Arab Spring Proves a Harsh Test for Obama’s Diplomatic Skill – NYTimes.com

On the foreign policy challenges President Obama is currently facing in the Middle East:

In many ways, Mr. Obama’s remarks at the State Department two weeks ago — and the ones he will make before the General Assembly on Tuesday morning, when he addresses the anti-American protests — reflected hard lessons the president had learned over almost two years of political turmoil in the Arab world: bold words and support for democratic aspirations are not enough to engender good will in this region, especially not when hampered by America’s own national security interests.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s staunch defense of democracy protesters in Egypt last year soon drew him into an upheaval that would test his judgment, his nerve and his diplomatic skill. Even as the uprisings spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the president’s sympathy for the protesters infuriated America’s allies in the conservative and oil-rich Gulf states. In mid-March, the Saudis moved decisively to crush the democracy protests in Bahrain, sending a convoy of tanks and heavy artillery across the 16-mile King Fahd Causeway between the two countries.

That blunt show of force confronted Mr. Obama with the limits of his ability, or his willingness, to midwife democratic change.

via Arab Spring Proves a Harsh Test for Obama’s Diplomatic Skill – NYTimes.com.

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8 thoughts on “Arab Spring Proves a Harsh Test for Obama’s Diplomatic Skill – NYTimes.com

  1. svanmaanen says:

    Part of this article was a very interesting look back at what was going on between Obama and other US officials at the beginning of the Arab Spring. I feel like it makes it seem as though Obama did a better job of seeming to support the protesters in Egypt than he actually did at the time. The mixed messages given by different officials as discussed in this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/world/middleeast/13diplomacy.html?pagewanted=all) , written at the time, seem more like what I remember. The two articles, one from while the events were still taking place and one with the benefit of hindsight, make an interesting comparison.

  2. I find it ironic that Obama is accused by foreign leaders of being impersonable, when many domestic voters view him as highly likable. Mitt Romney is the opposite (or so goes the story)–robotic, rich, and removed. And yet it is Romney that has a close and friendly relationship with Netanyahu. Obama recently referred to Netanyahu’s public remarks on Iran as “noise” (http://www.businessinsider.com/obama-israel-sixty-minutes-video-2012-9). There seems to be no end to the feud between the American and Israeli heads of state. If Obama does win reelection, it will be interesting to see how he uses his current relationships (or lack thereof) with foreign leaders to further U.S. interests around the world. He has scores of diplomats that work daily with those leaders; but will that be enough?

  3. ctrmathias says:

    I disagree that Obama’s position throughout the Arab Spring has hurt him with the “conservative and oil-rich states Gulf States”. Throughout the entire Arab Spring, Qatar has been pushing for working with the pro-democracy forces. Even now with Syria, Qatar is trying to hold Saudi Arabia and Turkey to comments they have made in the past to support the Syrian people. The Gulf States seem to be ready to jump to the aid of the Syrian people for the purpose of promoting stability in the Middle East. It is to their advantage to have these conflicts end before a civil war spills over.
    You can read more about the efforts of Qatar here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/25/un-assembly-syria-qatar-idUSL1E8KPBSE20120925

  4. Matthew Merrill says:

    The story of Mubarak’s reign and the decision by Obama to end it are filled with dichotomies. Mubarak wanted stability as the end goal of his regime, but stability came to be synonymous with stagnation and was therefore overthrown with protest. As stability was to Egypt, hot-headed decision making was to Obama. Where Obama is usually seen as calm and collected, this article shows a side of the president that the public rarely sees. One has to wonder, what are Obama’s ultimate foreign policy objectives? Additionally, are his relationships (or lack thereof) with Arab leaders helping or hindering those objectives?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/world/middleeast/12mubarak.html?ref=hosnimubarak

  5. michaelseancovey says:

    I think what has happened in the Middle East, especially with the development Iran’s nuclear program, has shown President Obama’s failures and weakness as our executive. When he was first elected, he offered to “extend a hand” to Iran and build a relationship with them, but also to halt their nuclear program (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/obamas-policy-on-iran-bears-some-fruit-but-nuclear-program-still-advances/2012/09/24/f51f9a04-fc21-11e1-a31e-804fccb658f9_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines). However, President Obama has failed in that Iran and much of the Middle East hates America just as much as in 2008, or even worse, and Iran’s rate of production of enriched uranium (for making nuclear weapons) has tripled since 2008. Yes, President Obama has tried to stop them through economic sanctions, but it hasn’t worked, and our commitment to Israel is in question. Obama has yet to take a tough stand on Iran and clearly tell them where the line is drawn. How far will they go with their nuclear program and until someone stops them? He’s sitting on the fence and being soft. I think he needs to man-up, reassure Israel of our commitment, and draw the line with Iran.

  6. Dylan Bates says:

    Having spent a little bit of time in the Middle East, I think its safe to say that personal relationships are a big part of their culture. I like the part in this article where the Arab diplomat says that you can’t accomplish what you want to accomplish in the Middle East with an impersonal style. To me, it seems that a personal relationship with leaders in such an important region of the world is vital to our nation’s future. If Obama is elected for a second term, I think it should definitely be one of his priorities to build such relationships.
    Of course, Obama’s foreign policy has been interesting. It would be extremely interesting to see where the Middle East would end up were the USA not meddling in its affairs so much. Of course, it probably wouldn’t end up in a place that is advantageous for the USA.

    Here is an interesting opinion on America’s influence in the Middle East
    http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/stephen-glain/2011/09/29/uss-diminishing-influence-in-the-middle-east

  7. An interesting concept in leadership is set forth in this article. The contrast between speaking often and in friendly terms with autonomous leaders like the Saudis, or to speak only on occasion, and in such a way that conveys both necessity of obedience and an assurance of independence. I think both are necessary, and that more often than not, especially when things need to be done, the soft spoken make them done quicker, as I suspect so does the President. Israel had such a president, and he had very few enemies and achieved most of his objectives while in office. (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/01/world/for-israeli-president-soft-spoken-sephardi.html)

  8. shzmughal says:

    I think that President Obama definitely needs to work on forging strong, lasting relationships with Middle Eastern leaders if he ends up securing a second term in office. If MItt Romney takes office, he should do the same thing. The U.S. is caught up in these conflicts in a very unstable region of the world, and the conflicts are only exacerbated by the fact that religion and ethnic issues constantly mix with other problems faced by the area. I often wonder what Middle Eastern leaders think when they negotiate with American officials. Do they feel intimidated knowing that we’re a very powerful nation with vast resources, or do they feel reassured knowing that we’re typically cautious about how we use our power? I echo some of the other posts on this topic when I say it would be very interesting to see what would happen if the United States completely withdrew itself from Middle Eastern policy making. As fascinating as that might be, it’s probably best if we don’t take that route because i could imagine the area completely destroying itself.

    If President Obama gets another term, hopefully he will reexamine his Middle Eastern policy and find effective ways to deal with the wars and uprisings. Here’s an interesting article that talks a bit about how Obama’s Middle Eastern policy is viewed back home: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/16/giuliani-obamas-middle-east-policy-falling-apart/

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