The article is devoted to analysis of two-year period of Middle East politics of new US Administration. Realization of new approaches that were proposed by B. Obama is tangled by political inheritance of previous administration.
Geopolitical challenges in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East dominate US foreign policy. Obama’s new approaches to Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear problem and Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed to translate into policy of success. Preparing to exit from Iraq is additional problem. These the most pressing short-term challenges related with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama has been outspoken about his views on the two wars that he inherited from the previous administration and that had cost US taxpayers almost a trillion dollars by the time he occupied White House. While Afghanistan has been the necessary war justified by the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, Iraq was Bush’s war of choice. It was the wrong war according to Obama as it drew US attention away from the really relevant threats to US security, as al-Qaida and the Taliban, tied down US troops and resources that were badly needed in Afghanistan, and caused substantial rifts between the US and much of the world.
Over the past two decades, both the Pakistani army and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have tolerated, and often informally cooperated with, militant Islamists in their country. Having been an important US ally during the Cold War, Pakistan felt strategically abandoned in the 1990s, as the US imposed sanctions due to its uranium enrichment program. Building ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan and militant Islamists operating from Pakistani territory became an alternative for Islamabad to safeguard its regional interests vis-à-vis India, the rivalry with which has shaped Pakistan’s strategic culture to this day.
But on the practical level, US suspended efforts to seek international agreement on new sanctions against Iran in spring 2009. Other measures were an invitation for Iran to attend the Afghanistan conference in March 2009 and permission for Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to visit Iran’s interest section in the Pakistani embassy in Washington in October 2009. The US has, however, refrained from opening an interest section in Tehran, which has been discussed during the final months of the Bush administration.
The Iranian response to this engagement has been ambivalent. While Iran refrained from grasping Obama’s extended hands and asked for more relevant gestures such as the abandonment of US sanctions, it did talks on nuclear problem impossible. Iranian political elite are skeptical about American engagements, as they consider Washington potentially dangerous for regime stability in Iran. They are also concerned that the US recognizes the legitimate nuclear and political aspirations of Iran.
Given this lack of progress, the US faces a tough policy choice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If formal disinvestment is not a viable option after Obama’s previous commitment, Washington could continue its current efforts to resume peace talks through incrementalism and “soft” mediation. This approach may or may not result in a relaunch of the peace process, but is unlikely to lead to conflict resolution, given the situation on the ground. As the prospect for a two-state solution gradually faded away, there is a real possibility that conditions in the occupied territories could deteriorate further. Renewed violence would be the likely result. Alternatively, in order to overcame the impasse in the Middle East conflict, Obama would need to invest even more political capital and move towards “robust” mediation. This would likely mean coming up with a US peace plan that out the basic principles of negotiations, the intended results and a timetable. In addition, the US would have to insist on close monitoring and be willing to take measures against any non-complying party. In line with his Nobel Prize acceptance speech credo to “face the world as it is”, Obama would also need to think about revising US policy towards Hamas. Isolating Hamas until it renounces violence, abides by previous peace agreements and recognizes Israel’s right to exist has failed to decisively weaken the Islamist rulers in Gaza. At the same time, this policy has set an unworkable threshold for even the commencement of negotiations and has become a major impediment to Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
Politica Statelor Unite ale Americii în Asia de Sud și Orientul Mijlociu: abordări noi și probleme cronice