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Opinion: What do you want, Mr. President? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 31, 2013, during a ceremony to honor the 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball Champion team, the University of Connecticut Huskies. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster.)

There are only a few days until US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the Middle East.

Obama’s foreign trips always mark significant and exceptional events. Even if the president acts naive, it is the destiny of the US, as a global superpower, to act as a true global superpower whether it likes it or not. It is the US’s destiny to stay in the kitchen and stand up to the heat. The US cannot panic and abandon what it has always considered its “spheres of influence,” especially considering that it recently it went to war in order to protect its interests in them. Of course, this is the US’s perspective, not my personal one.

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month, President Obama revealed some interesting aspects of his Middle East policies, which he bases on several assumptions. First is that “Iran is much weaker now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago.” Second, Obama told Goldberg that Iran “is a large, powerful country that sees itself as an important player on the world stage, and I do not think has a suicide wish, and can respond to incentives.” Third, the president said, the US’s partners in the region have “got to respond and adapt to change.”

Responding to a question about why Sunnis are nervous about him, Obama answered: “I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard. I think change is always scary. I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran, even if most of that was rhetorical and didn’t actually translate into stopping the nuclear program.”

As to whether he believes Sunni or Shi’ite extremism is more dangerous, Obama said: “I’m not big on extremism generally . . . What I’ll say is that if you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they’re not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits . . . they’re not North Korea.”

The two key words in the interview are “changes” and “partners.” Although it is clear what he means by “change,” the word “partners” needs to be defined. Other than Israel, who are the “partners” Obama referred to?

If the entire issue with Iran is its nuclear weapons, then the answer to the question about the identity of those “partners” will be very limited, and will exclude a host of other issues that worry the Sunni street in the countries that are presumably the US’s “partners.” The reason for this is that Iran is currently executing Khomeini’s project, which is based on exporting the revolution by fighting its real wars with traditional, rather than nuclear, weapons.

So far, Tehran has turned four Arab countries—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen—into either failed states or de facto colonies. In coordination with certain lobbies in Washington, Iran is also actively manipulating the fates of Bahrain and Egypt, having disrupted the unity of the Palestinians. It managed to do all this without using nuclear weapons.

Taken alone, Iran’s nuclear program is a source of anxiety to only one regional player: Israel. Therefore, reducing Iran’s regional threat, given the aspirations of its current administration, to the nuclear issue is meant to satisfy solely the Israelis, while dismissing the upheavals, massacres and other ordeals as just a part of what the US president calls “change” threatens the very meaning of “partnership.”

Reducing the big picture to one detail reminds us of another recent worrisome episode: the way in which Washington dealt with the Bashar Al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria.

At the outset, the US administration threatened the Assad regime with dire consequences if it continued the systematic and bloody crackdown on civilians it had led since the outbreak of the popular uprising nearly three years ago. However, Washington’s threats went down the drain and Obama’s “red lines” were ridiculed and trampled on as the regime continued massacring civilians with barrel bombs—and that is not to mention the sectarian displacement it also created. This is also now evidenced by the Syrian government’s preparations for the re-election of the “president leader.” These North Korean-style elections have already been resolved in favor of Assad, as shown in the new election law passed recently.

The oft-repeated remark by Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, that “Assad has no place in the future of Syria” has evaporated as the atrocities continued. Later on, Moscow itself put an end to the lie that a ‘political settlement is the only solution to the Syrian crisis’ after the Geneva II scandal. It has become clear that the putative ‘political settlement’ was just an anesthetic used to gain time until Iranian and Russian military support units achieve a strategic change on the battlefield in the absence of any tangible, advanced military aid to the opposition from the West. Last but not least, all of the sugar-coated promises made to the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been broken, despite the fact that the regional parties that are truly supporting terrorist organizations have been exposed. The international community has always used these groups’ violations as a pretext to refrain from arming the FSA and keep doing nothing.

Washington has ignored all the incidents on Syria’s tragic scene since the Assad regime agreed to turn over its chemical stockpile, which is something it was not supposed to have had in the first place, let alone use them against its own people. At the time, Washington reduced the dimensions of the Syrian crisis into the issue of chemical weapons, and still the Syrian government is thought to only have surrendered part of its stockpile. By doing so, the US has let the regime and its shabiha (thugs) continue their massacres, which have left between 300,000 and 400,000 dead and displaced 10 million more.

Why did this happen? Whose interests did it serve?

It happened because Israel—the US’s key regional partner—feared chemical weapons might fall into the hands of unruly elements and factions other than the Syrian regime, whose intentions it is certain of. And thus, with the elimination of this danger, the Syrian ordeal was relegated to oblivion.

The region today is very much aware of what is going on both within its borders and beyond. Thus Washington should stop exporting its delusions. In light of all this, there is no longer anything that will ever surprise or catch the peoples of the region off guard.