Does Obama Suffer from a Goldfinger Complex?
Reflecting on Aspects of the US’s Middle East Policy
As President Obama took to the dais, scanned the anxious room and ploughed into his speech, not a whisper could be heard. Cairo’s al-Azhar University was still; the eyes of Egypt, the Middle East, the world, were transfixed on the representative, the epitome, of a changed America. Gone was the white-man’s-club of US decision-making and enter an American President who truly showed the face of American diversity. Everything was meant to be different. The popular jargon of world affairs shifted to include Obama’s catch-phrase ‘yes, we can’ and people genuinely expected that US foreign policy under Obama’s guidance would be more thoughtful and respectful in a bid to re-harmonise international politics and re-energise the US as a global leader. Such lofty heights, unfortunately, could not be reached. Obama, it seems, suffers from a Goldfinger Complex; all that he touched would – in his mind – turn to gold. He fell in love with his own rhapsody, his own sense of destiny, of legacy and of accomplishment. It was as though becoming president was enough to secure his place in history, a point reflected in his absurd acceptance of the absurd decision of the Nobel Committee to award him the Nobel Peace Prize for goals he would, rather than had, achieved.
Laden with such egoism, Obama engaged a world which no longer accepted American idealism, a world much tougher than an American President who believes that his voice and the words it carries are gold. The US’s failed Middle East policy stands in testament to two Obama administrations, heavy on rhetoric and light on leadership. Despite Obama’s al-Azhar pledge that America would be‚ ‘respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law,’ it has become increasingly clear that neither pillar bodes well for the president or his administration which have taken to politically bullying the relatively vulnerable, appeasing the perceived strong and following a haphazard policy approach that galvanises the most dangerous state in the region; the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Under Obama’s watch the US jumped onto the Arab Spring bandwagon, but ever so slightly. Sure, they denounced Bahrain’s government for preventing riots, breaking up terrorist cells, and imprisoning those that intimidate the country’s civil society and assault and murder its security forces, and the US is actively engaged with Tehran’s local proxies, the al Wefaq bloc. And here things get tricky because Bahrain is a more dangerous place now that the US has reached out and legitimised those that use force and the threat of force to achieve their political ambitions. What was once a country with a benevolent government and civil society has become a polarised, vulnerable and less stable place because Obama is quick to bully Bahrain and empower its enemies.
But … when Iran’s armed forces brutalise civilians and al-Maliki opens a second front against Iraq’s Sunni population, US condemnations fall mute. Or not mute: instead of condemning, a wide set of incentives are being prepared to bring Iran out of the cold and into the glowing heat of a Washington determined to break its oil-dependency on the moderate Gulf Arab states by increasing its oil-dependency on the Ayatollah’s Iran. Sure, the argument is that Iran must comply with the non-proliferation treaty to be awarded such just desserts and perhaps Obama is just gullible enough to believe that the Islamic Republic is constructing its nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes only. However, its nuclear policy is only one aspect of the dangers posed by Iran; the Islamic Republic is attempting to overthrow the al-Khalifa government in Bahrain, impose a theocracy and the US is culpable of supporting that venture. In Egypt too, Iran’s fingers lurk. Obama cheered on the overthrow of Mubarak and the false “election” of Morsi, but fell silent as more and more evidence emerged as to the Muslim Brotherhoods’ relationship to Tehran. Morsi gave Iran the green light to deploy to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal and not even a peep from Washington? Iranian arms ships docked in Egypt to resupply Hamas’ weapons caches and the US says nothing. But when al-Sisi arrests the perpetrators of terrible violence in Egypt, he is condemned. No wonder Russia is taking such liberties on Crimea; Putin is aware that Obama only takes action against US allies, not its enemies.
Perhaps there should be a mechanism for returning Nobel Peace Prizes, after all Obama has done more damage than good and no matter what he thinks of himself his legacy will be one of inaction, national stagnation and alienation of US allies throughout the Gulf and around the world. So, just like Goldfinger whose golden touch was an illusion, so too is Obama’s al-Azhar ‘respect for nations.’