Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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The Myth of Obama’s Failure in the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook
April 29, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama waves after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama waves after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters).

I wrote the following piece, which appeared here in Al Monitor yesterday with my friend, Michael Brooks. Michael is the host of the Intersection podcast on Aslan Media and a contributor for the award-winning daily political talk program the Majority Report.

It has become an article of faith that President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, along with the rest of his foreign policy, is adrift. According to a slew of would-be policymakers and pundits, the United States is “weak” and “feckless.” These criticisms are not exclusive to the Obama administration’s adversaries in Washington, but also routinely heard among officials and pundits in Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Jerusalem​ and Riyadh. Such critics believe that Washington has not “done enough” to meet the challenges of the region, portending disaster for America’s national security and its allies in the region. Has it really?

Calamity and misfortune may be the future of the Middle East, at least in the short run, but the region’s problems are not the result of the White House’s policy choices. Lost among the complaints about what the administration is or is not doing and demands for leadership is an appreciation of just how difficult the region has become or what demonstrating “leadership” actually means.

The Obama administration has had its problems, no doubt. The White House got itself into trouble with its now-infamous Syrian “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, confusing friends and emboldening enemies. It is fair to say that since August-September 2013, when the administration reneged on its vow to respond to the Syrian regime’s use of such weapons, President Bashar al-Assad has prosecuted the civil war with even greater impunity.

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