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U.S. Mideast Policy: Obama Knows Best?

Why is the U.S. government telling everyone in the Middle East what they are supposed to want?

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

December 10, 2010 - 12:05 am
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Yes, U.S. policy in the Middle East is as bad as it seems. One of the WikiLeaked cables reveals that the U.S. State Department is engaging the Middle East from a naive, peace-at-all-costs point of view that ignores the region’s realities. The cable shows that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton protests the fact that the Syrian government lied to her about its missile supplies to Hezbollah, she instructed those meeting with the Syrians on their talking points.

It is amazing how the Obama administration let the Syrian regime walk all over them. Yet it also fits with their philosophy:

“While our commitment to principled engagement with Syria — as demonstrated by Under Secretary Burns’ recent visit — remains strong, we must enlist additional French, British, Turkish, Saudi, Jordanian, and Qatari support to help dissuade Syria from expanding its ties to Hezbollah any further, especially via the transfer of additional sophisticated weaponry.”

Get that? It’s multilateralism in action. The United States cannot do anything on its own but has to enlist a half-dozen others. But, of course, the French government is soft on Syria, the Turks are now Syrian allies, Qatar wants to maintain good relationships with Iran and Syria, while Jordan is timid. As for the Saudis, they were struggling against Syria a year ago, but given the lack of U.S. support they gave up.

In other words, this threat is a joke and trying to implement it would certainly fail. Moreover, note how the U.S. position begins by reaffirming engagement when it should start by threatening to cut it off. Once the Syrians know they aren’t going to lose anything, why should they give up anything?

But there’s something else in another cable that is even better — which means that it is far worse:

Iran and Hezbollah both have interests that are not in Syria’s own strategic interest. I know you are a strategic thinker, which is why I want to underscore for you that, from our perspective, your operational support for Hezbollah is a strategic miscalculation that is damaging your long-term national interests.

Have you noticed that Obama administration officials keep telling people in the Middle East what they are supposed to want?

–The Syrians know that backing Iran and Hezbollah is in their strategic interest.

Of course, allying with Iran and Hezbollah isn’t in their interest if they want to join the West, open their doors to foreign investments, put the emphasis on raising living standards, make peace with Israel, and then what? Give up their dictatorship and have a democracy?

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