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

    Syrian Rebel Realignment Likely as al-Qaida Leader Blesses Split

    Jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra splits from al-Qaida in what observers dub a ‘deception and denial’ exercise

    New India Child Labor Law Could Make Children More Vulnerable

    Concerns that allowing children to work in family enterprises will push more to work

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    Carry-out food explains a lot about the changes taking place in society, so here's the deal with pizza, Chinese food and what racism has to do with taking food to go

    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.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora