THE BLOG

Obama Ought to Reconsider His Middle East Policy

While some political circles in Washington depict U.S. President Barack Obama as a peacemaker, others portray him as being weak proactively and naïve for mishandling the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Obama's passive foreign policy toward the Shi'a-led governments in Iran, Iraq, and Syria will exacerbate the Middle East crisis and endanger global security.

The notion that Obama is a peacemaker has some grounds, as he opted for diplomacy over military action to defuse Iran's nuclear program and to work toward resolving the Syrian civil war peacefully. Furthermore, his administration plans to present a draft agreement in January 2014 to permanently resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet critics argue that Obama's lenient stance toward Iran, his blind eye to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki's increasing authoritarianism, and his indecisiveness toward the murderous Syrian regime would lead to a neo-Safavid expansion spearheaded by Tehran.

Another view stems from the conspiracy theorists. They argue that Obama is employing a Machiavellian strategy to counterbalance the Shi'a front, led by Iran and supported by the governments of Syria and Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah, against the rising wave of Salafist Jihadists who are armed and funded by Turkey and the Sunni Gulf Arab countries.

Now, let's closely examine Obama's Middle East policy and its ramifications.

In spite of recommendations by his military advisers and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta contending that a minimum of 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops would be required to keep Iraq stable, Obama quickly declared the Iraq War over and pulled the U.S. troops out of the country, which ultimately paved the way for Iraq to fall under Iran's sphere of influence.

Furthermore, over the years, Obama has kept a blind eye to Maliki's autocratic and belligerent policies against the Sunnis and the Kurdish minorities in Iraq. Shortly after the U.S. military withdrawal, Maliki began dismissing and detaining senior Sunni political leaders and military officers (including Kurdish officers) and deployed federal security forces to Sunni regions. As a result, the Sunni-dominated provinces have become a hotbed of al-Qaeda extremists because of the increasing Sunni resentment toward Baghdad.

Moreover, instead of resolving the contentious issues between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), under the pretext of fighting terrorism, Maliki attempted to invade the disputed areas, which resulted in multiple standoffs between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and the Iraqi Army. Paradoxically, the U.S. is scheduled to arm Baghdad with sophisticated heavy U.S. military arsenals, including F16 fighter jets and military drones.

Obama has taken a soft and passive stance toward Iran in spite of Iran having one of the worst human rights records, being a state sponsor of terrorism, and overtly providing financial, military, and logistical support to the Syrian regime.

Late in November, an interim agreement, spearheaded by Obama and endorsed by the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany, was reached to temporarily freeze Iran's nuclear program in exchange for partial lifting of international sanctions. Hence, the deal was instantly trumpeted as a victory by the Iranian regime, as it recognizes "Iran's right to enrich uranium" while preventing military strikes on its nuclear facilities. I believe it gives Iran more time and the needed funds to complete its nuclear weapons program.

Since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011, the Syrian regime has savagely murdered over 120,000 innocent civilians and has used chemical weapons against its own citizens, which Obama declared as a "red line" that would ignite a U.S. military intervention. Yet Obama skillfully managed to maneuver away from the military option by allowing the U.S. Congress to make the decision. Additionally, he has limited the American support to the Syrian opposition.

Accordingly, Washington's policies have also infuriated its close allies, especially Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. For instance, out of frustration, the Saudis rejected a coveted seat at the UN Security Council in late October and declared that if Iran becomes a nuclear power, they will acquire nuclear weapons as well.

Idealistically, the option of diplomacy to resolve the Middle East conflicts is far more attractive than a military option. However, given the political complexity of the Middle East, it may not produce the intended outcome. On the one hand, Obama's policies may lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, with Syria and Iraq as its satellite states -- one with access to sophisticated U.S. military technology. On the other hand, the growing Shi'a influence will surge the Sunni resentment in favor of the Salafi terrorist groups, along with continued financial and military support from the Sunni Arab states.

In the end, Obama's policies will likely ignite a nuclear arms race, reduce U.S. influence abroad, and further endanger global security.