Research Proposal: American Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East Under Obama

Pages: 10 (3326 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 25  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: History - Israel  ·  Buy This Paper

Israelis and Palestinians do not have to keep fighting and killing each other forever. But it sometimes seems that they do. While there are places in the world in which the possible of a functional polity are far more distant (such as Somalia), it is fundamentally difficult to imagine a world in which Palestinians, Arabs, and Israelis beat their swords into plowshares. And of all the places in the world where the soil is constantly drenched in blood, what is referred to -- for historical reasons, one assumes, rather than ironic ones, as the Holy Land -- is the place where the United States has the most at stake in both strategic terms and in terms of American standing in the world.

Except -- of course -- that there is also the question of Iran and Iraq, those other players in the Middle East where the United States also has very personal ties. Although the four countries occupy the same region of the world, they are generally viewed (through the lens of American foreign policy) as at least two and possibly three sets of "problems" that are in many ways separate from each other Iraq (and Afghanistan) are currently being either occupied or aided (the term depends on who is doing the definition) by the American military and so the most immediate issues that the United States faces there are military ones as the wars there drag on and the casualty rates rise.

Of course, military issues are necessarily also political ones, but the presence of living and dying American troops in Iran and Afghanistan places the strategic military decisions at the forefront of any policy decisions in Iraq. And yet, there is the problem for Obama -- as was true for both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush -- that the political problems in the Middle East center (for psychological and cultural reasons if not for more practical ones) for the United States on the question of whether there can be an authentic lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. (There is also the related question of whether there can be a peace that is agreed to now that will endure as the needs of each party shift over time.)

The issue of Israel and the Palestinians is a single locus and one that -- despite the number of troops committed to Iraq -- is probably the most important for Barak Obama in terms of what might loosely be called prestige for his administration. His recent pledge to send more troops to Afghanistan has lead to the response by many pundits that this new deployment makes the war there (and by extension possibly the war in Iraq as well) "Obama's war." However, certainly both of the wars that the United States is engaged in the Middle East -- whatever Obama may do in the future -- will still be linked primarily with George W. Bush.

But it is a fact of American foreign policy -- rational or not -- that much of an American president's foreign policy prestige rises and falls with the number of casualties in Gaza and Israel. No doubt this is partly because of the important historical connection between Israel and the United States and the way that this nearly sacrosanct connection makes the United States suspect in much of the world. Perhaps it is simply that the enormity of the problem of bringing peace to this sector of the Middle East seems so nearly impossible and success there so improbable that each new American president essentially from the founding of the state of Israel on has been tested (and tested himself) on the bloody rocks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Levy (2009) describes some of the dynamics involved in the necessity of placing strategies for addressing for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the center of the United States' Middle Eastern policy:

The Obama administration merits significant credit for having acknowledged from the get-go that advancing a solution on Israel-Palestine, or at least reaching a post-occupation equilibrium, is a key American national interest -- a realization that was belatedly groped at by the Bush administration and was set forth from day one by its successor. That displays a keen understanding of the centrality of how the Israeli-Palestinian issue impacts America's standing and ability to advance its goals, including the push back against extremism in the region and beyond (Levy, 2009).

Purpose and Importance of Study

What -- so far -- seems to have been the most important differences between the Middle Eastern foreign policy of Barak Obama and that of George W. Bush (other than an overall increased respect for the concept of the United States as a partner rather than as an overlord) is that Obama is trying to craft a holistic policy toward the entire region. (Iftikhar's CNN commentary nicely summarized this shift: "President Obama's speech was a concert of enlightenment compared to President George W. Bush's famous farewell news conference in the Muslim world [which resulted in two Iraqi size-10 shoes being boomeranged toward his head].") Obama has since the beginning of his presidency worked to reach out to the Muslim world -- to Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, to Iraq and Iran -- and to the Palestinians. The great question thus so far in terms of Obama's Middle East policy is to what extent it is possible to create a sort of pan-Islamic American foreign policy.

The extent to which the U.S. is addressing the entire Muslim world is to some extent outside of the scope of this paper, given that the focus of this paper is the Middle East and not the entire Muslim world. However, while I do believe that Obama is sincerely dedicated to the idea of being able to improve the working relationship between the United States and the entire Muslim world, I also believe that under his leadership the U.S. will remain more focused on Iraq-Afghanistan, Iran (with its dabbling in nuclear armaments), and on Israel and Palestine than on countries like Somalia and the Sudan, despite the clear need that those two nations have for aid, and peace.

A country such as Turkey provides special problems for a United States that wants to craft a unified Muslim strategy, as Bender (2006, pp. 117-8) suggests. Both Middle Eastern and European, both Muslim and secular, Turkey creates a radically complicated problem. It is difficult to think of a possible foreign policy that would be able to encompass both the Saudis and Ankara. These issues are, as I noted, peripheral to the central concerns of this paper, but I bring them up here because they will affect foreign policy in Iran, Iraq, and Israel and the West Bank. To the extent that the Obama Administration is forced to create more and more layers of policy strategies to work with different Muslim countries (and other countries as well, of course), the less diplomatic energy will be left over for dealing with these four nations. Complexity in planning has the potential for bleeding energy out of the system -- in a part of the world that requires every ounce of energy to be brought to bear on the issues at hand (Corsi, 2009, pp. 43-5).

A precondition for Obama's creating a sort of pan-Muslim world policy must be a concept of pan-Islam on the part of Muslim-majority nations. And it is certainly true that many Muslims themselves see a connection to all other Muslims around the world -- although generally not in terms of a twenty-first century caliphate, an idea that Krieger (n.d.) believes to have been in large measure a bogeyman conjured up by the Bush Administration. (Not that there are not some extremist Muslims who believe it too, but it is not an idea generally held by "ordinary" Muslims.) But are the connections that exist among Muslim countries and peoples sufficient to help Obama forge a coherent policy that can effectively address the interests of the United States in places as different as Iran and Somalia? And with what must these connections be met in terms of American foreign policy for the United States to see its goals realized in the Middle East? (Sanger, 2009, pp. 23-4).

The purpose and importance of this project is to assess the possible outcomes for Obama's Middle Eastern policy, and in particular of his attempts so far to craft an integrated policy to the whole Muslim world. Obama's rhetoric in this arena is indeed inspiring. In his June 2, 2009, speech on Middle Eastern policy, he drew on the rhetoric of the three monotheistic religions with their origins in the Middle East:

The concept of peace was born in the Middle East and constitutes the cornerstone of all three monotheistic faiths -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- and it is incumbent on the people of Abraham to unite to meet the challenge and together realize the vision of a sustainable peace in the Middle East (Obama Widely Praised in His Call for Peace, 2009).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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