What does the election of Obama mean for the Middle East?

Posted by Caabu on 07 Nov 2012


What does the election of Obama mean for the Middle East?

by Chris Doyle


My overwhelming feeling at the end of a long night commenting on the US elections was that, after months of campaigning, over $6bn spent, thousands of air miles, campaign rallies, hostile attack advertising, some 130 million people voting, the essential landscape of the Washington political system had not changed. Barack Obama remains in the White House; the Democrats still control the Senate and the Republicans the House of Representatives. Americans have not voted for change.

But what will it mean for US foreign policy over the next four years? Will there be any changes to Middle East policy?   Received wisdom has always been that second term Presidents will be bolder. They do not have to face the electorate again. If Obama so chooses, he could certainly live up to this, as numerous challenges await him in his international affairs inbox. Much may depend on who he chooses as Secretary of State to replace Hilary Clinton – John Kerry and Susan Rice are in the mix.

Centre of focus – Obama has made clear that he wants to focus more on the Pacific than the Middle East. Events may dictate, however, that he will need to resolve some of the outstanding crises in the region where US core national interests are at stake.  

Iran – Much of the relief felt by so many countries across the globe when Romney lost was that the chances of a war with Iran had receded. Nevertheless, the issue has not gone away. Israel will be pressing for action if the sanctions and diplomacy do not work. Obama and the US military will try to avoid war.

Israel-Palestine – Many will speculate that Obama will seek his revenge on Netanyahu for having so blatantly interfered in the US elections. The relationship between the two is frosty at best. Nevertheless, Obama may think twice before embarking on a direct confrontation. He blinked three times when clashing with Bibi over settlements.  He will have to weigh up the pros- and-cons of trying to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace or keeping his distance.  Given the limited prospects of genuine negotiations he may opt for the latter. His first test will be to react to any attempt by Mahmoud Abbas to seek non-member status for Palestine at the UN. My suspicion is that the US may still oppose but perhaps in not quite such a strident manner.

Syria – Obama has come in for much flack for not having assisted the Syrian opposition especially with military aid. However, there is no evidence his cautious approach will change. The US public are not interested in another war. What may change is that the situation on the ground deteriorates even further and compels the White House into a more aggressive approach. If Obama really wants to resolve the crisis, then he needs to work with Russia to find a political solution.