Incoherent policy

The White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. (AP Photo)

Over the last two years, many have waited with bated breath over U.S. foreign policy in the region, and where exactly it was headed. But now it appears that all along there was no grand plan, and it is precisely as haphazard and shortsighted as it has seemed since the start of the Arab Spring.

Where once it seemed as if the American vagueness was based on calm and reasoned wisdom, a pragmatic approach gained after decades of experiences and learning in the Middle East, it now appears that its foreign policy, or lack thereof, actually stems from a gross misunderstanding of events on the ground.

It is hard to remember a time of greater controversy or of conflicting voices coming from the White House, Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. There is no one singular voice speaking on any of the greatest issues facing the region today, no one central policy, excluding the Gulf.

This policy wavering would be a luxury if it were not for the thousands of lives being lost in the region, 5,000 a month in Syria alone, the U.N. said Tuesday. On this issue, the U.S. has flagrantly procrastinated and dithered, so much so that not only is the Syrian regime not even slightly perturbed by U.S. support for the opposition but it is actually encouraged by it, and uses it as a pretext on which to carry out more atrocities against the population. This American “support” for the opposition, which transpires as little more than words, is perhaps more harmful to the rebels, and civilians than Russian arms handed to the regime.

This same tangled foreign policy approach has been witnessed in Egypt, where, three weeks after the ousting of Mursi and the U.S. still appears as lost and befuddled as ever, clearly not knowing what to do or who to ally with. The U.S. government seems to hope that its meager $1.5 billion in annual aid will be enough to win it friends, but after the $12 billion in gifts and loans from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait – frankly a slap in the face to Washington – this looks more like a booby prize.

U.S. policy in this part of the world has long been based on two principal interests: Israel and oil, and so the region has always been strategically important to the U.S. But whereas the country used to try and sugar coat this by attempting to deal with other regional problems – for example the Palestinian issue, which instead of helping they actually hindered – now, however, it appears there is no longer any attempt to hide their interests in the region.

The only good that can come from this confused and incoherent policy is that now the veil has been removed. The people of this region can see the U.S. for what it is, and while the election of President Barack Obama once seemed to symbolize a future full of hope for the Middle East, his presidencies now stand for a nightmare.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 17, 2013, on page 7.




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