Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Policy in Syria, Iraq, and the Broader Middle East

by Elliott Abrams
June 25, 2014


I’ve written two articles this past week about policy in the Middle East. In Politico, the article entitled “The Man Who Broke the Middle East” broadly covers President Obama’s Middle East policy, and begins this way:

There’s always Tunisia. Amid the smoking ruins of the Middle East, there is that one encouraging success story. But unfortunately for the Obama narratives, the president had about as much as to do with Tunisia’s turn toward democracy as he did with the World Cup rankings. Where administration policy has had an impact, the story is one of failure and danger.

The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained.

In the British magazine Standpoint, I argue that “The US Can Still Help Save Syria — and Iraq,” and outline the series of steps I think would be needed. The penultimate paragraph is this:

What has been missing in Syria since 2011 is Western, and especially American, leadership and determination, but it is not too late for a new policy. The early goal of a quick departure for Assad and transition to democracy in Syria is now impossible to attain. More disorder and suffering are certain. But Syria need not be an endless source of refugees, a centre of inhuman suffering at the hands of a vicious minority regime, and a worldwide gathering place for jihadi extremists. Needed now are a serious and coordinated effort to assist the nationalist elements of the rebels, and organise assistance for them from others in the region — Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, and Qatar are the most critical — and American (and if possible British and French) willingness to use force directly to punish chemical warfare and erode Assad’s air power. Those remain essential steps of a new policy that can over time diminish the tragedy being suffered by the Syrian people and the threat Syria now poses to regional stability and European and American security interests.

American policy remains unclear in both Syria and Iraq. Will we give serious assistance to Syrian rebels? Will we seriously try to push Maliki aside? Will there be American air strikes in Syria or Iraq? Will we seek an accommodation with Iran? I hope these two articles give greater clarity about how we got to where we are, and what might be next.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by neville craig

    Having just returned from another period in the Mid East region, I find your comment that what ‘Obama inherited…was largely at peace’ seriously wide of the mark. It is about as accurate as ME Envoy Bliar’s rejecting blame for what has now happened in Iraq.

    In 1990 a senior Palestinian in Jordan told me it was necessary to have ‘bigmen’ at the helm in (Western-created) Iraq and Syria to hold such artificial entities together: that was well understood.
    Why would |sraelophiles want such states nearby? Better their recent efforts to create ‘Kurdistan’, so Kurds do not contribute to holding their country Iraq together against Muslim extremists?

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    Yes, Mr. Abrams, Iraq and Syria are now in mortal danger, and the whole of the Middle East is under the emerging threat, so if the West would not intervene in Iraq and Syria then both countries could become havens for terrorist planners, both states will become a hotbed of global terror planning against the West. However, what has happened in Syria and Iraq in part is the result of Iran intervention there, which is why the Western world must intervene to save Syria and Iraq from terrorists and the activities of radical extremists that supported by some States there.

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