The End of the Obama Grace Period: Hypocrisy across the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

President Obama’s Middle East policies are naive and pathetic. He has abrogated agreements on issues that don’t need to be negotiated, and also made the United States the last country whose head of state has said anything meaningful about what just happened in Iran.

On Israel and its Settlements

In so doing, any concession he would get out of the Netanyahu government on settlements is no longer plausible. His idea of two states in peace, with the United States being the major power that backs that peace financially, politically and maybe militarily, is now a fantasy because he will never achieve the Netanyahu-led government’s backing for further concessions.

What concessions Sharon made are no longer relevant. Since Obama and Clinton have decided to ignore those agreements, even denying their existence, this gives the Netanyahu government carte blanche to expand, maybe even recklessly. Any new negotiated agreement will result in the same deal – the one Sharon and Bush reached. Bush’s policies may not be to your liking Mr. President, but precedent is binding.

If one party does not agree to a contract, the other has the right to bring them to an arbitrator. Since none exists in regards to international agreements like this, this voids any understandings and releases not one, but BOTH parties from those agreements.

If Obama is afraid the Netanyahu government is bad for peace, whatever that means, then the President has undermined his own objectives by destroying those agreements. This sets tremendous precedent itself, in that precedent can now be ignored. How far back will this extend, Mr. President? This leaves the door open for ignoring other agreements whimsically. The Obama Administration’s policies are arbitrary.

On Iran and Democracy

On engaging Muslims, the President has given reason to doubt his own fortitude in reaching understanding. Despite whatever criticism there was of his Cairo speech perhaps focusing on issues too important to political extremists (again, debatable), he did not respond quickly enough to support the freedoms of speech, assembly and association.

These are the core issues he can address and support. These are the major issues he can push on countries like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. But more than anywhere, they are ideas that have been the target for Iranians for the last two generations. He failed to condemn the suppression. He bought into Iranian rhetoric, which itself was intended to frighten Western leaders.

The vocal support which President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, among others, delivered, was never going to confirm a grand Western conspiracy. The protesters, and even the conservative neighbors who had liberal friends rallying in the streets, know full-well why those Iranians were in the streets, and it wasn’t because of American designs. The regime’s rhetoric made the US hesitate.

Iranians are diverse, and would likely create a very pluralistic, maybe federal democracy. Iranians from all backgrounds, including religious leaders, oppose the current system of government because of its corruptibility. The United States’ outreach policy must be realistic, and cannot work if it only engages governments and their interests.

This would reproduce the same criticisms that the US props repressive regimes in the Middle East, religious or not. It does what is diplomatically convenient. The United States and European leaders have been prepared to embrace democratically elected religious governments, but this is a far cry from accepting the Iranian and Saudi Arabian ones.

From one Extreme to the Other

Refusing to have full diplomatic relations does not necessitate going into full scale war with those governments’ countries. There is a middle ground between war and diplomacy. The Obama Administration seems to be focused on reversing George W. Bush’s policies, rather than adjusting them. This is politically and strategically disastrous. The region is not how it was when Bill Clinton left office.

The End of the Obama Grace Period

Also, reversing bad, and sometimes extreme policy, focuses on dragging that policy to the opposite extreme. This would lead the Obama Administration head on into a major political backlash. That has already started. The administration’s hypocritical policies on Israel and its settlements, plus now on engagement and Iran, has emboldened Republicans of all streams. This also impacts the political center in the US.

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