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A New Grand Strategy in the Middle East

The White House is crafting a new, more modest second term strategy for the Middle East. That’s according to a New York Times story, based on authorized leaks, which outlines a core strategy involving limited US engagement focused around three goals: reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and mitigating the conflict in Syria. The NYT reports:

Not only does the new approach have little in common with the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush, but it is also a scaling back of the more expansive American role that Mr. Obama himself articulated two years ago, before the Arab Spring mutated into sectarian violence, extremism and brutal repression.

The blueprint drawn up on those summer weekends at the White House is a model of pragmatism — eschewing the use of force, except to respond to acts of aggression against the United States or its allies, disruption of oil supplies, terrorist networks or weapons of mass destruction. Tellingly, it does not designate the spread of democracy as a core interest.

This is actually a strategy of breathtaking ambition. US administrations have tried for decades to reach an understanding with Iran, and from the time of the Balfour Declaration to the present day ending the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the impossible dream of diplomats all over the world. As for mitigating the horrors in Syria, the administration so far has had absolutely no success at that—and if anything the consequence of its peculiar mix of saber rattling rhetoric and practical passivity has been to make a bad situation significantly worse.

The new strategy abandons core goals of the first term—we aren’t doing much about democracy now and that whole idea of bridging the gap between the US and the Muslim world seems to have been left on the cutting room floor. At least the way the Times tells it, there is nothing here about a plan to deal with the terror threat. Will there be more drone strikes in Yemen or fewer? What will we do to mend fences with the Saudis?

There’s also a tension between the top two objectives. The tougher the US is on Iran, the more leverage it has pushing Israel toward concessions on the Palestinians. The more risks the administration takes and concessions it makes to get a deal with Iran, the tighter the Israelis are tempted to circle the wagons. Pursuing both objectives simultaneously risks a car crash, but then the Middle East is littered with wrecked cars from this and past administrations.

The most hopeful point is that from the President down there’s an awareness that the Middle East, important as it is, cannot be the be all and end all of American foreign policy. Asia matters, and although the NYT doesn’t seem to have raised these questions, the damage that uncontrolled NSA snooping (combined with inept data protection efforts) has done to our relationships in Europe also calls for some serious action.

As the US thinks about Middle East policies that address our key interests in the region but don’t get in the way of equally important global policies, we are going to have think in a much more focused way about what those key issues are and how to get the most done with the least effort and risk. But it isn’t enough to just say we are tired of the Middle East and want to go home. Problems don’t fade away just because you don’t want to deal with them anymore.

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  • lukelea

    “limited US engagement focused around three goals: reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and mitigating the conflict in Syria”

    Doesn’t the author mean “maintaining the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians”? Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • Maynerd

    The Obama administration has “three goals: reaching a nuclear deal with Iran, making peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and mitigating the conflict in Syria.”

    This is laudatory but laughable. The same Obama administration has made a hash out of Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Iraq is increasingly violent and chaotic. Iran is spinning centrifuges faster than ever and now Obama wants to chat with Iran after humiliating himself in Syria.

    Subsequently, the Saudis are going rogue and Israel will pursue its own interests independent of a feckless white house. And don’t forget about our announced “surge” and withdrawal from Afghanistan. How long before the Taliban own that country and Al Qaeda sets up shop?

    • Kavanna

      It’s a laughable joke. Apparently, the Obamaniacs continue to think that concessions to Iran will get the US concessions in Syria. These people know nothing and have learned nothing.

      Their real problem with the Middle East is that it isn’t a video game, and it can’t be manipulated for the TV cameras. So time to change channels.

  • Lyle7

    President Obama must want to look like a fool if this is going to be his foreign policy.

    Iran is going to build nuclear weapons. No deal will prevent this.

    Without using military force or Assad winning the war, Syria will drag on as a great mess, which may make Lebanon and Iraq bigger messes too.

    And there isn’t going to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians any time soon.

    • Pete

      Lyle, a fool is as a fool does.

      This so-called ‘strategy’ is nothing but sophomoric wishful thinking with no idea of how to accomplish any of these objectives alone coordinate their accomplishment together.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    An order of three failures coming right up!

  • Corlyss

    The “new” foreign policy is worse than making the best of how badly he’s screwed up foreign policy in the region. It’s grandiosity typical of narcissistic personalities.

  • Notjack

    You’re kidding right? The above post is meant as satire and is a paean to “The Onion”

    • xbox361

      no, just a “serious” review of the GI gases emanating from Foggy Bottom.

    • Kavanna

      I’ve long maintained that The Onion is a better source of news than any of the so-called quality press.

  • Notjack

    A New Grand Strategy = The End of Israel, WWIII and use of Atomic Bombs.

    • xbox361

      will NY or DC burn for Tel Aviv?
      regional war, not WWIII

  • werewife

    Oh, for the Love of Life Orchestra. Here we go again…
    The only reason for this “new agenda” in the Middle East is because the administration’s original agenda went something like this: “Sit back and bask in new friendship with, and harmony in, the entire Islamic world because the US elected a president with dark skin and Arabic first and middle names.”

    • Kavanna

      And now the narcissism is exposed for what it always was.

  • jb willikers

    .How can it be a “more modest second term strategy” and also a “strategy of breathtaking ambition.”?? Perhaps because any goal at all is a strategy of “breathtaking ambition” for this group. It is not a basis for confidence, as implied, that it abandons the “core goals” of the first strategy. The problem has been that abandoning the first strategy was not done because a light went on , but because the strategy was so completely demolished by reality that none of it was left existing. Those nominally in charge had to think fast and come up with Plan B just for something to do. This is just another forced “pivot du jour” that the administration has zero ability to execute. What they need to do is nothing but that is not “breathtaking”. enough in their minds and also not within their competence either.

  • Diggsc

    Let’s do the math.

    Obama’s incompetence + Obama’s foreign policy goals x John Kerry’s sense of entitlement = A nuclear armed Iran, war between Israel and the Palestinians and thousands more dead Syrians.

  • Bill Sluis

    The final outcome of Obama’s Presidency will be War in the Middle East.
    He abandoned Iraq to Al Queda which is now poised to take over and undo democracy.
    Afghanistan will fall to a newly victorius Taliban.
    making nice to Iran will result in a fully nuclear Iran,
    God knows who Saudi Arabia will coxy up to for security, the EU?China?Russia?
    Israel will protect itself and be condemned by the world.

  • xbox361

    with this pivot to the middle east, the only guarantee is no Iran deal, continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a gas of a time in Syria.

  • Hard Little Machine

    So in lieu of confrontation or even containment, Obama’s new policy is partnering with blood drenched medieval genocidal Jew hating psychopaths and declaring that a success. And in every other dimension, simply outsource or foreign policy, particularly our economic policy in the region to them.

    Ok so when is the joint US-Iranian announcement that Iran is a nuclear weapons power? I’m thinking Feb-March 2014

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