America’s Cycles of Change

Obama Short-Changed Arab Allies in Annual Address

Fri, 15 January 2016

US President Barack Obama was on top rhetorical form when he delivered his last State of the Union address but when it came to the Middle East he spoke with muted and confused tongues.

There was nothing for Arabs to celebrate in the speech and much for them to be alarmed about.

Obama, in his 58-minute talk on January 12th, never mentioned the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. He gave no hint that he would try and revive the moribund peace process in his final year in office.

In this respect, even George W. Bush looked better. His secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at least attempted a new peace initiative in Bush’s last year in office even though it never got off the ground. Obama did not even pretend to go through the motions.

Obama pledged to continue the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), not just in Iraq and Syria but wherever it sought to gain footholds, even in Central America.

At the same time, he flatly ruled out sending US combat troops back to the Middle East.

Obama repeatedly expressed scepticism at the US practice for nation-building in the region — ironic comments indeed given his energetic support for such policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

One of Obama’s most radical comments, well received by Democrats in the audience, was his far-reaching pledge to eliminate government subsidies for America’s domestic oil industry as well as for its embattled and shrinking coal mines.

Behind his supposedly uplifting rhetoric, Obama in reality laid the groundwork for miscalculations of war, not just in the region but around the world.

He called on the US Congress to provide the formal authority for the US armed forces to wage full-scale war against ISIS.

And he also prepared the way for possible wider exercises of US military power when he claimed that some countries in the Middle East, Central America and Asia could become safe havens for terrorist groups because of the instability in failed states.

“For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia,” he said, using another acronym for ISIS. “Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.”

It was also striking that Obama had warm words for Iran on the same day Tehran humiliated him by seizing ten US sailors from two small patrol vessels in the Gulf.

Obama hinted at efforts to improve US relations with Iran in his championing of the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Tehran but he made no reference to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan or any other of America’s historic allies in the region.

None of the commentators on the major US television networks seemed to note this glaring omission.

Obama’s State of the Union address, in other words, sounded at first take like a heroic and forceful statement of inspiring values but the elevated rhetoric papered over the same old tired, confused and inept policies that have spread so much misery and suffering over so many countries in the region over the past 13 years.

Obama did not start that mad stampede of the Gadarene swine among US policymakers but things got far worse, rather than better, on his watch.

There was no sign in his last State of the Union speech that Obama had learned any of his much-needed lessons.