Obama’s legacy of failure in the Middle East

By Adel El-Adawy, Founder & Executive Director of CCAS


The Middle East faces serious and complex security challenges with the unprecedented wave of terrorism across the region. The rise and spread of terrorist groups with their respective sympathizers poses a significant threat to the entire international community. Yet, the naïve policies pursued by the Obama administration have only exacerbated the problem, distanced strategic security allies, and foremost diminished American credibility across the region. The current crisis in the Middle East will be difficult to repair, but can ultimately be achieved with the adoption of a comprehensive multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy.

The technological advances of the 21st century have given new platforms to terrorist networks to recruit followers, spread their messages and widen their global reach. At the same time, the current turmoil, chaos and collapse of numerous Arab states has destabilized the region. This has allowed for significant illicit cross-border activities by terrorist networks in transfer of arms, jihadists, and money. Thus, the rising terrorism trend necessitates the full support of the United States, as the only remaining superpower, in countering this heinous ideology that seeks to destroy rather than build.

In 2009, President Obama’s eloquent and idealistic speech to the Arab world at Cairo University elevated the expectations for quick action with clear and principled American leadership. However, more than six years later and to the disappointment of many, the Obama administrations’ Middle East strategy has proven to be shortsighted, ambiguous, and contradictory. As the United States prepares to elect a new administration, it is imperative for the world to emphasize the importance of rectifying the current Obama legacy of failure exemplified by weak American leadership with an incoherent Middle East strategy.

Obama has invested much of his efforts in office on a rapprochement policy with Iran in his attempts to find a nuclear compromise, simultaneously turning a blind-eye to Iran’s destructive terrorism activities across the region. This only served to strengthen and encourage Iran, designated by the State Department as a state-sponsor of terrorism, to continue to undermine regional stability. In Libya, the Obama “leading from behind” military approach meant the funding and arming of rebels that would later use their training and american manufactured weapons in terrorism acts in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and several other places across the region. After the murder of long-time Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, the Obama administration remained reluctant to vigorously reestablish order and address the rapid growth of dangerous terrorism networks in the country that in 2012 cost the life of the U.S. ambassador.

In Syria, Obama failed early on to galvanized international support for a politically viable solution to avoid the creation of new international terrorist safe-heaven and humanitarian crisis. He further diminished his credibility by not enforcing his red line declaration on chemical weapon use by the Assad regime. In Iraq, the quick and premature withdrawal of American troops left a security vacuum that quickly allowed al-Qaeda and its affiliates to regain its foothold and overrun large territories of the country. The strategy laid forward by the Obama administration to counter the rise Islamic State has not been able to dismantle the group. In Yemen, the drone tactic has not yielded to any fruitful results, to the contrary al-Qaeda and its affiliates have only multiplied its presence across the southern Arabian Peninsula.

In Egypt, the Obama administration has embraced the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate non-violent political movement, while in fact it is the mother organization of all terrorism. The Obama administration delivery-suspension of crucial military equipment to the Egyptian Armed Forces, necessary for counter-terrorism efforts, signaled Washington’s abandonment of Egypt’s fight against terrorism. The Egyptian military’s weapon of choice in its war on terror in Sinai was the american Apache attack-helicopters withheld by the Obama White House for over a year, forcing Egypt to diversify its military equipment. The more recent decision of the resumption of military aid to Egypt signals a change in the special relationship with the United States, as the end of a longstanding privileged policy of “cash flow financing” makes it easier at any point in the future for Washington to cut or suspend aid to the Egyptian military.

The Obama administration’s destructive regional policies have alienated and distant long-time strategic partners, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It has nourished a relationship of mistrust between key regional players and the Obama administration, making it difficult to address the serious and complex global terrorism threats. There is a need to simultaneously confront all terrorist groups through military, political, socio-economic, religious, educational and cultural means, as well as the genuine elimination of terrorism financing. The Obama administration’s narrow and exclusive focus on the Islamic State neglects other groups in an increasingly volatile region. There is an unprecedented well-financed growth of complex and fluid regional terrorism networks requiring an effective international effort for a comprehensive and multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy.

This article was published by The Hill.