The Daily Star – Lebanon – Beirut – 5-11-2013 – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s current Middle Eastern tour is a patently obvious attempt to salvage relations between America and its key partners in the region, badly burnt over differences on Syria and Iran, but his trip reeks of both desperation and hypocrisy, and sadly for the U.S., appears to have come too late.
Arriving in Cairo Sunday, Kerry tried to insist that the U.S. and Egypt were still great friends and reiterated Washington’s support for the interim rulers, who ousted the country’s first elected leader in July, in what the U.S. has stopped short of calling a “coup.” But actions speak louder than words and it cannot be forgotten that America has withdrawn $1.5 billion in annual aid to the country.
Kerry insisted that this recalibration in aid was but a “very small issue between us.” And while the size of the now absent aid package falls far short of assistance recently granted by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, what it represents symbolically may be a far greater issue to Cairo than Kerry cares to admit. The U.S.’ position in the Middle East is changing, and faster, and perhaps more irrevocably, than it is prepared to accept.
Nowhere has this descent been more evident than vis-à-vis the American relationship with Saudi Arabia over recent weeks. The kingdom’s unprecedented decision to refuse a rotating position at the U.N. Security Council last month signaled just how angry the country was with the U.S. over its about face on the threat of striking the Syrian regime militarily, and its tiny steps toward a thawing of relations with Iran. Ahead of Kerry’s touchdown in Saudi Arabia Sunday evening, the headline of the editorial in the Al-Riyadh daily, which mirrors government policy, read “Yes, we are not on good terms with America,” leaving the state of the marriage in no uncertain terms. This is perhaps the worst that relations have been between the two allies in memory. But while the U.S. relies on Saudi Arabia as its primary ally in the Arab world, the kingdom has many other friends to turn to, as it revealed Sunday with the news that it is in talks with Germany on a new military deal.
But recognizing that its interests in the region are in jeopardy, the U.S. has quickly abandoned any principles it once claimed to have, whether right or wrong. Kerry flirts with the Egyptian rulers on the eve of the trial of deposed President Mohammad Morsi, and then insists any differences with other regional partners on Syria are not existential but “tactical.”
However it appears that Kerry’s Middle Eastern charm offensive may be too little, too late. The many countries of the region have grown tired of the U.S.’ broken promises and self-serving interests. Obama in particular continues to be a growing disappointment, having fallen so far from his inspirational and hopeful Cairo University speech of 2009, when a different future in American-Middle Eastern relations genuinely seemed tangible.
On both the Middle East peace process, and now on talks to hold Geneva II, the U.S. has again revealed itself to be a weak partner. On the former issue, the crucial settlement issue has worsened over the last couple of years, and on the latter, the possibility of a Geneva follow up feels further away than ever. Obama should realize sooner than later that he has lost the trust of the Middle East.
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)