Some hits, some misses
Not many would have believed in a possible rapprochement with Tehran when Obama took office. And most people had dismissed a thaw with Havana a long time ago. Yet the nuclear deal with Iran has paved the way for deeper diplomatic contact especially regarding the Middle East situation, where they share limited common interest now and, more importantly, for business. EU countries, including Germany and France, have already sent delegations to probe business and trade deals. And American companies, especially in the oil and gas sector, have also begun expressing interest. They are reminded of the days following the fall of the iron curtain, when western companies found a financial goldmine in the dilapidated energy infrastructure that needed their expertise.
And normalisation of ties with Cuba opens the door to resetting more equations in Latin America, where mistrust of a bygone era continues to sour diplomatic relations and spoil potential economic opportunities. Though there is fierce resentment from large quarters in the US, and this policy has antagonised long time allies, Obama has staked his political legacy on this outreach leveraging the superpower’s diplomatic prowess, a marked departure from the war mania of the Bush administration. Obama also did the right thing by avoiding stepping into the Syrian war despite repeated calls from Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Yet there is much he must still accomplish in the Middle East, or his efforts at peace will not come full circle. The US policy in the region is very confusing, especially considering how dangerous the circumstances are. It resisted immense pressure to intervene in Syria on part of the rebels. Now it is bombing IS, which like the rebels is fighting against the regime. But its friends Turkey and Saudi Arabia continue facilitating the insurgency, including groups linked to al Qaeda and IS. It is now allied with Iran, including its fight against IS. But it allows Riyadh to bomb Yemen in an extension of the same proxy war. Considering how fast the situation is deteriorating, the White House must immediately reorient its Middle East policy. It must identify the chief irritant which will be militant groups like IS and isolate and exterminate them, along with their financiers and sympathisers. It must also help roll back their political agendas that have already wasted hundreds of thousands of lives in a senseless war. That will truly make Obama a president who worked for peace in the world.