Peter Berkowitz

Reconsidering the Arab Spring

President Obama entered the White House determined to overcome what he and his supporters regarded as the Bush administration’s poisonous legacy in the Middle East. And yet, though loath to acknowledge it, since the advent of the Arab Spring in Tunisia in December 2010 and January 2011 and its rapid spread throughout the region, the Obama administration has been struggling to formulate and implement its own version of the Bush Doctrine, according to which it is in the interest of the United States to promote freedom and democracy in the Arab world.

This unacknowledged reversal came at a time in which the president’s major policy initiatives in the Middle East were in disarray, in significant measure because they were ill-conceived and clumsily executed. Touting engagement with the Iranians, Obama’s smart diplomacy went nowhere. Tehran mocked him, flouting deadline after deadline set by the president for ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program was limited to civilian purposes by subjecting it to international supervision. And while the United States was reduced to silently observing the carnage, Iran brutally suppressed large public demonstrations against the corrupt presidential elections of June 2009. Having lost two years in fruitless efforts to sweet talk the Iranians, the Obama administration has over the last year expanded and intensified sanctions imposed by the Bush administration. By the president’s own secretary of defense’s estimates, Iran is on a path to developing the capacity to make a nuclear weapon within a year.

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