October 28, 2013


This is actually a strategy of breathtaking ambition. US administrations have tried for decades to reach an understanding with Iran, and from the time of the Balfour Declaration to the present day ending the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the impossible dream of diplomats all over the world. As for mitigating the horrors in Syria, the administration so far has had absolutely no success at that—and if anything the consequence of its peculiar mix of saber rattling rhetoric and practical passivity has been to make a bad situation significantly worse.

The new strategy abandons core goals of the first term—we aren’t doing much about democracy now and that whole idea of bridging the gap between the US and the Muslim world seems to have been left on the cutting room floor. At least the way the Times tells it, there is nothing here about a plan to deal with the terror threat. Will there be more drone strikes in Yemen or fewer? What will we do to mend fences with the Saudis?

There’s also a tension between the top two objectives. The tougher the US is on Iran, the more leverage it has pushing Israel toward concessions on the Palestinians. The more risks the administration takes and concessions it makes to get a deal with Iran, the tighter the Israelis are tempted to circle the wagons. Pursuing both objectives simultaneously risks a car crash, but then the Middle East is littered with wrecked cars from this and past administrations.

The most hopeful point is that from the President down there’s an awareness that the Middle East, important as it is, cannot be the be all and end all of American foreign policy. Asia matters, and although the NYT doesn’t seem to have raised these questions, the damage that uncontrolled NSA snooping (combined with inept data protection efforts) has done to our relationships in Europe also calls for some serious action.

So it’s just “smart diplomacy” all around, then.