Diplomacy continues in region with some compromise
There"s no question the president has kept up relentless negotiations with the country we have occupied since 2003. In October 2011, Obama announced the final withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq after talks deadlocked to keep forces there longer. Iraqi officials refused to grant immunity to U.S. troops, spurring the pullout. Critics might call that a diplomatic failure, but it"s diplomatic effort nonetheless.
Philip Seib, who directs the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, said that while the success of efforts in Iraq is open to question, it"s more concrete in nearby countries.
"The United States is doing more than it is given credit for,” he said. "Programs such as aiding young entrepreneurs, supporting women's rights, providing grain to Jordan (to help stabilize food prices) and such are ongoing without making much of a splash in the news media. The scale of these efforts could be bigger, but given the problems of the U.S. economy, this is probably the best that can be done.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become a regular visitor to places such as Turkey. As evidence of the administration"s evolving relationship with allies in the region, Clinton was criticized on a visit in 2009 for holding back criticism of the Turkish government"s crackdown on press freedom. When she returned in July 2011, her tone was far more critical. In August 2011, Clinton met in Washington with members of Syria"s opposition forces who remained in a bloody battle with the ruling regime there.
That kind of balancing act has been the diplomatic theme of 2011, as popular uprisings throughout the Middle East have swept dictators from power, starting with Tunisia in January. Administration officials have urged calm amid violence in places such as Bahrain, while trying to avoid alienating U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia.
Little progress has been made in the long-running effort to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. Obama"s envoy, George Mitchell, resigned in May after talks stalled. Soon after, Obama urged a restart of peace talks, suggesting that Israel"s 1967 borders be a starting point.
In September, the White House was dealt a blow when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization voted to admit Palestine as a full member, over U.S. objections. The development was seen as a shift in the peace process, which has always featured Americans playing the role of architect of a deal. Now the effort has moved to the global stage.
Even though Obama"s promise mentioned Iran in diplomatic endeavors, his approach has clearly been to isolate the nation seen as a sinister nuclear threat. One of his expressed goals has been to work with allies to isolate Iran, and, after evidence emerged in October 2011 that Iranian officials were complicit in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, the president responded by promising tough sanctions.
We recognize Obama has many critics for his policies and diplomatic efforts regarding Iraq and its neighbors. We"re not seeking to rate his success or failure. Undoubtedly the administration is engaged in diplomacy in the region. But with the change in approach to Iran and the fact that diplomacy could be more "aggressive” -- Obama"s word -- if the economy permitted, we rate this promise a Compromise.
"Syrian opposition calls for civil protests; Brutality of Assad regime 'has to stop, Clinton says,” Ottawa Citizen, July 17, 2011, accessed via Nexis
"Clinton Chides Turkey on Rights Record,” New York Times, July 17, 2011
"US to increase military presence in Gulf after Iraq exit,” New York Times, Oct. 30, 2011
"Seeking to ease tensions, Clinton visits Afghan leaders; Plan for dealing with the Taliban remains elusive,” Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2011
"Obama right at home using force overseas; President counters critics of his war tactics,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 21, 2011
E-mail interview with Philip Seib, University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, Nov. 6, 2011
"Obama Rebuffed As Palestinians Pursue U.N. Seat,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 2011, accessed via Nexis
"United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2011, accessed via Nexis
"Obama Pledging Tough Sanctions For Iran In Plot,” New York Times, Oct. 14, 2011, accessed via Nexis
Obama diplomacy shuttling along
President Obama has reached out to the Middle East in a number of ways since he took office. One of his first interviews was with Al Arabiya , a news channel serving the region.
"I'm not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what's on a television station in the Arab world," Obama said in the interview. "But I think that what you'll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity."
Obama also appointed two important diplomats to the Muslim world: George Mitchell, the former senator from Maine, was appointed envoy to the Middle East; while Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations, was appointed envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Both made trips soon after their appointments to their respective regions. Mitchell visited Jordan and Saudi Arabia, countries that share borders with Iraq, as well as Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. When Mitchell returned, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, "This is the first of what will be ongoing, high-level engagement."
Mitchell did not meet with Iranian or Syrian officials, but all these events add up to measurable action on this promise. The Obameter says In the Works.