Through inaction and contradictory policy statements, the Obama Administration has plunged the U.S. into the very sectarian quagmire in the Middle East officials were hoping to avoid.
If major segments of the Sunni communities in the Middle East have come to develop unfavorable views of American policies, especially those of the Obama Administration, the perceptions of Shia communities (and by extension Alawite communities as well) of Obama’s policies are not that favorable either. Indeed, despite the gains that Iran and Shiite communities across the region have made over the last few years as a result of American policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, and despite the recent “breakthrough” with Iran, anti-Americanism remains rampant in Shia circles, and stoking its fires will continue to a favorite pastime for political and religious leaders of Shia background for years, if not decades to come. Obama’s policies are alienating old friends and allies, but they are not making new ones.
Of course, innate prejudice and ideological predilections within both Sunnis and Shia communities vis-à-vis the West and the U.S. plays a major part here in the formation and consecration of these perceptions. For they often act as a filter through which certain facts are catalogued and perceived, and they often help in ignoring and/or distorting “inconvenient” facts and developments. In other words, one can argue that factual analysis might challenge the points-of-view prevailing in both communities: there is scant evidence that the U.S. would necessarily benefit from the rise or fall of either community, or even from their continuing internecine strife. But often politics is more about perceptions than facts. And while you cannot change everyone’s perceptions, this is not an argument for giving up the fight, or for not assessing the impact of your policies on people’s perceptions, or not investing in supporting those currents that are more open to interest-based politics.
Indeed there are liberal currents within all communities in the region, Sunni and Shia, Christians, Alawites and Druze, but they have been consistently undermined over the years, specifically on account of this lack of appreciation of their ability to have an impact in American and Western policy circles. A flawed reading of the facts by various Western governments and American administrations turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy by encouraging the adoption of deeply flawed policies. While previous American administrations bear blame in this regard as well, the Obama Administration has delivered some deadly blows, especially with the beginning of the Arab Spring phenomenon.
Indeed, liberals from different communal backgrounds communities have played a major role in paving the way for this phenomenon, and before it for the Green Revolution in Iran. Yet, they could not ultimately benefit from or lead either of these developments due to lack of a consistent material support from American and Western policymakers who were laser-focused on working with the Islamists, that is, when they chose to do anything at all. The Syria conflict provides a stark demonstration of what prevarications and inaction can produce. Having waited for so long and allowed the situation to devolve into a civil war, the Obama Administration finds itself overlooking the genocide perpetrated by the Assad regime and its Iranian and Russian allies in order to focus on the growing presence of Al-Qaeda and its potential security implications.
How can this situation not feed into Sunni Arab anxieties, especially when we consider that the vast majority of those killed and displaced by the conflicts are Sunni Arabs?
But since the rhetoric of the Obama Administration has always favored the rebels, and since it continues to call for Assad’s departure (rightly so), it continues to be seen by the country’s Alawites, and the region’s larger Shia community as pro-Sunni. Thus, and through its rhetoric and inaction alone, the Obama Administration has plunged the U.S. into the regional sectarian quagmire, fulfilling the very opposite of what its policies were supposed to produce.
From an economic viewpoint, Obama’s regional policies may not have cost a trillion dollar, but the few billions that have been invested so far, and the few that will be, according to current plans, have done more damage than good. And the long-term costs are bound to be much higher.