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Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment? [Hardcover]

Fawaz A. Gerges

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Book Description

14 Jun 2012
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to distance the United States from the neoconservative foreign policy legacy of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and usher in a new era of a global, interconnected world. More than three years have passed since his inauguration, and the reality of President Obama's approach is in stark contrast to the ebullient and optimistic image that he originally built up. In fact, Obama is not committed to redefining U.S. foreign policy in a transformational way, but calibrating and correcting the Bush policies, and reclaiming the neorealist approach that defined America's foreign policy since WWII. Taking stock of Obama's first three years in the White House, this book places his engagement in the Middle East within the broader context of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 and examines key areas that have posed a challenge to his administration: negotiation with Israel and Palestine, troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, engagement with the Arab Spring, intervention in Libya, and the death of Osama bin Laden. Gerges analyzes Obama's policies toward the Middle East, reckons with the administration's history, priorities, and goals, and makes essential strategic recommendations for advancing US-Middle East relations.

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Review

'There can be few more authoritative and engaging commentators than Fawaz Gerges...' -Times Higher Education
 
"Fawaz Gerges has written a provocative book that should make Americans think carefully about their country's role in the rapidly changing Middle East. He describes a largely dysfunctional policy-making apparatus dominated by poorly informed and often ideologically biased individuals. President Obama raised hopes in some quarters that he would recalibrate American policies in a constructive direction, but, on balance, he has failed to do so. This book deserves to be read in university classrooms and by those in the general public who care about the direction of American foreign policy." —William B. Quandt, professor of Politics, University of Virginia

"A penetrating study by one of the most influential writers on a most troubled region, one that shows every sign of becoming more troubled still in the future. But as Fawaz Gerges convincingly shows, the United States is highly unlikely to be a beneficiary. Indeed, in his view, the American 'moment' in the Middle East is fast coming to an end with potential consequences we can only yet dimly perceive. A must-read.' —Michael Cox, professor and co-director, IDEAS, The London School of Economics and Political Science

"Gerges lays out the problems from multiple viewpoints and establishes the points of greatest need. How Obama addresses the challenge to America's hegemony and whether he can stand up to political pressure from home will determine if this is truly the end of America's moment in the Middle East. An exceptional book that thoroughly scrutinizes the struggles of all the nations of the Middle East and doesn't hesitate to distribute blame where it's warranted." —Kirkus (starred review)

"Fawaz Gerges scrutinizes President Obama's Middle Eastern policy with the clinical accuracy and piercing insight of one of the leading authorities on the region. Distinguishing sweeping rhetoric from policy, he is compelling in demonstrating that while Obama has inherited reduced influence abroad and a rapidly changing landscape, American official attitudes towards Israel, local allies, and terrorism remain largely constant. In highlighting that Egypt, Iran, and Turkey provide both limitations on and opportunities for the United States in the region, he adds his informed and balanced judgment to critical foreign policy debates of the day." —James Piscatori, Durham University

"If there were still hope for President Obama, one would have dreamed that he would have sought Fawaz Gerges's counsel on his North African and Middle Eastern policies or at the very least read his poignant, precise, and judicious book, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?. But all the indications are that Obama was a mirage—not the audacity but the calamity of a delusional hope. As Fawaz Gerges describes in lucid and deeply informed prose, Obama has lost a historic opportunity to redefine the American political culture—and he has in fact managed to drag it even deeper into a habitual politics of brute force and vulgar violence. The magnificent democratic uprising called the Arab Spring happened on Obama's watch and he miserably failed to read and respond to it. Fawaz Gerges' timely and tempered book is too late for Obama but vastly informative and deeply encouraging for the rest of us still committed to a better and more responsible world." —Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University, New York

"With characteristic and skillful gusto, Fawaz Gerges goes straight to the heart of the matter. Arguing that a supposedly transformational president has been anything but when it comes to US foreign policy in the Middle East, he lays out an ambitious strategy for navigating a region in tectonic flux. Essential reading for policymakers, pundits, and all students of the contemporary Middle East." —Peter Mandaville, author of Global Political Islam and director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Islamic Studies, George Mason University

"Fawaz Gerges is one of the foremost scholars of Middle East politics and US foreign policy toward the region. Here he delivers a cogent analysis of Barack Obama's foreign policy toward the Middle East. Gerges's verdict is harsh: Obama has neither prioritized the region nor taken the necessary risks required to alter a flawed foreign policy. Obama has also squandered opportunities at a key moment in America's troubled relationship to this vitally important region: the beginning of the end of America's dominance of the Middle East. This is simply the best analysis of the Obama administration's foreign policy toward the region." —Samer Shehata, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University


Book Description

From one of the top Middle East experts in the world comes a candid assessment of current American foreign policy in the Middle East and a proposed plan for the region


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars so far no hope or change for the Middle East 3 Jun 2012
By Sinohey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book offers a scholarly study of the failed policies of the USA towards the Middle East and Muslim nation in general. The entrenched mindset of the Cold War since Truman's days has persisted throughout the years to Obama's foreign policy advisors. Gerges lays out in a clear concise manner the roots of the problem, the succesion of failed attempts at influencing the region to join the pro-Western and the many missed and bungled opportunities of consecutive Presidents and their administrations.

Gerges, (a Christian Lebanese born US citizen) Professor at the London School of Economics is an acknowledged foremost authority on the Middle East and is not an apologist for the Arab or Muslim "cause" but is an impartial observer of the realpolitik of the region.

This is a well crafted book that should be read and referenced by serious scholars and individuals genuinely seeking to understand the present status of USA - Middle East relations and the future through the quagmire of militaristic Islamists, Arab nationalism and liberation, the oil energy crisis, Iran's nuclear aspirations and China's ascending influence in the region.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Obama timid? 8 Jun 2012
By Michael T - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an important book because the subjects it surveys - America's critically important relationships in the Middle East, and why they are in parlous shape - are in urgent need of informed debate. Professor Gerges captures and explains much of what Obama inherited, what he has changed for the better and where his rhetoric has outstripped performance. His key conclusion is that Obama has repeatedly lacked the courage of his convictions, was a politician rather than a statesman - was "timid" - particularly in dealing with Israel's Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli occupation. He acknowledges the substantial obstacles to change, both in Congress and in the region. However, the book does not persuasively demonstrate that Obama had policy options that he chose not to use; that those options were not effectively blocked in Congress; that, when implemented, such policies would have overcome intransigent Israeli resistance; and that the likely costs to other elements of the administration's program were tolerable.
Gerges does a wonderful job of describing what American policy should be, and what effects it should have on the ground. For those of us who agree with him wholeheartedly, it is critical to understand what keeps the changes from happening. And it may be that facts will eventually become available to show that Obama could have faced Netanyahu (and his friends) down and forced a reversal in longstanding Israeli policy. But as Gerges notes, "Israeli politicians," including Netanyahu and former opposition leader Tzipi Livni, "have made a conscious decision that keeping Palestinian lands is more important" than peace at the cost of much of that land. Without Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian polity that is in meaningful ways sovereign or independent, a sustainable solution is scarcely conceivable. If the minds of the current Israeli leadership cannot be changed, American policy would have to be geared to convincing the Israeli public to change its leadership and commit to a new course. That might require conditioning American economic, military, and political support on changes in Israeli policy to make it dramatically clear to Israeli voters that the "status quo," which is really a ratcheting process leading to a dark future, is not sustainable.
George H. W. Bush did something close to that in 1991, persuading Israelis that the stiff-necked positions of Yitzhak Shamir were doing unnecessary damage to the relationship with the US. But Bush was in a very different position from that of Obama. He had just won the Gulf War, and had great credibility with the public and the Congress on matters of national security. Israel believed (incorrectly, as it happened) that it needed massive US housing loan guarantees, something Bush could block. Shamir was a rough cob, not adept at American politics. And waiting in the wings was Yitzhak Rabin, the man with unparalleled credibility and an announced willingness to negotiate. Obama faces a Congress dedicated to several dubious propositions: that in an era obsessed with "terrorists," all of Israel's adversaries are terrorists; that Israel is a democratic and reliable ally; and that distance from Israel or its American advocates risks defeat at the polls. Bibi is stronger than any prior Israeli premier, totally committed to the settler project, has no serious contenders for leadership, and plays American politics like an old ward boss. Bibi doesn't need a new, large aid program, just the continuation of those already entrenched in congressional commitments. Even given these differences, Bush moved the ball very little, giving Rabin everything he asked for (including massive increases in settlement construction) in return for talks that eventuated in the fatally flawed Oslo Accords.
Obama's mistake may have been in confronting Netanyahu several times on the settlement issue without a Plan B to implement when Bibi decided he could stiff this president. Perhaps Obama could have abstained or voted for the 2011 Security Council resolutions that he instead vetoed (condemning settlements in Obama's own words, and seeking Palestinian UN membership). That would have created a domestic political firestorm, but it would also have stunned Israelis and caused intense debate on whether Bibi's mismanagement of the relationship with Obama was too costly to countenance. Such decisions are at least within the president's discretion, whereas conditioning ongoing aid is relatively easy for congressional friends of Israel to block. The other questions would still remain: would Israel change major policies in substantial and sustained ways; and would the cost of the effort be tolerable, as the Congress added constraints and penalties to every bill? Doubtful, on each question.
That, in a nutshell, is the case for skepticism that Obama could have achieved anything except a bloody head in running a few more times into this particular wall. In spite of such cavils, Professor Gerges' book is a searching, thorough review of a critical set of problems in American policy, including those relating to Iran and terrorism. Hopefully it will help to engender a re-thinking of priorities and the kind of policy changes that Obama speaks of but has not yet brought about.
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read from a Middle East Scholar 24 May 2012
By Stanley B. Platt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Gerges has clearly described how Barack Obama's Foreign Policies have failed to help shape Middle Eastern politics and freedoms due to his use of Progressive Politics and Military Strategies that originally placed us here during the Carter Administration.

In addition, Gerges demonstrates how Obama has failed the entire Middle East Region using the flawed strategies that have been produced from his inept Foreign Policy staff.

In Chapter 3 he specifically raises the question as to whether United States Policies during the 2011 Arab Spring significantly changed the status quo in the Middle East thereby presently irreversible challenges for the World.

Here, Fawaz Gerges, a top Middle East scholar, delivers a broad picture of US relations within the region. He reaches back more than 50 years to clearly explain the issues that have challenged the Obama administration and examines the president's failures; from his failed negotiations with Israel and Palestine to his drawdown from Afghanistan and withdrawal from Iraq.

Gerges highlights the changes that an American President must make to improve the US position in the Middle East in light of his do nothing policy in Egypt and as his failed relations with Iran and Libya.

The conclusion is frightening in that United States Foreign Policy has failed miserably during the past three years resulting in the end of its influence in the area unless things are changed radically by a new occupant in the White House.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Middle-East Politics Read 25 Jun 2012
By Chatham, NJ former Mayor Vaughan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having enjoyed living from 1980 to 1985 in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; and traveled extensively in the Middle-East over a 20 year period during the 70's and 80's; and as a politician [former American small town Mayor] I was naturally drawn to read this book. I was pleasantly surprised at what a good read it turned out to be. The first section on the historical political background of the region was concise, and from my view highly accurate. As an American who learned to see somewhat dimly through Middle Easterners eyes, I found myself thinking "ah-ha" a lot and finally beginning to understand all the politics I had observed many years ago. I am now about half way through the book right now, but I am looking forward to pick it up anytime and it instantly provides a fascinating read. The book seems well researched, and I find myself agreeing with the author almost all the time on his observations. The last time I found myself agreeing with the author of a political book with such regularity was when I read Obama's "The Audacity of Hope".
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative, Though Premature 27 Aug 2013
By Richard D. Deverell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?, Fawaz A. Gerges argues, "The success of the globalists [as opposed to regionalists] and the Israel-first school lies in shaping public opinion in the United States about the Middle East and in restricting the general parameters of the foreign policy debate. Their success has crippled Obama." Gerges begins his argument by examining the United States' policy toward the Middle East during the Cold War. He argues this policy has remained relatively the same since the end of the Cold War, much to the United States' detriment in the region. Progressing past the Cold War, Gerges examines at length the actions of President Bush in the Middle East and how those actions, and the Bush Doctrine that drove them, influenced Arab opinions of the United States in the region. He then examines President Obama's initial aspirations in the region, primarily fixing the damage resulting from the Bush Doctrine, before explaining how President Obama's realist practices have had their own detrimental effects. Gerges uses three case studies to expand his argument: the Israel-Palestine conflict, "The Pivotal States: Egypt, Iran, and Turkey," and the War on Terror. The Israel-Palestine conflict is crucial to his argument, serving to underscore the volatility of the region and how the United States' actions influence Arab opinions. The other two case studies explain the difference between globalists, who examine the region from a larger, American-dominated perspective, and regionalists, who look at the specific manner in which local politics and other factors influence regional responses. Gerges concludes that, in light of the popular uprisings in the Arab world and the stagnating U.S. perspective, America's moment of significant influence in the Middle East may be at an end. The book, using a wealth of facts and political examination, successfully presents its argument. My only critique is that, having published the book in 2012, prior to President Obama's reelection, it lacks the perspective to examine the entire second term and recent events such as the civil war in Syria that may involve the use of chemical weapons. With that in mind, Gerges' larger conclusions about the region as a whole and, specifically, the Israel-Palestine conflict, are thoroughly researched and handily argued. The book will be useful to anyone seeking to understand current politics and the United States' interests in the region.
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