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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Friendless in the Middle East

Jonathan Schanzer plumbs the depths to which US influence in the Middle East has sunk.
And it's not just Israel, either. Call it a "pivot," call it a "rebalancing"—by now, every leader in the region knows full well that the United States is trying to extricate itself from the Middle East. They know that the current Gaza conflict, the ongoing Syria slaughter and other regional upheavals are a collective nuisance to this administration, which has conspicuously failed to craft a consistent or coherent Middle East foreign policy after six years of turmoil.
U.S. credibility took a nose dive after President Obama's Syria "red line" reversal last September—and it plummeted further in May as Kerry's ill-timed attempt to broker a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israelis predictably collapsed. It doesn't help that Egypt, the traditional American broker of calm between Hamas and the Israelis, has failed at its first attempt to do Washington's bidding. But it's also no surprise. Egypt has been drifting from Washington's orbit ever since the administration cut funding after last year's coup that heralded the rise of army strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
To be fair, it's unlikely that even Sisi's predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, the ousted Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader who brokered the last ceasefire with Hamas in November 2012 thanks to his longstanding ties with the group, could talk sense to Hamas right now. As Jordanian officials confirmed to me last week, Hamas is now fractured. It has at least four power centers: Gaza Strip, West Bank, external leadership and military leadership. Dealing with one, unified Hamas that was strident and intransigent was difficult enough. The splintering of Hamas makes it that much harder to negotiate.
Still, few countries in the region are prepared to cut Washington much slack. There is a growing climate of fear stemming from the U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its illicit nuclear program. As one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official put it to me, "the fear is that the Iranians are going to pretend to give up their nuclear program, and the U.S. is going to pretend to believe them."
What does this all mean? In the short term, the Gaza war may stretch on longer than anyone expected, fanning the flames of a region already burning. In the longer term, this conflict, regardless of duration, will fuel the perception that the United States has lost control of this strategically important region.
Read the whole thing.

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