America's Challenges in the Greater Middle East: The Obama Administration's Policies

By Friedenberg, Robert E. | Parameters, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

America's Challenges in the Greater Middle East: The Obama Administration's Policies


Friedenberg, Robert E., Parameters


America's Challenges in the Greater Middle East: The Obama Administration's Policies

Edited by Shahram Akbarzadeh

New York, NY: Palgrave McMillan, 2011

288 pages

$34.00

President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo on June 4 2009 described seven sources of tension between the United States and the Islamic World. In an attempt to draw a distinction between his and the previous administration, he declared that extremism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, democracy, religious freedom, women's rights and economic development were mutual interests that must be addressed so Muslim countries and the United States to forge a new relationship after the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq can Afghanistan. Only two years later, democracy and economic development in the Middle East came to the forefront when a young fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest the lack of either in his country. His death set off a chain of events that has impacted the Middle East more than any other single event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

President Obama's Cairo speech is a theme that winds its way through Americas Challenges in the Greater Middle East. Every chapter, from Shahram Akbarzadeh's introduction, through those on Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Palestine, to the Maghreb, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, all deal with President Obama's attempt to distance himself from the previous administration and to reestablish a positive relationship with the Islamic Middle East.

Unfortunately, the book was published in 2011, before two events that would shape the Obama administration's relationship with the Arab world: the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, and the attempt to re-draw America's relationship with Iran. From the vantage point of late 2014, this book is dated. The chapters on Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all go to great lengths to describe the folly of the Bush administration's attempt to force democracy on Arab governments--and Obama's attempts to walk Bush's "democracy-first" policy back and emphasize non-intervention in internal governance. The interventions in Libya, the post-Morsi Egypt policy, and in Iraq and Syria showed events in the Middle East continue to force the Obama administration to stay active in the region and engage these governments in their internal affairs.

Another theme running through the book is how the actions of the Bush administration resulted in a loss of US credibility with Arab governments and their populations. …

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