The Region: What will happen now with US Middle East policy?

The plan will be for a comprehensive solution, leaving the Middle East as a successful legacy of the Obama administration.

A Sunni sheikh 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Sunni sheikh 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Turkish reader recently inquired: Haven’t you understood yet that the US does not care about whether a Muslim country is ruled by Shari’a [dictatorship] or secular [democracy] law as long as that regime is pro-American? Isn’t this the US interest “über alles”? In reply: Yes, I do care. First, no Islamist government is really going to be pro-American or pro-Western. Second, it won’t be good for that country’s people. Why should I feel differently about handing over Czechoslovakia to Nazi rule or Hungary to Communist rule than about handing Turkey over to Islamist rule? Already evaluations of President Barack Obama’s second term are beginning to appear. I think that even though the Obama administration itself doesn’t know or have a blueprint, it is clear what the administration’s Middle East policy will be. It is a coherent program though as I mentioned, not necessarily fully or consciously thought out. The plan will be for a comprehensive solution, leaving the Middle East as a successful legacy of the Obama administration.
THERE ARE three main themes of this plan, though as I say I’m not sure it has really taken concrete shape yet.
By 2016 they will all fail, and leave the West weaker.
The first involves Iran policy. The goal will be to “solve” the nuclear weapons issue by making a deal with Iran. One possibility is that the Iranians just deceitfully build nuclear arms. The other is that they will get up to the point where they can build nuclear weapons very quickly, and then stop for a while. Either result will probably be hailed as a brilliant diplomatic victory for Obama.
This is how the nuclear deal is interpreted by Iran, in a dispatch from Fars new agency: “It seems that the Americans have understood this fact that Iran is a powerful and stable country in the region, which uses logical and wise methods in confrontation with its enemies.”
In other words, America is an enemy that has backed down.
One thing Iran might get in a deal for “giving up” its nuclear ambitions would be something in Syria, perhaps.
It would probably look like this: an unofficial partition of Syria, with the Bashar Assad regime surviving in 40 percent of the country including Aleppo and Damascus; another 40% being controlled by US-backed rebels, mainly Muslim Brotherhood; and 20% being a Kurdish autonomous area. I want to stress that I don’t believe this would work, and would in fact be the object of another Iranian stalling technique and effort to gain total victory.
Iran wants primacy at least in the Shi’ite world – meaning Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. It would require only Iranian patience to accomplish this if Iran is willing to devote extensive resources to the enterprise.
The US probably won’t provide ground troops, which is understandable.
And would the US provide military and economic aid to an al- Qaida/Salafi/Muslim Brotherhood regime? At any rate the Iranians will either develop nuclear weapons or simply get to the point where they can if they want to, and then stop, knowing they can do so at any time.
Of course, this would all pretty much ignore Israel’s security needs.
And if a nuclear deal with Iran doesn’t materialize, you can already tell who will be blamed; it’s spelled out in an article named, “A Nuclear Deal With Iran Is Within Reach, If Congress Plays Its Part,” in the prestigious Roll Call magazine.
THE SECOND theme of the US administration’s Middle East policy will maintain the illusion that it is possible to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a two-state solution, while actually moving toward the real Palestinian goal, an Arab Palestine. Period.
Regarding this issue it is probable that both sides will stall. Only US Secretary of State John Kerry believes otherwise.
The Israeli side will mount a strategic retreat, making gradual concessions in the hope that the Obama administration will finish its term before too much damage is done. It is clear, for example, that prisoner releases, the granting of economic benefits and the entry of more Palestinian laborers into Israel will be among the concessions made. Of course, these would also ignore Israel’s security needs.
Meanwhile the Palestinians will also stall and constantly threaten to seek unilateral independence, which might result in more US concessions.
But it is unlikely that the US will pressure the Palestinians much or criticize them, no matter what they do. In the classical formulation of President Shimon Peres, “We will give, and the Palestinians will take.”
The point is that probably not much “progress” – which is really moving backwards – will be made on the Israeli- Palestinian front. Also, of course, the so-called “peace process” won’t affect any other regional issue positively.
The Islamists, Sunni or Shia, don’t want progress toward peace and will try to wreck it. That goes for the Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Gaza; the Islamist governments in Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, or the government and the rebels in Syria. In fact the harder the US works on peace the angrier they will get.
THE THIRD theme has to do with the Sunni Muslim Islamists who are not currently working with al-Qaida. The theory is that this movement is the best protection against al-Qaida. But if that’s true, why does the US support the Syrian rebels when they form a united front at any opportunity to support al-Qaida, which the other groups are loyal to? Similarly, while al-Qaida is much weaker in Egypt, the US has now seemingly backed the al-Qaida movement by refusing to back the army coup, especially in Sinai. The United States supports the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood government.
More subtly, Turkey has an Islamist government and it is the favorite US ally in the Middle East.
To summarize, it is likely that the last three years of the Obama administration are going to be spent pursuing these three failed themes.
• Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, or at least aggression, and that it will fool naïve Americans. Iran will be strengthened; US allies will be weakened.
• On Israel-Palestinian policy, likely no progress will be made toward a peaceful solution but the Palestinians will try to make progress toward destroying Israel, although they would benefit more by grabbing a Palestinian state and then using it to strengthen (the two-stage solution).
Instead they will lose their chance to get a two-state solution.
• And finally, it is likely that the Sunni Muslim Islamists will let the US down because after all, they will never be pro-American. And they will intensify Sunni-Shia bloodbaths. So while there will be much activity within the Obama administration over the next three years, and media reports will cheer it, as the Bard of Avon said: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.”
The author is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA). His forthcoming book is Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Yale University Press).