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Losing Focus

Matthew RJ Brodsky

President Obama’s decision to devote a third of his speech about the Middle East to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict last Thursday resulted in the verbal sparring match between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. And it remains the unfortunate focus this week. Yet the chances of peace negotiations beginning any time in the near future are bleak. It is therefore bizarre that the president would sink so much diplomatic capital into the virtual black hole of the moribund peace process. Instead, now would be the right time to refocus and prioritize American interests in the Middle East.

Although it is too early to tell how the “Arab Spring” will shape up in the future, one country so far has benefited: Iran. The leaders in Tehran are continuing their march towards nuclear weapons and see the regional instability as an opportunity to spread their revolution westward. Moreover, the international community has lost focus on keeping up pressure on the regime. Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and making sure it does not benefit from the “Arab Spring” should be one of America’s top priorities.

President Obama delivering his speech on U.S. policy in the Middle East on May 19.

The recent eruptions in the Middle East remain a cause for concern as well as hope. Radical Islam thrives in Arab states where there are few economic opportunities. Ensuring the success of the “Arab Spring” would go a long way in waging the war of ideas against radical Islam. Helping Egypt and Tunisia transition toward democracy is important but it is not enough. Last week President Obama told the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Asad, to either lead a transition to democracy or, “get out of the way.” Ensuring the fall of the Asad regime in the heart of the Middle East is in America’s interest and the U.S. needs a plan to make it happen. It is not enough to say that the U.S. chose to intervene in Libya instead of Syria.

The future of the Middle East depends on the success of the “Arab Spring” and the defeat of Khomeinism from Iran. The White House needs to keep their proverbial eye on the ball. It is time to set down the peace talk distraction and refocus on American interests in the Middle East.