The leaked revelations from Robert Gates’ upcoming memoir come at a particularly awkward time for President Barack Obama, with his administration’s foreign policy decisions, or indecisions, being criticized from every side.
While Afghanistan and Iraq were both messes which Obama’s predecessors got the country into, former Pentagon chief Gates, who served under six presidents, chastised the Democrat leader for dithering on troop surges and overall strategy.
Obama suffered throughout 2013 for clumsy and ill-thought-out policy wavering, especially in regard to the Middle East and Islamic world. And the ramifications of over a decade of bad U.S. decisions are still being acutely felt.
Fighting between U.S.-brokered Iraqi security forces, now largely propped up by Iran, and Al-Qaeda factions continues in the west of Iraq, where the violence cannot be divorced from what is happening in the north of Syria. And certainly, the effects of this Iraqi struggle will be felt much further afield than just its national borders: It will likely have effects across the region. And this current battle merely comes on top of daily bombings which claimed over 8,000 lives in 2013 alone, the deadliest year since 2008.
And in Afghanistan, 72 suspected Taliban fighters Thursday were released from jail. In a nation where such militants routinely attack NATO troops and civilians alike, U.S. objections did little to dissuade Karzai’s government from the move.
If 2014 is going to look up for Obama in any way, he would do well to attempt to repair his ever weakening relationships with his once major allies in the region: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and the Palestinians. Without such reparations, the U.S. position in the Middle East might become irrelevant.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 10, 2014, on page 7.