On the lost Arab Spring and the influence of politics on policy


It is perhaps fair to say the Arab Spring was such a missed opportunity, and in many ways, it is.

The Arab Spring was supposed to be the vanguard for change in the complex politics of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It was launched on a platform of Arab democracy (as opposed to American democracy) that will instigate a wave of change, from free speech to economic opportunities.

Despite its disassociation from Western grand plans for the region, the Arab Spring was nevertheless glorified in the West. The revolution took everyone by surprise – including President Barack Obama himself. And it was almost hijacked by the Western mainstream media (BBC, CNN, Fox) as something that the West endorsed, especially with the exaggerated role that technology played to make it happen. They may have supported the revolution at a later point, but certainly did not play a role in its creation.

But some four years since the whole saga began in Tunisia, what we find is a more confused Western, and especially American, policy in the MENA region. For starters, the United States is still a big supporter of whatever Israel does (occasional wars against its neighbors, assassination of foreign leaders); it has a very good military relationship with Sunni Saudi Arabia regardless of Riyadh actions in the region; it used to support ‘moderates’ in such countries as Iraq and Syria where the same moderates have transformed them into extremism and ISIS; and now it is negotiating a historic nuclear deal with Iran, it’s supposed arch-nemesis in the region.

The politics of Obama’s final years in office

Opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latest Iranian nuclear deal is being praised as a landmark breakthrough in Middle East policy. Notwithstanding the merits of such a deal, the agreement with Iran requires a deeper look especially since Obama’s days in the office is in 2016.

Before his second term started in 2012, Obama pulled out of Afghanistan in late 2011 – some 3 years later than what he had promised during his fight for presidential candidacy in 2008, and just a few months before he was to reassume office at the White House. Indeed, when policy is at the mercy of politics, things ‘suddenly’ get done.

The rush to accomplish things before the time is out

A clearly defined United States’ policy aside, the upcoming US presidential race will certainly shake things up, with more policies being concluded and other surprises being taken into consideration. For instance, we might see a Cuban breakthrough as America pursues normalization with Cuba, an island nation long been under the economic embargo of the United States. Perhaps we can also see a softening of American policy toward Russia and Ukraine to avoid a political backlash for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential elections, or the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, a promise made by Obama since his 2008 nomination.

On April 12, Hillary Clinton will formally announce her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, a move that will mark the de-fact start of the intense presidential elections. Eight years since Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out for the nomination, a woman in the White House is no doubt an interesting thing to see. But we are not there yet: big promises are set to entertain again, just like how Obama promised the impossible before. Conversely, the remaining 19 months will be a thrilling time to see what gets accomplished in the final days of Obama’s presidency.

On a related note: The curious case of Netanyahu’s Congress stunt

To gain political ground for his party once more, America’s main ally in the region, Israel’s hysterical Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed his opposition to the US-Iran nuclear deal in a highly emotional speech before the US Congress. The same tactic of ‘getting things done’ at a critical moment persuaded Netanyahu to grandstand in the receptive US Congress to gain political leverage before a major election.

Unfortunately for him, Netanyahu’s Congress stunt did not grain traction among the wider American establishment. Beyond the shock and awe of his emotional speech calling for a strike against Iran (as always), the spotlight went to the fact that his US Congress speech was not endorsed by the White House (he actually bypassed Obama on this), that the war-hungry Republicans invited Netanyahu to make the speech, and that Obama has since pointed out that all foreign policy decisions should be endorsed by the White House.