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Middle East expert knocks Obama's policies

NAHAL TOOSI The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:53 PM

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"Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?" by Fawaz A. Gerges (Palgrave Macmillan)

In his new book, Fawaz A. Gerges, a Middle East expert, argues that the United States is losing influence in the Middle East, and that President Barack Obama has failed to live up to the expectations of many in the Arab and Muslim worlds to improve relations.

Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, is clearly a well-read academic with a solid ability to gather the information he needs to back an argument. But much of what he writes is fairly obvious to anybody who closely follows news of the Middle East, and even then his analysis is not without flaws.

Gerges writes that U.S. influence is waning in the Middle East due to a host of reasons, from the invasion of Iraq to ongoing alliances with autocrats to the Arab Spring uprisings that Washington failed to foresee and properly capitalize upon. Obama's policies have in many cases exacerbated tensions instead of eased them, Gerges writes.

It's hard to argue with many of his points. The Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya and other nations do seem to have undermined America's strength.

But there are some major weaknesses in Gerges' analysis. On the Israeli-Palestinian feud, his bias in favor of the Palestinians is so obvious that it undercuts some valid points he is trying to make. Gerges brushes aside or seems to simply ignore legitimate Israeli security concerns. There was no need to strive for false balance — he has a right to his opinion — but devoting a bit more space to explaining the Israeli psyche would have added much-needed nuance.

On the al-Qaida terrorist network, Gerges seems oblivious to some key aspects, to the point where it seems he's downplaying a still real and present danger.

One could also quibble with Gerges' seeming disapproval of how Obama has handled Iran.

Gerges criticizes the president for not openly backing the 2009 protests in Iran known as the Green Movement, saying that it was because Obama was trying to engage the Iranian government. But he fails to point out that many Iranian reformers adamantly opposed any sort of public U.S. intervention — even moral support — because they insisted it would undermine their movement's claim to being homegrown. The White House was well aware of that sentiment.

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