MADRID – After years on the sidelines, Russia is back at the center of the Middle East geostrategic game. Against the background of an equivocal United States policy, Russia’s calculated intervention in the Syrian civil war is a rare case in which a limited use of power in the region resulted in a major diplomatic shakeup.
In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, US President Barack Obama revealed his thinking in a number of key foreign-policy areas, particularly the Middle East. Cynically dismissive of both his European allies and his security advisers, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who supported military intervention in Syria, Obama minces no words in his fatalistic depiction of the troubled region.
According to Obama, there is little, if anything, America can do to stabilize the Middle East. He even claimed to be proud of not enforcing the “red line” he had drawn in 2012 regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons, as neither international law nor the US Congress would have sanctioned intervention. That decision, Obama emphasized, enabled an agreement to remove, with Russian cooperation, most of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile.
But, as Goldberg points out, the decision not to enforce the red line with air strikes may also have caused the Middle East to “slip from America’s grasp.” And, indeed, important strategic assets in the Middle East have been lost to unfriendly powers, from Russia to the Islamic State (ISIS). Add to that the alienation of close allies, many of which doubt the ability and willingness of an Asia-fixated US to stand by them, and Obama’s suggestion that the US should not be focused on the Middle East is shocking.