Forward Thinking

Was That Barack Obama or Henry Kissinger?

By Aaron Magid

  • Print
  • Share Share
getty images

At the start of President Barack Obama’s presidency, he announced a “pivot towards Asia” after years of American military and political resources being bogged down in the Middle East.

Obama’s speech Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly shows how clearly the pendulum has swung back. Although he referred to Iran, Syria Israel, and Palestine a combined 71 times, Obama only mentioned China once. He left out other Asian nations such as India, Japan, and North Korea altogether. This imbalance speaks volumes about Obama’s understanding that in the current era it is nearly impossible to avoid the volatile Middle East.

The speech also highlighted his abandonment of democratization and human rights as supreme values, replaced with a Henry Kissinger-style Realpolitik.

When addressing the Syrian crisis, Obama asked rhetorically how the United Nations and United States have handled this delicate affair. His underwhelming response: “We believe that as a starting point the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons.”

Gone was the rhetoric calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate removal from power. The stated root for this policy is also illuminating, “I did so (supported intervention) because I believe it is in the national security interests of the United States and in the interest of the world.” His main focus is American security interests and global norms.

Obama continued by outlying his doctrine using American military power: if America’s allies in the region are attacked, oil flow disrupted, terrorist bases built, or weapons of mass destruction utilized. The president pointedly avoided promising that the U.S. would will use force to prevent genocide or to end a human rights massacre like in Syria. Translation: Obama is giving free rein to Assad to continue slaughtering his own people. Just don’t use chemical weapons or stop the flow of oil to Chicago or Los Angeles.

Furthermore, Obama reiterated that he will maintain a close relationship with an Egyptian government that promotes peace with Israel and participates in the fight against terrorism. He conceded this amounts to a shift from promoting democracy to realism stating, “Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point. The Untied States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us in our core interests.”

In other words, Egyptian military strongman Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi should feel free to resume oppressing his people as long as he preserves the peace accord with Israel and cooperates with U.S. counter-terrorism activities. This policy is stunningly similar to the longstanding policy during the days of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — a policy many analysts described as thoroughly discredited by the Arab Spring democracy movement.

Arguably the most ironic part of Obama’s speech came when he mentioned his support for democratic change by including Bahrain. His high-sounding words notwithstanding, the U.S. has continued to supply funding and weapons to the oppressive Bahraini regime. There is nothing wrong with Obama pursuing a realist foreign policy by prioritizing his relations with this key Gulf ally. But it surely takes chutzpah to claim he ardently supports democratization efforts in a nation where he has actively propped up the apparatus of repression.

People in the Middle East should pay close attention to Obama’s speech. He is sending a stark message that he will remain on the side of protecting core American national security interests above everything and everyone else.

For those of you suffering in Syrian refugee camps or Egyptian prisons, please forgive America. We have more important issues to solve.

Aaron Magid is a graduate student at Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies and a staff writer for the Jerusalem Review of Near Eastern Affairs. He can be reached via Twitter at @AaronMagid.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: syria, united nations, realpolitik, mideast, israel, egypt, democracy, barack Obama

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.