Obama Should Answer for Middle East Failures

With Position Weakened, It's Fair to Point Finger at Top

Somber Scene: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mourn the loss of slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
getty images
Somber Scene: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mourn the loss of slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

By Noam Neusner

Published September 15, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

President Barack Obama predicated his foreign policy on a simple idea: that he would pursue alliances and friendships based on “mutual respect and mutual interests.” Turning away from George W. Bush’s ideologically driven Freedom Agenda was a natural pivot for Obama. Bush’s agenda was ideological. Obama’s was practical.

But Obama’s approach to the region was not quite free from an ideology. He had an ideological confidence in his own gifts, both biographical and intellectual. He anticipated that he would transform America’s relationship with the region through his own speeches, his own engagement and his own efforts.

Recall, that his first diplomatic offensives were aimed squarely at the Arab world. He took on the challenge of forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians right from the outset. One of his first major speeches as president was delivered in Cairo, where his practiced Arabic phrases were aimed at presenting American leadership in a new light, and with a new sound. One cannot say that Obama has ignored his promise to attend to America’s status in the Arab and Muslim world. Attention was paid. Energy was expended. Presidential capital was spent.

How fares this approach?

Across the crescent of states stretching from North Africa through Central Asia, America’s friends are fewer, its influence smaller, its strategic position weakened. America has lost its reliable ally in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, now ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. It has lost the respect of people in Syria, who in rebellion against a dictator see American support as toothless and empty. Iran, America’s most implacable enemy in the world, squashed a popular uprising without fearing American action — and now moves into the void we left behind in Iraq.

And this week, our ambassador in Libya, together with three other diplomatic officials, was murdered in a planned operation while a mob in Egypt scaled the fences of our embassy, burned the American flag and raised the flag of al-Qaeda. All on September 11 — a day when anti-Americans are feeling particularly nostalgic. With these kinds of results, and in the middle of a presidential election, it’s easy to slip into blame-shifting mode. Obama’s allies do not want to accept that all these actions are his fault, and that besides, Iraq was such a colossal error that nothing on Obama’s watch compares.

For the sake of argument, let’s accept that Iraq was a greater foreign policy error than anything that Obama has committed. I do not accept the argument, but would rather focus merely on Obama and his policies. Let’s stipulate that Obama’s struggles in the region stand on their own, and are no worse or better than those of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan or Carter.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.