Efraim Karsh is editor of the Middle East Quarterly and Professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London. The author of fifteen books, he has held various academic posts at Harvard and Columbia universities, the Sorbonne, the London School of Economics, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington D.C., and the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel-Aviv University. On August 24, he addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on the subject of President Obama's Middle East policy.
Mr. Karsh began his talk on the Obama administration's policy in the Middle East by examining the President's famous remarks about reconstructing America's relationship with the Muslim world. Mr. Karsh argued that, despite Obama's personal connections to Islam, by speaking ambiguously about the threat Islamists pose to America's national security, he misunderstands the religion and its intrinsic imperialistic tendencies. For example, while the administration rightly argues that America is not at war with terrorism because terrorism is simply a tactic, it also refuses to look at the ideology that drives that tactic: the administration winces at the use of the word "jihadist" because jihad is a fundamental tenet of Islam. Mr. Karsh pointed out, however, that calls for jihad throughout history have been an act of war rather than a call to purify oneself or one's community.
In essence, the Obama administration's courting of the Muslim world has failed on all key counts. Tehran, with its fist still unclenched, continues to pursue its nuclear program and to crack down on those who speak out against it. Mr. Karsh argued that a more constructive policy would recognize that Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology is not defensive in nature and therefore cannot be settled diplomatically—perhaps not even with sanctions. Secondly, Obama's remarks about democracy and EU membership for Turkey come at a time when neo-Ottoman policies are on the rise in Turkey, which should only make Turkey's true intentions all the more questionable. Finally, the administration's approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been to seek Israeli concessions, even as the Palestinians demonstrate that they are not interested in peace. The administration needs to realize that there will be no peace until the Palestinians, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, recognize Israel's right to exist and cease calling for its destruction.
Mr. Karsh concluded his remarks by observing that the Obama administration has its head in the sand with respect to engagement with the Muslim world. At the same time, however, the Republican Party is currently not in a position to pose a serious challenge to the President in 2012, leaving America with a failed policy in the Middle East.
Summary written by Sean Alexander