Does Obama have a Middle East policy?

“There’s a widespread perception in the region that Obama is a weak, somewhat feckless president,” Hamid, who runs the Brookings Doha Center, told me. “Bush may have been hated, but he was also feared, and what we’ve learned in the Middle East is that fear, sometimes at least, can be a good thing. Obama’s aggressive hedging has alienated both sides of the Arab divide. Autocrats, particularly in the Gulf, think Obama naively supports Arab revolutionaries, while Arab protesters and revolutionaries seem to think the opposite.”

Leaders across the Middle East don’t take Obama’s threats seriously. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the Arab leaders of the Gulf countries believe he’ll act militarily against Iran’s nuclear program in his second term.

Obama’s handling of Middle East peace negotiations couldn’t be characterized as passive; they could, however, be described as thoughtless. Obama publicly demanded that Netanyahu freeze settlement growth on the West Bank. When Netanyahu only partially and temporarily complied, Obama, in reaction, did nothing. Obama was wrong to draw a line in the sand over settlements, which are a derivative issue (if the Israelis and Palestinians settle their borders, the settlement issue will also be solved). But because he made it an issue without a thought to follow-up, he managed to freeze the peace process. From the Arab perspective, Obama didn’t carry through on a stated policy. This didn’t help his reputation.