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Hichem Karoui: Obama doctrine and Arab Spring
October 07, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The “Obama doctrine” has been strongly expressed at least on two occasions: the first was in May 2010, through the famous “National Security Strategy,” accordingly with a tradition all the US presidents used to follow. The second occasion was on January 3, 2012, when the White House issued a “new strategic guidance,” which seemed like a text completing the “National Security Strategy” and at once updating it with an assessment of the new global conditions.

Of course, both documents deal with global conditions from the defence-security point of view representing the strategic interests of the American Empire. Concern is limited at this level, and all emergency circumstances and developments anywhere in the world are dealt with specifically from that perspective: i.e. the extent to which they are consistent or inconsistent with the US strategic inclinations, and what can be done in the case of current or potential challenges. It seems that issuing a “strategic guidance” by the White House in the midst of the 2011 events upsetting the Arab world and the Middle East, and putting the United States and the Western countries in front of unexpected challenges, was not mere routine.

The “strategic guidance” issued in January 2012, recognised that the United States was facing a “turning point.” Although it was concerned with changes in the entire world, it dedicated considerable attention to the Middle East.

The “strategic guidance” used the term Arab awakening to describe the 2011 events in the Middle East, and this Awakening represents in the opinion of the Obama administration “strategic opportunities and challenges at the same time.” Although the document did not explain what it meant with  “Arab awakening,” observe how such an expression connected the recent revolutions in the Arab world to the old idea of Nahdha (awakening), with its highly humanitarianist dimension, despite the fact that those revolutions also cost the United States some powerful allies in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

This also means that the Obama administration was not unaware of the anger accumulated in these countries. As it faced the unexpected, it was compelled to adapt. Yet, it is also aware that the unknown will remain an important factor in the regional game, since the “strategic guidance” acknowledges that regime change as well as tensions within each country and between countries all undergoing pressure, introduce uncertainty about the future.

However, after this apprehension, the document recognises all the same that this may also lead to the advent of governments that will be in the long run more responsive to the legitimate demands of their people, while becoming more stable and reliable allies of the United States. It seems clear here that US strategic thinkers do not see any contradiction between the existence of a national democratic rule in any Arab country and the notion of the country being a “reliable ally.” This also means that the United States sees no contradiction between its own goals in the Arab region and the aspirations of the peoples of the region, while any rational analysis would see those contradictions, most notably that there is no concordance on how the US envisions the role of Israel, its policies and their relationships, and how the Arabs assess that same role and envision those policies and relationships.

Nonetheless, the “strategic guidance” completely overlooked this issue, maybe because it does not care about the regional details but measures everything according to the planetary strategic perspective of the empire. The United States still considers itself the centre of the universe, and the sole superpower, and this self-centralisation, which was also characteristic of previous empires, prevents it from seeing things impartially. “Strategic thinking” thus becomes a kind of “wishful thinking” representing a cognitive handicap.

It is also noteworthy that the issue of security and defence with which “strategic guidance” is concerned, has not been linked to the fundamental changes that have taken place in the Arab region. The Americans still insist on the same problems as if nothing happened at all. Through the “strategic guidance,” it seems that they did not yet realise the ability of political change to reverse all the prevailing concepts. They still tend to think with such concepts as “terrorism,” “counter-terrorism,”  “Islamic radicalism” or militancy, and of course, may not up to that time at least have developed a comprehensive vision of what would become of the regional order in the case of Islamist takeover of the political arena in a fully democratic manner in more Arab countries.

For example, the “strategic guidance” claims that US defensive efforts in the Middle East are aimed at countering extremist violence and threats to stability, and equally support US commitments to allies and partners. Nothing in this discourse is irrational, but it is not enough when it comes to defining the concept of “stability” and the types of threats, while regimes are crumbling not under the blows of a few groups of “extremists,” but under the pressure of millions of people who specifically took to the streets to upset stability. The failure of the “strategic guidance” in providing a new understanding of different conditions is here clear.

Instead, the “guidance” continues with the same tasks and concepts without linking them to a moving reality. It confirms that the main concern for the Americans is “the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.” Such is indeed a long-time concern they have, and re-framing it in this way in the new variable conditions, does not cast any light. The “strategic guidance” also reminds us that “the policy of the United States aims at securing the Gulf, in association with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries when appropriate, to prevent Iran from developing a military nuclear capability, and to face its destabilising policies. Here, too, nothing is new. All US administrations since President Jimmy Carter emphasised the importance of maintaining security and stability (i.e. oil supply lines) in the Gulf, without exception. It seems that we are here about some of the “constants” of foreign policy in the Middle East, as far as political and economic, social and strategic changes allow us to use the term “constants” for any foreign policy, whether American or other.

Linked to the question of maintaining “security and stability” in the Gulf, is the issue of maintaining “security and stability” of Israel. What has the stability of the Gulf got to do with Israel? The untold addressee of this discourse is indeed Iran. There is no other link between the Gulf security and the security of Israel, except the statements of the Iranian leaders over the outstanding problem of the nuclear issue, mutual threats around the Strait of Hormuz, and the probability of a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, with its dark consequences for the region.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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