Recently I read Fawaz A. Gerges’ latest book, “Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment?” (2012). Gerges is a professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics & Political Science. I must admit, that I was skeptical at first, and did not think there would be anything new, but after reading it, I was shocked to learn some of the insights on US foreign policy over the past almost 70 years since World War II.
Gerges, who also serves as the director of the Middle East Centre at the LSEP, gives valuable historical context from his very detailed research and interviews with top officials in government as well as in the media. He also includes public statements and important behind the scenes information taken from the memoirs of world leaders such as Kissinger, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Netanyahu and many others.
Some items in Gerges book, such as Israel’s influence on US Foreign Policy may be well known to Arabs and Muslims – especially those who live overseas, but many Americans probably do not understand the full breadth of Israel’s strangle hold on the US Congress and the President of the United States.
Here is a telling paragraph from the book which talks about how after President Obama snubbed Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu for refusing to stop building new settlements and to get back to the negotiation table with the Palestinians, he (Netanyahu) was still greeted as a hero by the US congress:
“Congressmen, too, know the dangers of upsetting the Israel-first school. In March 2010, in glaring contrast to the White House’s icy demeanor, Congress warmly embraced Netanyahu. On the morning after his snub by Obama, Netanyahu was welcomed by the congressional leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties alike. Distancing herself from the president, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and Obama ally, told Netanyahu that Congress fully supported him: “We in Congress stand by Israel. In Congress we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.”
This shows how powerful the Pro-Israeli lobby, AIPAC, is when it comes to US Foreign policy. Even after Israel embarrasses the Vice-President of the United States, by making an announcement that Israel will continue its building of settlements on disputed land with the Palestinians, on the same day which Biden arrived in Israel to ask them to reconsider, the US congress does not want to stand up and be united with the President of the United States because he was putting a little bit of pressure on Israel to stop settlements (only temporarily)!
Some may say this may have to do with the Staunch Pro-Israel Republican Party majority in Congress, which could be true, as here is another startling report from the New York Times, which was quoted in Gerges book:
“At the request of the secretary of State and the American embassy, Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress who were visiting Israel in August not to object to the aid ($50 Million from the US for the Palestinian Authority), which, Netanyahu said, would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government. Republican representatives acknowledged that they felt more comfortable receiving the explanation from the Israeli prime minister than from the president of the United States. That the financing request first had to be approved by the House Republicans – many of them backbenchers who were among the eighty-one members of Congress to visit Israel in summer 2011 – demonstrates the power of the relationship between the Republican Party and the Israeli government.”
Not only that, but even news to me, was how leaders of Arab countries, play against each other and try to influence US policy in the Middle East for their own benefit in private, yet in public they decry US foreign policy as being against them. Here is an example quoted in the book, taken from Wiki leaks cables:
“Behind closed doors with US diplomats, Arab leaders, particularly in the Gulf, spoke candidly about their fears of Iran’s growing influence in the region and revealed a level of animosity toward their Shiite neighbor that contrasted radically with their public pronouncements. In the view of the Gulf ruling elite, Iran has replaced Israel as the new enemy. For example, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah told US leaders that Iran posed a grave threat to the kingdom. In a diplomatic cable, the king reportedly made repeated calls for the United States to attack Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.”
Not only does this book give a good historical context, but brings the reader all the way up to the present day, with the closing moments of President Obama’s first term and talks about what he has and has not been able to accomplish in the Middle East and Why.
It is definitely not a “Pro-Obama” book, but a very factual and realistic look at what type of pressures the President has to go through in today’s post 9/11 world of constant terrorist threats, AIPAC and other foreign lobby groups, Anti-immigrant, Anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab fears in the Republican majority congress, an economic disaster at home, two (unfunded) wars, and a 24-hours media cycle which is constantly criticizing every move he makes, to name a few!
I highly recommend people to read this book so they can get a better understanding of the world – especially the Middle East and how policies from the 1940’s and 50’s are still affecting US foreign policy today.