The Middle East was meant to be the crowning achievement of the Obama Doctrine. Once in the White House, President Obama focused laser-like on a “charm offensive” with Iran. When voices rose against the regime in Tehran in the wake of a disputed national election, Obama offered virtually no support for the cries for freedom. Nevertheless, the “playing nice initiative” with Tehran fell flat. Today, the regime is more aggressive than ever—backing a terrorist take-over of the government in Lebanon, snubbing Western nuclear negotiators, and promoting an Islamist agenda across the region.
The other prong of the president’s outreach offensive was to throw all his energies into the peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Obama’s initiative, however, lacked new and constructive ideas. He has been equivocal in his support for Israel. The White House has failed to press for a hard line against Hamas, an avowed terrorist organization. The results here were all too predictable as well. The president has nothing to show for two years of inept effort.
Obama also bought into the false belief that improving relations between Palestine and Israel was the solution to “all problems” in the Middle East. That simplistic notion masks the serious challenges in the region—lack of healthy civil societies, a paucity of economic freedom, exploding demographic growth, endemic unemployment, environmental troubles, lurking Islamism, terrorism, and troublemaking from Iran. Much the enmity expressed against the West is more properly the product of homegrown problems. Yet, Obama has done little to address these issues other than try to solve them all with a single speech in Cairo.
While the troubles sweeping the Middle East today are the result of the failure of the regimes to provide liberty and opportunity to their own peoples, this administration’s halting and tentative response is emblematic of a White House that lacks a serious plan for dealing with a part of the world where the US has vital strategic interests.
It is time for Obama to jettison the Obama Doctrine, a policy of mostly talk, in favor of a strategy that treats the Middle East as more than a distraction.
A new approach can start with Egypt where the White House needs to set clear and unequivocal expectations for how the government in Cairo should treat its own people.
Next, the Administration must make clear it will finish the job in Iraq and keep the U.S. forces and resources in place that the government in Baghdad needs to complete its transition to a secure and sovereign state that can protect itself and look after the needs of its own citizens.
Obama must also revitalize the partnership with Israel. Israel remains America’s most important and reliable ally in the region.
And the White House must go after the regime in Iran. Sanctions and political isolation have hurt Iran, but the administration has been reluctant to press for further sanctions or ensure the full implementation of the ones on the books. That is a huge mistake. The most effective means to tame the regime in Tehran and help lay the foundation for its eventual demise is to stiffen U.S. resolve to isolate and punish the regime for fostering terrorism, promoting an Islamist agenda, pursuing nuclear weapons, and causing suffering and loss of liberty to the Iranian people.