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Commentary: World to face messier Mideast in post-Obama era

Xinhua, April 20, 2016 Adjust font size:

The past few decades have seen one U.S. president after another bragging about bringing genuine peace to the Middle East, which however always ended up instigating further turbulence and strife in the region.

With only months to leave the White House, Barack Obama is very likely to be another U.S. president doomed to the same failure after nearly eight years of futile efforts to make peace in the Middle East.

On Wednesday, Obama is going to kick off what could be his last visit to Saudi Arabia as president, and convene a summit with leaders of Gulf Arab nations in Riyadh.

Many observe the trip as the U.S. leader's last-ditch effort to fix Washington's impaired partnership with the House of Saud, yet they expect that the outgoing president would return without making much of a difference.

The Saudis are frustrated as its close ties with the Obama White House soured with its nuclear deal with Iran and flip-flopping on unseating Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. The damage done to the trust of the two traditional allies may well prove beyond repair so long as Obama sits in the Oval Office.

While losing faith in the Americans, Riyadh also fears that Tehran, which is now partially freed from the shackles of economic sanctions, would change the power balance in the region.

It then ventured militarily in Yemen to prevent the Shiite Houthi group from taking over the whole country, executed a top Shiite cleric over terror-charges, and is trying to build up a regional anti-terror alliance parallel to the one led-by the United States.

Though the Saudis are discontent, the Iranians are not pleased either. In the face of a Saudi-Iran catch-22, the Obama administration wants to show that it is not appeasing the Islamic Republic, and has slapped new sanctions on Iran's missile program. For that, Tehran has responded by launching more test shots and military drills.

Looking forward, Saudi Arabia's burgeoning anxiety to defend its preeminence could risk confrontations with a recovering Iran, either directly or in the form of proxy wars. And that is just one facet of how the Obama administration turns the Middle East into a more dangerous place by mishandling the problems there.

In the early days of his presidency, Obama was both ambitious and cost-conscious as he trod the waters in the Middle East.

On the one hand, the president pictured a "new beginning" with the Muslim world in his Cairo University speech and promised to deliver peace to the region, while on the other he was not willing to recalibrate his input to serve the strategies out of political calculations.

Instead of getting fully committed to his claimed objective, he even orchestrated a draw-down of forces in Iraq, a premature decision which Islamic State (IS) militants took advantage of to launch a blitz that led to their control of a big chunk of the country' s territories even to this day, and the group's bloody ascent to become the new mother-ship of global terrorism.

Now, almost eight years later, the chronically troubled part of the world remains a mess, even messier than before, with the prospect of peace fading further away.

In Libya, Syria and Yemen, the peace process has been handled in a rush by the outsiders as Western powers are yearning for a quick end to these conflicts, so that they believe the unprecedented number of refugees could return home while the spread of terrorism contained as a result.

Of course, the best recipe to make durable peace in these war-torn nations is political negotiations, yet without addressing the root causes that triggered these crises in the first place, these dictated solutions are shaky at best and could collapse easily, while the civil wars could escalate.

For now, it seems that both the United States and the European powers are not interested in doing basics.

From the start, Obama's Middle East strategy is doomed to fail because he is more of an opportunist than an idealist. Whenever it comes to the decision that takes real political courage to face the cold-hard facts, he has uniformly flinched.

When President Obama steps down on Jan. 20 next year, he is sure to leave behind him a Mideast legacy that is shadowed by these unfathomed fundamental questions that are engulfing the region right now, and are ready to fester.

And whoever is to succeed him, it is hoped that he or she could be a little more responsible in making and executing a Mideast policy, and focus on what matters most instead of pure American self-interests. Otherwise, the U.S. meddling could only get the region deeper mired in conflicts. Endi