DOHA: The US has lost credibility in the Middle East due to its perceived failure to effectively intervene in major regional issues, especially the conflict in Syria, a session at the US-Islamic World Forum heard yesterday.
The session ‘Future of the US in the Middle East’ triggered a debate, with panellists expressing mixed views on the policies of the Obama administration towards the region.
The speakers pointed out that the Middle East is more polarised than ever and many in the region believe that the US should have played a proactive role to promote stability and security in the region. The session was moderated by Tamara Cofman Wittes, Director and Senior Fellow, Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution.
One of the speakers, Phil Gordon, White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf, US National Security Council, defended the US decision not to go for a military intervention in Syria, saying the American public opinion did not favour it.
The US effectively intervened to dismantle the weapons of mass destruction amassed by the Assad regime but stopped short of a direct military intervention to avoid the possible negative consequences, he argued.
Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief, Al Arabiya, disagreed with Gordon, saying Syria represented a real test for Obama administration which it failed to address.
“Syria has damaged the credibility of the US in the region. The Obama administration does not have an over-arching strategy for the region,” he said, adding that many Arab leaders are criticising the US privately and this was something that didn’t happen in the past.
Dr Shibley Telahami, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Project of US Relations with the Islamic World, Brookings Institution, said the Obama administration took a wise decision by not intervening in Syria because the public opinion in the US as well as the Arab world is not in a favour of a military intervention.
“The Arab rulers have different opinions about the US role in the region but people here still don’t trust the US, although the intensity of the mistrust has declined,” said Telahami.
Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Saban Centre, said the US should have a long-term strategy to counter the growing threat of terrorism in the Arab region and other parts of the Islamic world.
He said the Arab Spring had seen peaceful demonstrations for democracy but currently the region is witnessing more violent forms of extremism, in countries like Iraq and Nigeria, that has even overshadowed Al Qaeda.
Issandr Elamarani, Head, North Africa Project, International Crisis Group, said the US has made a political withdrawal from the region at a crucial time and a strong push by it would have made a difference.