spring remade Obama\'s foreign policy\". Gerges would argue that it helped bring Obama\'s initial policy objectives to the fore. At first, the uprisings seemed to paralyse Washington. Obama sought to be on the right side of history, with the protesters, but also wanted to keep his allies. \"They were caught napping,\" said Gerges. After five days of uncertainty while protests raged in Tahrir Square, the US called for Mubarak to step down. Since his departure, Washington has supported the generals, backed parliamentary elections and mostly maintained its distance.

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