When Barack Obama was elected in late 2008, US foreign policy in the Middle East was at a crossroads. In response to the September 11 attacks in 2001, Obama’s Republican predecessor, George Bush, pursued an aggressive interventionist regional policy. The military interference, particularly in Iraq, severely damaged the US’ reputation and relations within the Middle East and North Africa.
In his Cairo address in 2009, Obama pledged to reconcile the US with the Arab and Muslim world, to prevent Iran’s proliferation of nuclear weapons and to make progress towards a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli peace process. However, many in the Middle East feel he has not delivered on any of these pledges.
During Obama’s tenure, Iran has stepped up its nuclear schemes and distrust of Tehran is at an all-time high throughout the Gulf. Although regional leaders may be divided on the topic of a military invention in Iran, there is a strong feeling of disappointment in Obama’s refusal to arm the opposition in Syria. Many in the Gulf feel that Syria provides a perfect opportunity to remove Iran’s only remaining regional ally.
On the Arab-Israeli peace process, Obama’s efforts have been castigated throughout the region. Having clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue of new settlements in the West Bank, Obama was unable, or unwilling, to pressurise Israel to meet the conditions set out for talks. Although in a second term, Obama would have more freedom to push talks forward, it is doubtful that he has the nous or commitment to broker an agreement.
Despite Obama’s shortcomings in his first term, his re-election may be regarded as the lesser of two evils by many in the region. Although he pledged to take a tougher stance on Iran and Syria, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to strengthen US-Israeli relations and has privately dismissed Palestine’s attempt at peace. While a Palestinian state may not materialise under Obama, a Romney administration would offer no hope.