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.
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Labels: Barack Hussein Obama, Hamas, Middle East, Middle East peace process, Muslim Brotherhood, Operation Protective Edge, Qatar