Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Israel Matzav: Oh, that foreign policy

Oh, that foreign policy

Hussain Abdul-Hussain argues that the Obama administration has no policy on the Middle East.

During a recent panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), America's top columnists, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and David Ignatius of the Washington Post, debated foreign policy. While Friedman argued that he was not sure any American was in charge of a Middle East policy, Ignatius said there was someone. "His name is Barack Obama."

If Ignatius is right, it means that Feltman was reiterating talking points on Syria that he had received from above, perhaps from Obama himself. But what is Barack Obama's strategy on Syria and the Middle East? He does not have one. The memo by Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying that America has no strategy on Iran affirms this view. Obama has no policy on Iran, Syria, Israel or the rest of the world.

Unlike American presidents since World War II, Obama does not believe the US should run the world. Focused on domestic issues, this president thinks foreign policy is a mere tool to serve domestic interests. As such, the world only matters to Obama as long as there are no more suicide bombers heading for American cities.

This means that American foreign policy today has only two czars: CENTCOM Commander David Petraeus, who is in charge of chasing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and Daniel Benjamin, Director of the unit for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) at the State Department. Benjamin has visited Damascus. Petraeus might be on his way.

Since Obama's sole interest in Syria is its cooperation over CVE, a term that has replaced "Islamist radicalism", America is not interested in elaborating a full strategy on Damascus or its behavior.

In the absence of such a strategy, Washington's parties compete to impose their different agendas. In the case of Syria, hardcore pro-Assad senators John Kerry and Arlen Specter both have Obama's ear, and, ergo, Damascus gets its way in Washington.

Scuds to Hezbollah or no Scuds. It makes no difference. America has no vision for the Middle East. Until a policy on Syria is drafted, Washington will be improvising on how to deal with Damascus, and Jeff Feltman will sound shaky on the Hill.

Abdul-Hussein is right that the United States has no policy on Syria. But he's wrong when he tries to extend that that label to the entire Middle East. Obama has a one-dimensional policy on the Middle East that can be summed up in two words: 'Palestinian state.' It's the only policy goal that interests him here.

What could go wrong?

Israel Matzav: Oh, that foreign policy

1 comment:

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