We chose to take a step back and review the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East in this week’s essay:
We’ve said from the beginning that the Arab Spring was going to present the administration with some horrible headaches and impossible choices. George Washington was the first US President to learn just how much trouble a long and complicated revolutionary process in an allied nation could cause. The French revolution split his cabinet, caused him huge political and diplomatic headaches, and so embittered American politics that he felt and feared that he had failed. Those who criticize the President should never forget just how difficult these challenges really are. Flip and vain talking heads are always sure that there are simple, easy alternatives that would make everything work out okay. That is almost never the case, and it certainly isn’t now.All that said, it’s unlikely that the President and his team can be anything but unhappy with the view as they look across the Atlantic: Edward Snowden is sitting pretty in Moscow with Putin humiliating the administration (once again) by failing to give it advance notice of the decision, Assad is still holding court in Damascus and even predicting victory, there appear no easy outs in Afghanistan, Iran is surging in Iraq, and the promise of the Arab Spring has mostly evaporated. The recent jailbreaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, along with Thursday’s announcement that the US would be temporarily closing its embassies across the Middle East due to an unspecified terrorist threat, suggest al-Qaeda and other fanatical terror organizations are on a roll. Meanwhile, the US is farther than ever from the kind of partnership with relatively liberal and democratic Muslim parties and movements that the Obama administration sees as the best way to tame terror and build a better future. Success in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would have a large impact, but that prospect, sadly, still seems unlikely.Fortunately for the administration, the public seems to want to think about the Middle East as little as possible. Yet the President’s poll numbers on foreign policy continue to decline, and much of the foreign policy establishment seems to be tip toeing away from the administration as quickly as it can.Failure in the Middle East has the potential to wreck the President’s foreign policy world wide. The “pivot to Asia” was predicated on a shift of American attention and resources away from the Middle East. That seems less likely now; many in Asia are wondering what happens to the pivot when the Secretary of State has clearly put the peace process at the center of his priorities. It is not easy to discern a commitment to humanitarian values or human rights in an administration that has passively watched the Syrian bloodbath metastasize and that has put together global surveillance programs that have angered many human rights groups as well as some allied powers.
It was a busy week for the Middle East. Talks about Israeli-Palestinian talks look set to resume. Jordan is feeling increasing strain from a rising tide of tribal violence, and inaction in Syria is drawing in more Westerners than fought in Afghanistan or Iraq. Egypt is struggling to move on from its coup-that-wasn’t-a-coup, and many are fearing more bloodshed as the current regime cracks down on pro-Morsi supporters. And it looks like Armenia’s relationship with Russia is on the rocks; an Armenian pivot away from Moscow would have geopolitical implications for both the West and Tehran.The Game of Thrones continues to play out in Asia as Japan and ASEAN joined forces to balance China’s aggression in the East and South China Seas. Nationalism was the soup du jour for Japan and South Korea this week; a Japanese finance minister looked to the Third Reich for inspiration, while South Korean hooligans unfurled anti-Japanese sentiment at a soccer match. China’s recent economic slowdown is casting doubt on the country’s global superpower ambitions, though Beijing might be pushing back against that sentiment if—as some pictures are suggesting—it builds another aircraft carrier. Looking to South Asia, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Pakistan last week to a relatively warm welcome, though relations between the two countries are by no means warm. And in India, the carving out of the country’s newest state hinted at signs of a broader political shakeup.While Europe’s leading class is determined to dodder on through the aftershocks of the recent financial crisis, markets seem to be waiting in the wing to force a course-correct. But at least the EU accomplished something, agreeing to settle its squabble with China over solar panel and wine tariffs.A Saudi Prince lamented that US shale was threatening his country’s economy, another effect of the sudden shale boom. But the US needs to continue to build out its energy infrastructure, as security researchers found a way to exploit cyber-vulnerabilities in our country’s oil, gas, and water processing plants. The ever-controversial green Bjorn Lomborg made the astute observation this week that Europe’s subsidization of renewable energy hasn’t done much good, arguing that that money should go towards research and development, a point that should sound familiar to regular Via Meadia readers. The green movement needs more thinkers like Lomborg, because it has proven itself terrible at policymaking.The one-year delay enforcement of Obamacare’s employer mandate looks like it will come with a $12 billion pricetag, and it appears as if the White House stepped in to protect congressional staffers from Obamacare’s insurance exchange premiums, offering a subsidy much higher than an average American in a similar situation might receive. But these kinds of setbacks haven’t stopped the Obama administration from pushing the plan, though it looks like it’s over-promising on the ability of the ACA to tamp down on health care spending. Still, it wasn’t all gloom and doom in health care news this week: new technology and an updated definition for what constitutes cancer could help avoid a lot of wasteful spending and meaningless suffering. And a new study found that telehealth—one of the predicted benefits of the information age—is as good as or even more successful than in-person care, at least when it comes to psychotherapy.
[Obama photo courtesy Getty Images.]