I attended a Brookings Doha Centre seminar titled “Assessing Obama’s Middle East Policies,” which was addressed by Martin Indyk, who was is the vice-president and Director of the foreign policy programme, Brookings Institute.
Indyk is a seasoned Democrat diplomat who had served as US ambassador to Israel from 1995-97 and 2000-1, which meant he was a player during the Wye Accords of 1996 and the failed Camp David talks. Indyk was specialist of Middle East policy during the Clinton administration, as he held various State Department roles.
As a seasoned American policy maker in Indyk, I didn’t expect any real radical views which would deviate from current US policy. Indyk’s paper focussed on Obama and his Middle East challenges in the current climate.
Indyk outlined that the basic US Middle East foreign policy was dictated by the security of Israel and the need for oil. He suggested (which wasn’t wholly accepted by some parts of the audience) that the US policy in the Middle East was based on interests and values, many thought it was just interests. For example in the Gulf, the premise of foreign policy was based on the interests of preserving the route of oil for the US consumer, and in order to achieve that key interest, a marriage of convenience was sought with autocratic monarchies.
Indyk explained how in Libya, it was about ‘values’ which were sought when the USA led from behind with the NATO mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Indyk had downplayed the rationale for oil interests in Libya, I thought otherwise.
Indyk argued that the George W Bush presidency tried to deviate US policy from interests by implementing values by invading Iraq and stipulating democracy takes place in Palestine, which on both accounts according to Indyk had backfired for the Bush administration.
Overall the presentation was a justification of Obama’s policy in the Middle East, and there were many holes and issues which weren’t covered, such as the rise of political Islam in the democratic process, the current stage of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and Obama’s decision to come hard on Mahmoud Abbas and his mission for the UN recognition for Palestinian statehood. He briefly touched about the in the Saudi-Iranian cold war, and how it was being served in the US interests.
Indyk believed that the Arab Spring wasn’t created by the USA and that the USA should act with humility and help the people of the Arab Spring. But based on Indyk’s assertions one can say that the difference of US policy towards Mubarak, Gaddafi and Assad shows a contradiction, while in Bahrain, US rhetoric is based on protecting their interests, while even though Indyk was certain Libya was about values, no real assertions were presented.
In true US rhetoric the Israelis and Palestinians wer put on an equal footing, as Indyk referred to the crisis as too wide to bridge the gap for Israeli security against a Palestinian statehood.
No real effort was made to explain US policy towards the Palestinians, and what drove Obama to take such as hawkish stance towards Abbas at the UN General Assembly earlier this year.
Overall the presentation was interesting in the sense of understanding an aspect of US policy towards the Middle East, but overall it came across as a moral justification of US action under Obama without really referring to the geopolitical challenges that lay ahead.