News / USA

    'Convulsions' in Mideast Weigh on US Ahead of State of the Union

    When President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations General Assembly last September, he spoke about "convulsions" upending the old order in the Middle East.

    Now the president's supporters and critics will be listening closely when he delivers his State of the Union address to learn if, and how, the U.S. may put those convulsions to rest.

    The Obama Administration is lashing out over accusations that Washington is pulling back from world involvement as questions mount over its role in Middle East affairs

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described what he called a “myth” about White House foreign policies during an appearance Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

    “This misperception appears to be based on the simplistic assumption that our only tool of influence is our military, and that if we don't have a huge troop presence or aren't brandishing an immediate threat of force, we are somehow absent from the arena. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

    "The most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed U.S. retreat from the Middle East," said Kerry. "You can't find another country - not one country - as proactively engaged, or that is partnering with so many Middle Eastern countries as constructively as we are, on so many high-stake fronts."

    Abundant criticism

    Kerry’s comments come amid mounting criticism at home and abroad over Washington’s Middle East policies.

    The Obama administration has been slammed for not having a coherent strategy to deal with developments in the Middle East - including the conflict in Syria, upheaval in Egypt, a growing presence of al-Qaida in Iran and efforts at détente with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. The critics include officials in Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as opposition members in U.S. Congress.

    The view in many quarters of the Middle East is growing increasingly negative, according to analysts.

    With continuing images of bloodshed in Syria and of increasingly violent clashes in Egypt, questions about U.S. policy persist, putting a spotlight on what President Barack Obama will - or will not - say Tuesday at his upcoming State of the Union address.

    Just last year, in his last State of the Union speech, Obama promised his administration would, “stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights and support stable transitions to democracy. We know the process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt, but we can - and will - insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian."

    Critics say the president’s actions over the past year have failed to match the lofty rhetoric.

    “I think, overall, the administration has wanted to get out of the Middle East,” said the Washington Institute’s David Schenker. “The Obama administration is looking at the Arab uprisings, the so-called Arab Spring, and saying we want no part of this. We want to cauterize Syria. We don’t want any spillover. We don’t want to be involved on a day-to-day basis in Egypt.”

    Some defenders

    But Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. State Department advisor now with the Woodrow Wilson Center, said criticism of the U.S. and the Obama administration may be overstated.

    “I don’t think we’ve taken our eye off any ball,” said Miller. “I think the balls are in such bad shape and our influence is so limited with respect to the so-called Arab Spring that it’s hard to imagine what it is we would do.”

    Miller said, given the circumstances, Washington’s main concerns have been to avoid the need to take military action in Syria and Iran, while trying to confront Tehran’s controversial nuclear program with diplomacy.

    “Look, you got a chemical framework agreement [with Syria],” he said. “No one ever thought that was possible. You have an interim [nuclear] agreement with Iran, the P5+1. No one ever thought that was possible.”

    One area at which the Obama administration has looked to take a more active role is in the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry has been to the region 11 time for talks with the two sides in recent months.

    Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco who now is chief executive of the OneVoice Movement, which seeks an end to the conflict, sees U.S. efforts as a low-risk opportunity that could have a big pay-off.

    “I can’t think of anything that would do more to enhance American credibility at a time when American foreign policy is under challenge in the region than to help forge an agreement between Israel and Palestine,“ he said.

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    January 25, 2014 7:12 AM
    You can agree with me that both the US administration's red line tripping and Kerry's "disengagement myth... about a supposed U.S. retreat from the Middle East... proactively engaged, or that is partnering with so many Middle Eastern countries..." is a winding down process. In one way or another, we see a USA that is surrendering its leadership role in world affairs, albeit unmindfully, due to unguided and untutored queuing behind a bandwagon man. It seems every government in USA makes its own policy which guides its interaction with the outside world, and the policy under the present administration appears to be the worst of all - abandon an ally here, rubbish trust of another there, grovel after a foe that will destroy you next. It all boils down to a system having a drought of purpose and direction. What the president says will not be different from known rhetoric in another coinage of slang.

    However I want to point out that his promise of helping people assert their freedom was based on his perception to see those people help him in knocking down the African and Middle Eastern value system and tradition; he did not envisage a violent physical struggle even though he failed in his approach earlier in Libya, Egypt and Syria. Such coinage as “I don’t think we’ve taken our eye off any ball.... I think the balls are in such bad shape and our influence is so limited with respect to the so-called Arab Spring that it’s hard to imagine what it is we would do”, only smirk of a confused state, a state of lack of initiative to move forward that should have been reported for what it is - confuse the public - rather than painting it to look what it is not.

    Making reference to the chemical deal with Syria is just a reminder of the regime's lack of trustworthiness; for we know that was brokered by Russia. Iran's deal? We should be ashamed of it; for that more than exposed the US spinelessness in taking control of issues in the present. It exposes the weakness at the White House as well as the inability of the present US administration to garner and maintain world leverage. Counting on the Israel/Palestine so-called peace negotiation, after many visits: a lack of initiative has made sure no progress is made, except those seen through the eyes of John Kerry alone, while neither Israel nor the PLO knows anything what Kerry is doing out there: their own voices say so.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora