CAIRO (AA) – In January 2017, U.S. President Barack Obama will leave the White House after an eight-year presidency, which saw the eruption of a deadly civil war in Syria and the rise of the Daesh terrorist group in the Middle East.
Analysts believe that Obama’s foreign policy legacy has also boosted the influence of both Russia and Iran in the Middle East and has been shaped by faltering relations between the United States and its Gulf allies.
“The U.S. role in the Middle East under Obama was the worst,” Saudi political analyst Mohamed al-Zalfa told Anadolu Agency.
He said Obama’s presidency was marked by the rise of Daesh and the failure to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to support the Syrian uprising.
“Under his administration, Russia has taken over America and U.S.-Gulf relations have faltered,” he said.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Palestine and Israel collapsed in 2014 over Israel’s refusal to halt settlement activities in the Palestinian territories.
“Obama’s policies have also caused chaos in the region,” al-Zalfa said, including in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“All these countries have been ravaged by turmoil because of Obama’s policies,” al-Zalfa added.
In 2011, several Arab countries were rocked by popular uprisings, which forced the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen to leave power.
Syria, meanwhile, fell into a vicious civil war, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to figures released by the UN.
The Saudi analyst said that Obama’s policies have failed pro-democracy protestors in Syria.
“Obama has let down the Syrian uprising and now Syria is ravaged by a five-year war,” he said.
Al-Zalfa believes that the reluctance of the Obama administration has caused the emergence of the Daesh terrorist group, which has seized vast swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria, where it declared its own “caliphate”.
“[His reluctance] has also prompted Russia and Iran to enter Syria with a view to supporting the Assad regime against the Syrian revolution,” he said. “Because of the reluctance of the Obama administration, Syria is now infiltrated by Russia, Iran and terrorists.”
In September, Russia began airstrikes against opponents of Assad, who is backed by Shia Iran.
The Saudi analyst said Obama thought that he had defeated terrorism after killing al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
“His reluctance, however, has caused the birth of thousands of terrorists,” he said. “His policies will cause chaos to continue for years in the Middle East.”
Al-Zalfa said the human rights record in the Middle East has deteriorated under the Obama administration, citing rampant killings in Iraq and Syria and turbulences in Yemen and Libya.
“America, however, stood idly by,” he said. “It has failed to stand up to Iranian and Russian arrogance.”
As for U.S.-Gulf relations, al-Zalfa said that ties have faltered between the two sides under the Obama administration.
“The Gulf region has been worried about the future of its relations with the U.S.,” he said.
The Saudi analyst believes that Obama was only good at making promises.
“The Gulf states have realized that they should run their affairs by themselves and sought – in light of their distrust in the Obama administration – to establish ties with different countries and political entities with a view to maintaining regional security and stability,” he said.
As for Iran, al-Zalfa believes that Obama’s policies have helped bolster Tehran’s influence in the region.
“Iran used to represent a challenge to the U.S.,” he said. “Now, we see Tehran has become Washington’s biggest ally in the region.”
Last year, the U.S. and five other world powers signed a landmark nuclear deal with Iran to resolve a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran is a staunch supporter of the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchies support the Syrian opposition groups.
Tehran and Riyadh are also at odds over the conflict in Yemen, where the Shia Houthi group overran capital Sanaa and several provinces in 2014.
Egyptian political analyst Mokhtar Ghobashi, for his part, believes that Obama’s policies in the Middle East were “catastrophic”.
“His legacy was marked by the rise of the Iranian and Russian roles and the dwindling of the U.S. influence,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Ghobashi, the deputy chairman of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said Obama’s policies have allowed Iran to infiltrate Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
“Iran is also playing a noticeable role in Bahrain at the expense of U.S. interests,” he said.
Ghobashi believes that the Russian role has also created problems for the U.S. “That’s why the U.S. role now appears very weak,” he said.
The political analyst thinks that Obama has failed to tackle terrorism in the Middle East.
“The key to defeating terrorism is ending unrest in [Middle East] countries,” he said.
Abdul-Rahman Mekkawi, a Moroccan expert in international relations, believes that the role of the U.S. in the Middle East has retreated under Obama.
“This retreat has been evident following the deal between Iran and the West, in addition to Obama’s tendency to open up to Asia, especially China, Japan and South Korea,” he said.
The Moroccan expert noted that Obama was not eager to intervene militarily in the Middle East since his win of the Nobel peace prize in 2009.
“He did not want to repeat [George W.] Bush’s scenario in Iraq, which has allowed al-Qaeda and later Daesh to seize territory in the country,” he said.
In 2003, the Bush administration invaded Iraq to topple the Saddam Hussein regime on the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction.
Mekkawi also believes that Obama was not seeking to topple Assad “especially after the retreat of the U.S. role in the region and after fostering new partnerships with Iran”.
Other analysts, however, hailed Obama’s policies regarding disarmament in the Middle East.
“Obama has succeeded in disarming Syria’s chemical arsenal and was able to stop Iran’s nuclear program,” Lebanese political analyst Amin Qamorya told Anadolu Agency.
In 2013, the Assad regime has agreed to abandon its chemical arsenal following a threat by the Obama administration to carry out airstrikes in Syria in the wake of a regime chemical attack near Damascus, a claim denied by the Assad regime.
Qamorya admits that the U.S. influence in the Middle East has diminished.
“However, the U.S. military presence and political influence are still there in some Middle East countries,” he said.
The Lebanese analyst opines that the Obama administration has done nothing for Syria and Iraq.
“In spite of this retreat, the U.S. still plays a role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya despite the presence of other stakeholders such as Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” he said.
Moroccan political analyst Khalid Baymut believes that the Obama administration has followed policies that recognize interests of other world powers.
“The Obama administration is trying to sort things out in the region and to empower some countries, such as Russia and Iran, in return for guaranteeing U.S. interests in other areas as Central Asia,” he said.
He said Obama’s policies were also meant to maintain security “at the lowest cost” and to help Iran play a role “in a way that indirectly guarantees Israel’s security”.
“It’s difficult for the U.S. to meet the needs of its partners in the Middle East, especially the Gulf states, at a time when Washington is trying to build relations with Iran, in a way that indirectly creates an understanding with Israel and guarantee Israel’s security,” he said.
Baymut believes that the U.S. was not planning to withdraw from the Middle East.
“It only wants to foster a new strategy by establishing untraditional partnerships, especially with Iran with a view to reducing its military presence in the region,” he said.
“The U.S. is no longer hungry for oil and has guaranteed Israel’s security by fostering a new partnership with Iran,” he said. “This all explains why the U.S. role has retreated in the region.”
Moroccan political analyst Khalid al-Shayat, for his part, believes that Obama’s policies in the Middle East have focused on easing tensions with Iran.
“He has achieved a diplomatic victory in this regard,” he said.
Al-Shayat said U.S. anti-terror policies focus on empowering regional powers as Iran to fight terrorism.
“In return, the U.S. would reduce its military presence in the region,” he said, citing that the U.S. has sustained big losses during previous military interventions in the Middle East.