Conflicted Power: Obama's US Foreign and Strategic Policy in a Shifting World Order

Conflicted Power: Obama's US Foreign and Strategic Policy in a Shifting World Order

by Zubaida Rasul-Ronning


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Conflicted Power: Obama's US Foreign and Strategic Policy in a Shifting World Order by Zubaida Rasul-Ronning

An informed impartial review of the changes in US Foreign and Strategic Policy during the Obama Presidency, their impact on US image abroad, strengthening of some alliances while weakening of others, with the hindsight of US foreign policy history. A review of the implications of Obama's Pacific focus and its implications for US relations with Europe, China and Russia. A look at Afghanistan, Pakistan and US policy in the Middle East.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477271858
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 09/26/2012
Pages: 124
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.29(d)

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Obama's US Foreign and Strategic Policy in a Shifting World Order
By Zubaida Rasul-Ronning


Copyright © 2012 Zubaida Rasul-Ronning
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-7185-8

Chapter One

US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

"The most striking outcome of the first Obama presidency has been a significant scaling up of the insecurity and instability in the Middle East."

In his first few months in office, President Obama was awarded the Nobel peace prize as a champion of dialogue, negotiations and nuclear disarmament. In 2011, he announced that the US would be accelerating the timetable for pullout from Iraq and then Afghanistan. He followed through on his promise when the US left Iraq later that year. The Arab Spring triggered hopes for a new era of democracy and prosperity in the Middle East, starting with Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya. Today, we have the evolving violence and civil war in Syria. Poised a few months before the elections and at a time when the global community and the US are facing critical decisions on what to do about Syria, it seems an opportune moment to review and study, the successes and challenges of the Obama Middle East strategy—has it worked or has it further destabilized a very tumultuous region, sowing the seeds for longer-term destabilization?

In examining this subject, I want to look at the main Arab countries involved in the the Islamic mosaic that defines allegiances and complexities in the Arab world and the Middle East, as well as, two important constants in the US relationship with the region: oil and the arms trade.

Islamic Mosaic: Interwoven Communities, Interlocking Histories

The countries of the Middle East form part of the mosaic of Islamic, Christian, Jewish and Orthodox communities that have determined the complex history of the region (Map 1) and sown the seeds of many of the present day conflicts. The word "Arab" is used to apply to all these majority and minority inhabitants of the Middle East; the distinction of calling Jewish practitioners 'Israeli" only being drawn after the creation of Israel.

The term "Arab" masks significant and deep-rooted ideological differences between the Shiite and the Sunni going back to the fight for leadership of the early Islamic community between the Mecca-based followers of Abu Bakr, the anointed first Khalifa of Islam, and the followers of Hazrat Ali, Hassan and Hussein in Baghdad. The Mecca-dwellers founded Sunni Islam and the Baghdad-dwellers branched off to lead the Shiites. Hazrat Hussein was martyred in a bid to take over the leadership of the Islamic community after the passing of Prophet Mohammed, setting the stage for the division of Islam. Centuries of violence and insurrection have led to a solid bedrock of grievances that fester to this day, barely below the surface in most Middle Eastern countries and in every Arabic heart.

Map of Dispersion of Religions and Religious Sects in the Middle East (Map 1)

Oil: A major motivation of all US foreign policy and particularly of US strategy in the Middle East is continuous access to unlimited crude oil. For decades, this was the only motivation for US engagement in the region, until free trade became a significant component of the US-Middle East relations. The location of major oil deposits in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf (see Map 2) is interesting and pertinent to any political analysis of that region, as it highlights the fragility and vulnerability of major oil producing regions in countries like Saudi Arabia, where the population of main oil production areas are dominated by Shiite minorities.

US Defensive Deployments and Bases: The Middle East has had the highest number of US bases and deployed US military personnel (see Map 3) after Europe for the last four decades. Defense relationships in the region constitute the main technical and training support to a majority of oil-rich Arab countries. In 2011 for example, the US trade totaled $66.3 billion, or 75 per cent, of global arms market, with Russia a distant runner-up at $4.8 billion. Countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait have invested heavily in radar surveillance systems such as AWACS, and in advanced air force fighter jets, logistics and maintenance contracts. The US total of 44 per cent of the global arms market in 2010 rocketed to a staggering 79 per cent in 2011, mostly due to Middle East sales valued at some $56.3 billion that year.

Map of Middle East Oil Reserves and Religious Communities (Map 2)

Map of US Deployments and US Military Bases in the Middle East (Map 3)


"Now the US has a choice. It can be reactive and brand President Mursi's administration an outlaw, or it can do what it has done since Mursi's election and refrain from comment ... only critiquing human and civil rights violations by the State."

The Arab Spring and it's amazing impact in Egypt has left long-time observers gasping for breath. In a few months of civil disobedience and peaceful protests, Egyptians overthrew decades of authoritarian rule. The US had brokered the Sinai Agreements, negotiating the deal through which Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel. Sadat was assassinated soon afterwards, and following a brief power struggle, Hosni Mubarak took over, establishing a hegemonic dictatorship over Egypt. During his three decades of rule, the US flooded his government with aid money and military support estimated in the billions of dollars. Where this money ended up can only be conjectured, as very little trickled down to the Egyptian people. Accountability and transparency were not required, and the US does not appear to have forced Mubarak to consider democratization and political pluralism as a fundamental condition for the continuation of this assistance.

In short by doing nothing about the devolution of the political situation, the US de facto bankrolled the Mubarak dictatorship and its brutal control over all facets of Egypt. In return, the US was assured freedom of movement through the Suez Canal for global trade and commerce, and of the sanctity of the Sinai Agreement guaranteeing the stability and security of Israel's vital border with Egypt.

The ability of Muslim Brotherhood's President Mursi to maintain the Sinai Agreement as a sacrosanct cornerstone of Middle East peace, is essential for Egypt and Israel. President Mursi's recent moves to limit the power of the military and change its top leaders have alarmed analysts who recognize the pivotal role the Army plays in securing the Sinai. It is a priority for President Mursi to soothe the rising tide of Israeli concerns about, inter alia, the Sinai and the border with Palestine at Rafah. He needs to balance this in the coming months with the expectations and demands of his constituency and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Key Challenges: A month after taking office, President Mursi faces three main challenges. Due to the economic disruption caused by the revolution, one of the main sources of national revenue generation in Egypt, tourism, has all but dried up. Over a year of revolution has meant that the already below-living wages that a majority of Egyptians used to eke out of the tourist industry has diminished or completely disappeared. Simultaneously, inflation on basic food items such as meat, rice, beans and flour increased by 10.8 per cent as compared with just a year earlier, while hitherto robust government subsidies have evaporated. The Egyptian people are now expecting the new government to produce economic miracles. The downturn in tourism has hit every industry and commercial group in Egypt as shops and handicraft manufacturers need to absorb the double whammy of fewer tourists and their declining shopping budgets due to the global economic downturn.

The second immediate challenge for President Mursi is to develop the aura of credibility and reliability that he requires on the international and regional levels, and also on a personal level in Egypt with more liberal constituencies. The return of the tourist trade and the perception of his presidency in Europe, Middle East, Asia and the US has already been tarnished by his lack of appropriate response to the siege of the US Embassy in Cairo in September 2012—he gave contradictory messages and acted too slowly to reassure the US and other key partners of his ability to assume his responsibilities as the President of Egypt and a reliable international partner.

President Mursi's credibility will also impact the bilateral relationship with the US and Europe, hitherto key donors. Yet his recent moves to retire most of Egypt's military top brass, including Field Marshall Tentawi, has exacerbated concerns about the orientation of the President's nominations for their replacements. The Egyptian Army remains a key guarantor of Egyptian security, not only in the Sinai and border with Palestine, but also potentially in maintaining security on borders with Libya and Sudan. His choice of army leaders would be critical in assuring seamless security in these important aspects, and more significantly, affects his credibility. The removal of trusted military personalities has also raised questions about the commitment of President Mursi to maintain Egypt's secular constitution and character.

President Mursi's third challenge is to re-assert the supremacy of rule of law and control rampant corruption and nepotism in the Egyptian civil service and security forces.

The US-Egypt Relationship

"If the (Iran-Syria) proposed mediation comes to pass and is a success, Egypt will have conclusively ended Iran's isolation in the region."

A decades-long relationship has been put in question by the election of President Mursi.

He is aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains a blacklisted outlaw organization in the eyes of the US State Department. US contributionstoEgypthavebeensignificantinfinancialandmilitaryterms, while the price paid for this support and for keeping the Sinai physically within Egypt was three decades of political suppression, dictatorship and strong police/military control and harassment at the hands of President Hosni Mubarak. In a few weeks since coming to power, President Mursi has already challenged the status quo within Egypt by changing the entire military leadership, with whom the US and all other interlocutors had established relationships. In appointing young military officers he trusts but are relatively unknown to the US, to these high-ranking positions, Mursi has set a high bar of independence of decision and action, perhaps to become a hallmark of his presidential style.

The second manifestation of the autonomous line of the Mursi presidency emerged during his first big international appearance, when President Mursi proposed an Egyptian-brokered regional mediation of the Syrian conflict, bringing together Saudi Arabia and Turkey (supporters of the Syrian opposition forces) and Iran, the key supporter of the Assad government. By so doing, Mursi is delivering to the Egyptian people on his promise to return Egypt to a global international politic befitting a great nation. How the US will react to this initiative, bringing together the key regional actors implicated in the Syrian conflict, but without any role for the US, remains to be seen. The inclusion of Iran, while acknowledged by Saudi Arabia, continues to be controversial in the US and Israel that both perceive the Egyptian proposal with suspicion and irritation. If the proposed mediation comes to pass and is a success, Egypt will have conclusively ended Iran's isolation in the region.

Mursi has now signaled the advent of a new regional actor in the Middle East and also indicated that as President of Egypt, he will not hesitate to declare and follow, an independent line in Egyptian foreign and regional policy. It is also important how Israel will react to and perceive Mursi's decision firstly to attend the Non-Align Summit in Tehran and secondly, Mursi's new mediation offer. Israel will probably feel rising hysteria as it sees a big neighbor and a key security partner in the region moving to neutralize Egyptian relations with Iran by visiting that country and including them in a key negotiation initiative.

The US record in Egypt has been replete with mistakes, and carries a legacy of supporting a dictatorial status quo without promoting the evolution over decades of a democratic and pluralistic society. Now the US has a choice. It can be reactive and brand President Mursi's administration an outlaw, or it can do what it has done since Mursi's election and refrain from comment. The only positive approach from the Obama administration is to allow Mursi to fully show his hand, only critiquing human and civil rights violations by the State.

A positive sign emerged in early September 2012, when the US announced final negotiations on a $1 billion debt relief package, a third of Egypt's total debt to the US. The Obama government also offered $345 million finance and loan guarantees for US companies investing in Egypt and a $60 million investment fund for Egyptians to start new enterprises. President Mursi has also requested a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF to bridge a serious budget gap and a steep fall in currency reserves. Measures such as these are critical in neutralizing the relationship and refocusing on future collaborative strategies.

Strengthening the US-Egypt relationship in the Mursi era necessitates President Obama's personal decision and involvement on how to approach Egypt's nascent effort on Syria, which might allow Egypt to become a valuable and trusted centrist interlocutor in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia

"The US total of 44 per cent of the global arms market in 2010 rocketed to a staggering 79 per cent in 2011, mostly due to Middle East sales valued at some $56.3 billion that year."

Britain and the United States are Saudi Arabia's longest and most solid supporters. The present Al-Saud family took over control of a loose conglomeration of tribes and lands between WWI and WWII. The US relationship is based on two connected streams: Saudi supply of unlimited crude oil, and deep security cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia.

This cooperation escalated in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution in 1979. Saudi Arabia became the staging post and base for US military operations all over the Middle East and Arabian Gulf, particularly in response to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. These two separate but consecutive events placed the spotlight on Saudi Arabia's strategic location at the heart of the Arabian Gulf, its relatively sparse and docile population and the willingness of its leaders to be completely co-opted by US foreign policy priorities. Pakistan, then a close ally of both the US and Saudi Arabia, joined them in establishing a bulwark of resistance against the Soviet expansionism and against the spillover of Shiite nationalism from Iran.

The US strengthened its security rapport with Saudi Arabia (see information in the Introductory chapter and Map 3, page 5), as a source of high value and critical military and air force equipment, and also providing essential training, maintenance and re-supply contracts. Secondly, the US built key military bases in Saudi Arabia, which provide it with guaranteed and unfettered access in the region, and allow it to carry out sensitive intelligence operations. Due to the domination of this relationship by the US, it is probable that Saudi Arabia will replace Pakistan as a center for drone warfare if, as anticipated, Pakistan starts to shut down its strategic security relationship with the US (see section on Pakistan on page 38).

Challenges: Saudi Arabia faces its own challenges. Significant Shiite indigenous populations inhabit the oil-rich regions to the southwest of the country (see Map 1, page 3). But the percentage of national investment and development returning to these minority areas and populations is very unfavorable, giving rise to discrete but definite grievances. Security concerns surfaced when Shiite majority populations in Bahrain started their quest for increased representation and democratization, anticipating that political mobilization might spillover into Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia's draconian and omnipresent police force made sure that suspect populations were adequately warned of corrective action should they choose to follow their brethren's path of resistance.


Excerpted from CONFLICTED POWER by Zubaida Rasul-Ronning Copyright © 2012 by Zubaida Rasul-Ronning. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: US Foreign Policy in the Middle East....................1
Islamic Mosaic: Interwoven Communities, Interlocking Histories....................2
Map of Dispersion of Religions and Religious Sects in the Middle East (Map 1)....................3
Map of Middle East Oil Reserves and Religious Communities (Map 2)....................4
Map of US Deployments and US Military Bases in the Middle East (Map 3)....................5
Saudi Arabia....................10
Case Study: Bahrain....................13
Cameo Analysis: A Case for Cooperation Between Iran and Israel....................23
Chapter 2: US Foreign Policy in the Near East and South Asia....................37
Chapter 3: US Foreign Policy in Africa....................49
Challenges to Doing Business in Africa....................50
The Great Lakes: DRC, Rwanda and Uganda....................52
Democratic Republic of Congo....................52
South Africa....................62
Chapter 4: US Foreign Policy in Europe....................67
Challenges in the Relationship....................68
Map of European Colonization of the Middle East (Map 4)....................70
NATO's Action in Libya: Falling Dominoes and Disruption....................71
Future of the Arab Spring and Iran....................72
Changing Focus of the US....................73
Chapter 5: US, Russia and China: Shifting Balances....................75
Russia and China....................76
Map of US Deployments in the Asia-Pacific Region (Map 5)....................83
The South China Sea....................88
Map of the South China Sea (Map 6)....................88
Map of the Spratly Islands (Map 7)....................89
Chapter 6: Concluding Analysis....................93
About the Author....................107

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