DOHA: The Obama administration’s policy of halting direct American intervention in the Middle East has drawn criticism from influential policymakers in the US, says a Doha-based political analyst.
Reviewing papers presented by three leading US diplomats at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) recently, Mohammed Al Masri, a researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha says that the current American policy in the Middle East has become the subject of wide ranging discussions in the US, with Obama’s second term in office witnessing the rise of regional and international powers like Russia and Iran.
The discussion at WINEP featured Dennis Ross, Stephen Hadley and Robert Satloff. The first two were influential policymakers in the administrations of George Bush Senior and Junior and known supporters of Israel.
Al Masri, in his paper, says the discussion was important because such research centres play an instrumental role in US policymaking. WINEP is considered a centre for making policies for the Middle East.
The speakers came to the conclusion that the “policy of retroversion” adopted by the Obama administration in the Middle East is reflected in the way the US dealt with the Arab revolutions, especially in Syria, and its engagement with Iran on its nuclear programme.
This policy has created dissatisfaction among traditional American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, by sending the message that the US is not ready to use force to protect them.
The speakers’ views complement analysis saying that Washington has retreated from the region after the discovery of shale gas in the US and is giving priority to the Far East. This ignores the fact that US interests in the Middle East go beyond oil and gas and are based on its geopolitical strategy. The US still exists as an influential power in the region with its military and political presence.
“What they (the speakers) wanted is the adoption of George Bush policy of direct intervention like what we witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11,” says Al Masri.
When Obama came to power, his intention was to stop all direct intervention policies but this has created confusion towards the Arab Spring revolutions, especially in Syria, in which the US preferred to use soft power to support its regional allies, argue US diplomats.
Al Masri has pointed to several policy suggestions given by speakers at Washington Institute: Keep the sanctions against Iran effective; negotiations of the “five plus one” should give enough time for monitoring the Iranian nuclear programme and the US should be ready to take military action against Iran if it does not comply with the agreements.
The US should support the Iraqi government with intelligence information and military equipment to face Al Qaeda and stop the Iranian support for Houti rebels in Yemen.
Dennis Ross believes that Israel is concerned about the presence of Al Qaeda and the Sunni factions in Syria, from where it can expand to other parts of the region.
The US should support the democratic opposition in Syria to fight Al Qaeda and other hardline Islamists.
Speakers believe that the US should continue its efforts to take Arab-Israeli peace talks ahead because the situation is now more in favour of Israel.
Arabs are not giving much attention to the Palestinian issue, the Muslim Brotherhood has lost power and Hamas is very weak.
Therefore, John Kerry should convince the Palestinians to accept the Israeli conditions for peace.