This November 25th I will be delivering a visiting lecture at my Alma Mater, University of Bologna.
The topic will be Obama, Post-Obama, and the Middle East. The road ahead.
Very excited to meet my former professors and friends.
All the info are in the leaflet attached.
Many things have already been said about the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. In this piece, I want to focus on the reactions of Middle Eastern leaders to the outcome of the US election.
Although it would not be completely surprising if Trump’s positions on the Middle East will change from the campaign trail to the presidency, they are still worth considering. As summarized by Paul Salem, these positions are:
- he favors cooperation with Russia and the Assad regime in Syria against ISIS and has little regard for the Syrian opposition;
- he has promised either to tear up the nuclear agreement with Iran or to monitor it very aggressively; either way the tone of détente will be replaced by hostility;
- he has spoken fondly of authoritarianism and authoritarian leaders, and argued that human rights and democracy should not be US foreign policy priorities;
- he has said he will ratchet up the war on ISIS without revealing how that would happen;
- he has vilified Muslims and called for a ban on their entry to the United States;
- he has questioned America’s alliances and commitments, and argued instead that US protection should be in exchange for payment.
Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi called Mr. Trump and expressed hope his election will “inject a new spirit into the trajectory of Egyptian-American relations.”
Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the president-elect for continuing to prioritize the war against the extremists: “We are looking forward to seeing the world and the United States of America standing by Iraq in facing terrorism.”
Saudi King Salman expressed hope that Trump would bring stability to the Middle East. “We wish your excellency success in your mission to achieve security and stability in the Middle East and worldwide,” he said, praising US-Saudi relations, which are “historic and tight between the two friendly countries, that all parties aspire to develop and reinforce”.
A spokesman for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbassaid: “We will deal with any president elected by the American people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the two state solution on June 4 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru by David Samuels.
In this article in The New York Times, Samuels provides an insider’s view on the person of Ben Rhodes. Rhodes is deputy national security adviser for strategic communications to President Obama and, according to the author’s sources, “the single most influential voice shaping American foreign policy aside from Potus himself”.
I find two aspects of this long article especially interesting.
The first aspect concerns the way the US administration has been using new information technologies “to spin” the news.
“The easiest way for the White House to shape the news is from the briefing podiums, each of which has its own dedicated press corps … But then there are sort of these force multipliers … We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple of people … and I’ll give them some color … and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dot-com publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they’ll be putting this message out on their own.”
The second aspect regards details on the US-Iranian negotiations leading to the JCPOA.
In particular, on the when, the who, the how, the where, and the why the negotiations took place.
With regard to the WHY, Samuels writes that “by eliminating the fuss about Iran’s nuclear program, the administration hoped to eliminate a source of structural tension between the two countries, which would create the space for America to disentangle itself from its established system of alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. With one bold move, the administration would effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.”
I am personally not so sure about the goal of “disengagement” from the ME but I do share the opinion that there was the idea within the Obama administration of “disentangling” the United States from a controversial/constraining/complex system of regional alliances. This does not mean that the administration wanted to abandon their ME allies, rather, that US officials wanted to make the United States less dependent on them and freer to design its own foreign policy in the region.
The full article can be read here
Next year, a new president with a new administration will be in charge of US foreign policy toward the vital region of the Middle East. A region currently ravaged by an incredible number of conflicts and tensions, including the ones in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
A lively debate has been going on for some time between supporters of a policy of US engagement in the region versus those advocating for a policy of disengagement. The so-called Obama Doctrine has been often criticized for being too ‘hands-off’ with regard to the Middle East.
In this article on the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, the author concludes by stating the ‘American disengagement’ from the region is just a ‘fantasy’.
He further argues that
It’s understandable that President Obama harbored a fantasy of washing his hands of the whole mess. The United States failed to achieve its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan despite killing many people and committing a great deal of resources. The results in Libya are more equivocal and America’s responsibility more broadly shared, but hardly make a case for successful U.S. intervention.
But the alternative to reckless interventionism cannot realistically be disengagement. The region’s conflicts implicate the United States and plenty of other foreign powers, along with the whole ethnic, sectarian and ideological panoply of a region that, despite generations of ethnic cleansing, hosts a staggering amount of diversity. America bears heavy responsibility as Israel’s guarantor power, which inextricably ties Washington to Israel’s conflicts with Palestinians and other regional players.
The full article can be read here
Egypt ranks sixth in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.
$4.4 billion defense budget
468,500 active frontline personnel
The Egyptian Armed Forces is one of the oldest and largest militaries in the Middle East. The Egyptian military has existed in its current iteration since 1952, and the military has played a direct role in Egyptian politics since the country’s founding — current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the military’s former commander in chief.
The US has provided Egypt with over $70 billion in aid since 1948, most of which came in the form of an annual $1.3 billion military assistance fund established after Egypt and Israel signed a peace deal in 1979. Because of this assistance, Egypt has replaced a mostly Soviet-provided arsenal with US-produced arms.
Egypt has over 1,000 M1A1 Abrams tanks, many of which sit in storage and have never been used. Egypt also coproduces M1A1 tanks domestically. The Egyptian Air Force has 221 F-16 fighter jets, alongside a range of other US-provided aircraft.
But the military’s operational abilities are highly suspect, and it has had trouble fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Sinai. It has discussed future arms purchases with Russia but only because of a falling-out with Washington over the summer 2013 military coup that put Sisi in power.
Key allies: The US and Saudi Arabia — although security cooperation between Israel and Egypt has picked up since the summer 2013 coup in Cairo.
Source Business Insider UK 2014
Check my new book out New Beginning in US-Muslim Relations: President Obama and the Arab Awakening at Palgrave Macmillan official website.
This book carries out a comparative study of the US response to popular uprisings in the Middle East as an evaluation of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy commitments. In 2009, Obama publicly pledged “a new beginning in US-Muslim relations,” causing eager expectation of a clear shift in US foreign policy after the election of the 44th president of the United States. However, the achievement of such a shift was made particularly difficult by the existence of multiple, and sometimes conflicting, US interests in the region which influenced the Obama administration’s response to the popular uprisings in five Muslim-majority countries: Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. After providing a detailed analysis of the traditional features of both US foreign policy rhetoric and practice, this book turns its focus to the Obama administration’s response to the 2011 Arab Awakening to determine whether Obama’s foreign policy has indeed brought about a new beginning in US-Muslim relations.
Enjoy your reading!
Iran ranks fifth in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.
$6.3 billion defense budget
545,000 active frontline personnel
Iran has faced arms embargoes put in place by the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the embassy hostage crisis that followed. In response, Iran has developed its own domestic military industry under the guidance of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran has been building its own tanks and long-range missiles since 1992, as well as reverse-engineering its own drones. This means that Iran fields inferior equipment compared with many of its US-supplies neighbors — but gains crucial strategic depth in return.
It has an uninterrupted supply chain to its allies, like Syria’s Assad regime. And it doesn’t have to depend on the good will of an outside power to remain armed.
“Thirty-five years ago, Iran had no local production capability,” Harmer says. “Now they build their own submarines and surface ships. Nobody in the Middle East does that, not even the Israelis.”
Iran also maintains a number of US weapons that the country had purchased prior to its 1979 revolution, along with foreign weapons it bought afterward. Among these weapons are US-made F-14 Tomcats and Russian-built Su-24s and Su-25s.
Iran has been involved in numerous proxy conflicts, including funneling supplies and fighters into Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Lebanon. The militant organization Hezbollah is largely an extension of Iranian foreign policy into the Arab Middle East.
That doesn’t make Iran a major conventional military power, though. As Megahan says, the military is hampered by corruption and poor leadership, with regime loyalty often mattering more than merit among the officer corps. Iran has invested heavily in building its own weaponry, including ballistic missiles. It’s all unproven.
“They try really hard to have an indigenous military industry,” he says. “There not a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s actually really going well.”
Key allies: Syria, Shi’ite militant groups in Iraq and Lebanon, and Sudan.
Source Business Insider UK 2014