How the U.S. is Losing Its Credibility with the Arab World

November 4, 2014 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

By showing weakness in its negotiations with Iran, failing to take steps against Bashar Assad, wavering in its commitment to its allies in Egypt and Israel, and not acting to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis by Syria and Islamic State (IS), the United States has sacrificed its credibility with its Arab allies. Disparaging remarks about Benjamin Netanyahu, writes Elliott Abrams, only give further credence to the view of those allies that “administration officials are callow, undisciplined, and untrustworthy.” Today, both Arab and Israeli leaders have reason to worry that things will only get worse:

For our allies in the region, the sharp drop in oil prices means this is an excellent moment to step up the pressure on Iran, increasing sanctions until [the Iranians] agree to real compromises on their nuclear-weapons program. Instead, the Obama administration, and not Iran, seems desperate for a deal. In my conversations [in the Middle East], I also heard the idea that once the president loses the Senate (if that does happen) he will be left only with foreign policy as a playing field. And he will want to do something fast after November 4 that asserts that he is a not a lame duck and is still in charge. What better than an Iran deal?

Our allies also wonder about our Iraq/Syria policy, for many reasons. For one thing, no one has explained to them how the policy can work, or why American officials think it is working: Jihadis continue to flow into the extremist groups; IS is not notably weaker; and above all the United States has no coherent Syria policy. There isn’t even much of a theory as to who, on the ground, will seriously fight IS, nor is there an explanation of how we will get rid of Assad. Or is he another potential partner, like Iran? More détente?

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