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Opinion: Will Obama’s Policy Continue After His Presidency Ends? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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For decades, the United States’ policy in the Middle East was based on fixed principles; its rejection of the Iranian nuclear project, a commitment to Israel’s security and ensuring the safety of energy sources, i.e. Gulf oil. For this reason, Washington confronted Iran and demanded two things from it; to halt its nuclear program and hostile foreign activities.

The political principles are built on one another; the Iranian nuclear project threatens the security of Gulf petroleum as well as Israel which continuously threatens the interests of the United States.

Since the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House, his policies are not based on the usual American principles – that’s the opinion of a number of politicians in the Middle East. His adoption of a different policy came as a shock to the region, including the Gulf and Israel, which viewed the nuclear deal with Iran as a dangerous change in the rules of the game. Obama has therefore been blamed for increasing the level of violence and armament.

The question remains, does Obama’s current policy express his vision of the world, or does it reflect the strategic shift in Washington? Obama has already talked about this transformation more than once; he said that his country no longer sees the Middle East as important to the United States, and that it seeks to pursue its interests in the Pacific, towards China and its neighbours.

Will the next president of the United States follow in Obama’s footsteps or will they return to the policy of former president George W Bush and previous American presidents when Washington grants itself a greater role in the affairs of the region?

It is not long before we see the truth; Obama’s presidency will end in approximately six months, and the keys to the White House and its files, including the Middle East will be handed to his successor. There are four wars raging in the region simultaneously which is something that has not happened since World War II. The Obama administration succeeded in killing leaders of terrorism at the beginning by killing the leader of Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden, but terrorism has returned and is spreading through the region at a faster rate than before. Although President Obama has said more than once that his policy is to disentangle the United States from the wars and conflicts in the Middle East, the reality is that he has not done that.

His country is leading a major military alliance in the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, is still fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen via drones. Indeed, reality demonstrates that the reasons for America’s old presence; oil, Israel and terrorism, have not changed. President Obama previously spoke about the motive for his desire to reduce Washington’s role in the Middle East; he said he was elected on the basis of his promise to the American people that the country would exit the wars in the region and that it has done so.

Another motive is the desire to end the United States’ conflict with Iran. Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s keenness to end the long dispute with it, and has therefore widened its aggressive political and military activities against America’s allies. Iranians now have considerable influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and they tried to establish the same in Yemen had it not been for Saudi military intervention that toppled the coup that would have installed a government loyal to Iran there.

The two presidential possibilities are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is difficult to know how Trump thinks. The statements that he has made during his election campaign so far suggest that he is not committed to Obama’s policy and is willing to reactivate the United States’ role through a pragmatic partnership that serves the interests of his country. As for Clinton, her political positions suggest that she is ready to cooperate with Iran, but with more stringent conditions.

By the time a new president is elected in the United States, the Middle East will have reached a more difficult stage. The Syrian peace negotiations between the warring parties appear to be aimed at reducing the confrontations and preoccupation with worthless negotiations until Obama’s term ends. Washington is also involved in the war against ISIS in Fallujah and may get involved in Mosul later, but will not eliminate terrorist groups.

Obama is therefore leaving his successor a table full of dangerous and outstanding issues that will force them to adopt a greater role and reactivate the role of the United States in the Middle East.