Obama’s four more in foreign policy II

Posted by Admin On Saturday, 2 February 2013 0 comments
Last week I wrote about the challenges that President Obama faces in his second term as president. Part one of the series focused on the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran tangent. In part two...

Last week I wrote about the challenges that President Obama faces in his second term as president. Part one of the series focused on the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran tangent. In part two of the series, it is important to look at the mammoth task Obama has to tackle in the mysterious, difficult and constantly evolving Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Egypt is proving to be a constant point of concern for the re-elected president. The clumsy government set up by Morsi and the Brotherhood’s relentless attempts to grab power, a lack of serious opposition alternatives, an economic and security vacuum have all led to the country in deeper throes of turmoil. A constant sword of a military coup hangs over its tender systems of democracy, ever threatening to lead to state collapse and leave a question mark on Egypt’s fate.
In such a conflict-ridden scenario, the US has tried very hard to remain low-key. The White House has called for an end to violence on both sides and has encouraged dialogue to build consensus. You know, the standard diplomatic line when there is nothing else one can say. Surprisingly, however, Obama has insisted that the solution to the Egyptian crisis must come from Egyptians themselves. So, is Obama leaving Egyptians out in the cold to fend for themselves?
Most analysts have called for a greater US role in Egyptian politics, to strengthen its democracy and its fragile institutions. However, is this US support being called in the face of Mubarak nostalgia? Some experts believe so. In the light of that the current US policy of staying away from Egyptian politics is actually a good thing; it is strengthening Egypt’s democracy. The Obama administration has pushed the Egyptian military for a smooth transfer of power. The Egyptian military was further encouraged to remain true to the commitment of staying away from national politics and not to interfere in Egypt’s presidential elections. While the Bush administration had back away when Hamas came to power in Palestine, Obama did not shy away from Egypt when Islamists came to power after the elections. They, after all, came to power following popular vote.
This is not to say that the US wanted the Brotherhood to come to power. It is doubtful that Obama believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is made up of liberal, Israel-loving, free-market, evangelical democrats (and Israel loving is an important element in any American government’s foreign policy). While the Muslim Brotherhood has performed terribly since the elections, fact remains that it did come to power through these very elections. It would be interesting to see the future of the Brotherhood in Egypt’s democratic system. While the previous governments have been authoritarian in nature, this would be the first time a government could be held accountable by the people at the next polls.
So what alternatives does the Obama administration have except to pursue the current policy with Egypt? Remain distant from the internal strife in Egyptian politics and at the same time provide bi-lateral support to the Brotherhood to consolidate itself fully for the next few years that it is in power. It must be remembered that economic crisis fuels the internal turmoil in Egypt. Because it is doubtful that the Obama administration is overlooking that aspect, the Obama administration would do well to encourage a World Bank/IMF-Egypt agreement on aid-for-governance.
Another mammoth task that the second Obama administration has to take into account is the Israeli tangent. Historically, everyone knows how important the United States’ support has been for Israel. The US was among the few supporters Israel had in the observer-state vote in the UN for Palestine. In the aftermath of that vote, Israel has faced an increased isolation from most world leaders, including Germany, which showed that the holocaust guilt was not enough for the Israeli state to get what it wants from the UN.
Obama, however, has played a different game than most of his European counterparts. Over the last four years, Obama has provided increased security assistance to the Jewish state and over 10 billion dollars in aid. This is at least 20 percent more aid than what six dozen other US aid recipients receive. Add to this is the increased military strengthening Israel has gotten through consultations with the United States on arms sales to the region, operational cooperation and counter terrorism capabilities. Furthermore, Israel has been provided with advanced technology by the Obama administration, such as a fifth-generation stealth Joint Strike Fighter to which no other country in the Middle East has access.
Obama has also deepened Israeli consultations on its “security concerns” from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The US president also visited victims of Palestinian rocket attacks and pledged support. They weren’t just words, Obama then proceeded to provide Israel with Iron Dome, an anti-rocket system that saved hundreds of Israeli lives over the past year alone.
So Obama has been great for Israel. Some would say much greater than several US presidents. It is difficult to see this stance on Israel changing in his second term. Even when there was severe turmoil in the Arab world, the US president made it clear to Egyptian politicians that US aid to Egypt was conditional upon Egypt remaining committed to the peace treaty with Israel. When an angry mob stormed the Israeli Embassy in Cairo last September, Obama personally and directly intervened with Egypt’s military to ensure the safety of Israeli diplomats.
Colin Kahl, then, rightly said, “Obama has consistently defended Israel at the United Nations, rejecting the unbalanced Goldstone report, defending Israel over the Gaza flotilla incident with Turkey, and blocking Palestinian attempts to circumvent direct negotiations with Israel and impose an outcome through early recognition of statehood. In doing so, Obama has repeatedly shown his willingness to shield Israelis from international efforts aimed at isolating and delegitimizing the Jewish state.”
This clearly puts into context US vehement opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme – it is the biggest threat to Israel itself. So while the Obama administration continues its love affair with Israel, peace with Iran is not possible. Egypt will remain bound by its treaty and the terms for its stance with Israel may just be dictated from Washington itself.
Obama’s four more in foreign policy have been well thought out for all its strategic interests. The sad part is, these strategic interests are only for the Americans, even if it seems otherwise.
By Aima Khosa
Spearhead Research


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