Public Lecture: “Obama’s Legacy in the Middle East”
Although Barack Obama’s much maligned Middle East strategy has often been panned as “unimaginative,” “feckless,” and even “nonexistent,” another word might be more appropriate: daring. Obama’s “back to the future” policy was an attempt to reverse America’s post-cold war habit of direct intervention into the region, which both liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives had championed. Instead, he advocated returning to the cold war policy of backing regional surrogates who might be depended upon to police the Middle East for mutual benefit—a policy which assured American dominance in the region for half a century. If the United States were to return to that policy, Obama believed, it would not only be able to lighten its footprint in the Middle East, it would be able to focus its attention on the region that is destined to become the fulcrum of international politics and economics in the twenty-first century: the Far East and the Pacific Rim. This lecture will examine why changing the course of American Middle East policy proved more difficult than Obama had anticipated, and the successes he gained and setbacks he suffered in the region during his two terms in office.