Obama's debt to the Middle East: promises kept, broken and in progress

Published November 4th, 2012 - 07:03 GMT

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Withdrawal of troops from Iraq
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Image 1 of 13: Promise: to reverse or withdraw the 'invasion' of Iraq - check. New to office Obama vowed to draw out US presence in Iraq: In August, 2010, he announced that the US combat mission in Iraq was over. He withdrew troops December 2011- leaving the country in a sectarian mess. A promise kept, but a mission that left a lot to be desired nonetheless.

Guantanamo Bay is still running its indefinite detention policy
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Image 1 of 13: Guantanamo Bay: possibly Obama's most famous broken promise: "I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through". The prison or 'recruitment tool for terrorists' is still open for business despite his 2008 (and recurring) promise to lock it down. The only detainees released are the dead ones -4 under Obama.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
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Image 1 of 13: Obama set up hopes for a new constructive path with Iran, only to dash them in today's word-war: His 2008 FP pledged a willingness to talk to adversaries. Unconditionally, he would sit with Ahmadinejad - who invited open debate. Instead he has silently signed off sanctions that are burning more bridges between the two.

US troops in Afghanistan
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Image 1 of 13: Obama chose his battles and Afghanistan was one he promised to stick to and win. The ongoing Taliban war sees US troops still ensconced, in a work in progress. He proposed to ramp up support to the 'right battlefield' in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not wind down the effort as with Iraq ('the wrong frontier'). He has still to make good on victory.

Is Tunisia too Islamist for the US?
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Image 1 of 13: Obama for democratization- a tricky promise to keep? After an initial stutter with Mubarak, the Obama administration came to decidedly throw in its lot with the Arab Spring. But Obama might have to swallow the bitter pill of the Arab people's choice - so far, so Islamist. Could newly elected regimes end up like pariah Gaza post-Hamas?

US embassy attacks in Libya
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Image 1 of 13: He promised a new beginning with the Muslim world (at daggers drawn post 9/11) and to safeguard US interests abroad but has Obama made Americans safer? His Cairo speech to end the "cycle of suspicion & discord" was relegated to wishful thinking when anti-Islam video protests and embassy attacks reminded all that hating on 'America' survived Bush.

An Israeli-Iran war has so far been held off
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Image 1 of 13: Obama promised to make the Mideast a more peaceful place. It is true to say that Israel has not (yet) attacked Iran --whether that is by the grace of Obama is moot. Yet the region today is swamped in Sunni-Shia antagonism which US policy likely aggravates. US-led sanctions are eroding Iran, whom the US demonizes along with the 'Shia crescent'.

UN bid for Palestine failed
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Image 1 of 13: Obama's Palestine Promise has notoriously been sabotaged by his own hand! Nowhere is an Obama 'epic fail' more pronounced than with his promise to support the Palestinian right to a sovereign statehood, only to then veto their bid at the UN for full or even limited membership as an independent state.

Gaza remains strangled under the Israeli siege
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Image 1 of 13: Obama may have promised hope for Gaza but he fundamentally failed to deliver on rescuing the Strip under siege. True he gave funds to the Gazans in crisis "$20 million for 'urgent refugee and migration needs". Still his support for Israel has allowed it to maintain its strangling land and sea blockade

Israeli settlements
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Image 1 of 13: Obama's impotence - his promises to stop Israel's illegal settlement were undone by the state bulldozer. When the White House asked its key ally to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the OPT to give peace a chance, the building went on much to the humiliation of Obama who couldn't grant even a freeze let alone tackle facts on the ground.

Obama's promise to stay out of Syria
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Image 1 of 13: A promise kept to avoid more Iraqs. Following the Libyan intervention via NATO, the US managed to keep its word to stay out of Syria and future domestic Arab struggles for regime change. It may still be squatting in Afghanistan but Obama's people seem set on staying out of other people's business.

Yemen drone strikes fail to deter terrorism
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Image 1 of 13: Obama promised to beat back terrorism. He did it Bush's way, sticking to the drone war in Yemen and Pakistan. "If I'm a new U.S. president who needs to hunt, kill, and deter terrorists without invading..countries, this is the kind of war I want." Collateral damage of mounting civilian deaths is provoking terrorist activity in Yemen.

Osama Bin Laden is dead and Obama's mission is accomplished
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Image 1 of 13: Mission accomplished! The vow to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Laden landed in a resounding Got Him, on behalf of President Obama who took credit for tracking the world's most wanted man down to a compound in Pakistan. Navy seals delivered the Twin Towers murderer dead, freeing up room at Guantanamo for other wanted types to rot indefinitely.

In the final 48 hours before the presidential campaign transfers to the people-meter - or the vote - we ask the incumbent President Barack Obama to be held to account on behalf of the Middle East. Did he honor his promises and pledges to a region troubled and disappointed by his predecessor's work? What’s left on his Middle East tab worth of debt, should the man enter a second term, or else should he depart, owing?

Did he keep the region secured from hostile threats - militant and nuclear?

Did he curry favor with the Arabs or Muslims by cutting back on dodgy detentions in favor of 'clean' air assasinations?

How is his war on terror going and is he any closer to 'winning' it? Has Obama diverged from the policy of his predecessor, President George W Bush, when it comes to tactics in the war on terror or other facets of his foreign policy in the Middle East?

He infamously promised to shut down Guantanomo facility, and did indeed get as far as signing for the 'closure' (or transfer North to the US) but, blocked at Congress, he has continued to let prisoners stew in their indefinite detentions, clocking 4 dead detainees at the camp under his watch.  This and other broken promises has led some to argue that his promises aren't worth the paper they're written on.

When it comes to cooling down tensions between Iran, in one camp, the Sunni Arabs, the West and Israel in the other, Obama has only fanned flames and provoked Iran with devestating sanctions. He has not disarmed the Persian power.

Has he left the average American feeling safer abroad than during W's era? Has he guarded US national safety and garnered respect for citizens overseas?

He was left in the dark about security when his own employees were attacked at the embassy in Libya. 

Did he keep his commitment to improving relations with the Arab and Muslim world, to bringing Palestine-Israel any closer to that elusive peace or to facilitating democratization of the Arab Spring countries? 

The US standing shoulder to shoulder with democratic revolutions came as no surprise.  But what will be problematic is maintaining that positive endorsemet. Whether in response to Tunisia's extremist chaos or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Obama has had to re-check his stance as pro-transitioning democracies given Islamist new orders, often hospitable to extremist elements.

By staying put in Afghanistan, he might be perservering in his bid to win the war on the Taliban terror, but he is not winning hearts and minds in the region. His administration's mixed bag of signals and standards in the Arab world are not going down well. The US during Obama's term intervened in Libya, pulled out of Iraq, squatted in Afghanistan, supported the Gulf intervention to stall Bahrain's revolution, but stayed out of Syria's bloodbath. 
 
Antagonisms within the sectarian divide of the region are rife. From Iran's point of view - the pariah state has had scientists assassinated, threats of bombings and war, sanctions that are erroding the country, anti-Iran armed groups being supported and cyber attacks.
 
Is this vision a botched promise to the Middle East or does his delivery need a deadline extension into another presidential term?
 
Obama's critics - including former disciples and defectors alike - say he has not honoured his pledges, especially to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or to mend relations with majority-Muslim nations. Just hours ahead of the polls, we take a look at Obama's Middle East tab of debts - promises undelivered or broken. Did he manage to undo Bush's unpopular Middle East legacy, and will an empowered region post Arab Spring expect more from the next president who they will hold to account?

 

What do you say? Has Obama done anything right by the Middle East?

  

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