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Introduction

The End of America’s Moment?

The Middle East today is undergoing a revolutionary transformation along lines


similar to those of the popular-nationalist revolutions of the 1950s that swept the
Arab world, from Egypt to Iraq. The important difference between then and now
is that the new social uprisings are bottom-up, as opposed to top-down, driven by
politics, economics, and the desire for dignity: millions of ordinary Arabs are seeking
freedom and a better quality of life. The mukhabarat, or state controlled by the se-
cret police, is no longer omnipotent. The psychological fear factor separating public
opinion from the ruling elites has been eroded. People across the Arab world feel em-
powered and even emboldened, whereas autocratic rulers are trembling in fear. They
face an uncertain future. The Arab authoritarianism that stabilized and protected US
interests for a half century is beginning to seem not so stable. Neither are American
power and influence as stable and durable as they used to be. A powerful current of
revolutionary social change is eroding the very foundations of America’s friends and
foes alike. Although the character of the new Middle East remains unknown, one
thing is clear. It will never be the same again.

As the forty-fourth president of the United States, Barack Obama inherited a


declining American economy, an overextended military, and a bitter legacy in
the Middle East. Rising new powers, the so-called BRIC countries—Brazil, Rus-
sia, India, and China—have started to challenge America’s global preeminence,

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The End of America’s Moment?  25

There is an inherent flaw in the system that rewards conformity and groupthink
and penalizes diversity of thought and open debate.
As can be seen, Obama inherited a long, bitter, and baleful legacy in the Middle
East, a legacy that encompasses the Bush era and goes back to the Cold War, whose
patterns are clearly evident today. He also inherited a weak economy, one that fet-
ters his hand and imposes severe limits on his stated wish to refashion America’s
engagement with the Middle East. In order to overcome the bitter legacy between
America and Middle Eastern peoples and societies, Obama must show leadership
and challenge the political culture of conformity and orthodoxy. He must educate
the American public about the region and take on deeply entrenched special inter-
ests that have powerful political constituencies. He will need to invest considerable
political capital in building a constituency for peace and change at home and to
reallocate the enormous resources of military programs to peace programs. And just
as important, Obama will have to have the political will, resolve, and stamina to
pursue such a transformational strategy.
After more than three years of miasma in the White House, the fog has lifted,
and there is clarity to Obama’s foreign policy record. There is no longer any ambi-
guity about where he stands on the important challenges facing the United States,
particularly in the Middle East. It is time to evaluate Obama’s stance. This book will
attempt to answer several critical questions: To what extent is Obama’s foreign pol-
icy transformational or centrist-realist? Does Obama, despite his uplifting rhetoric,
represent continuity rather than change? Has he challenged the basic premises on
which US Mideast policy is based—the Israel-first school, America’s relations with
oil-producing regimes, and the war on terror? How high does the Middle East stand
on Obama’s foreign policy agenda? What does his response to the Arab popular up-
risings in early 2011 say about American influence and engagement in the region?
What does the Obama presidency reveal about American foreign policy toward the
Middle East and the potential for continuing failure? What is it about the broken
American political system that so often makes the practice fall short of the rheto-
ric? What can be done to close the gap between rhetoric and reality in US foreign
policy, or, rather, to repair the dysfunctional political system in order to overcome
the legacy of bitter relations between America and Middle Eastern societies?

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