So Obama’s first year in charge is drawing to a close. How has he done? In the first of this month’s contributions I shall be looking at his foreign policy, and particularly his policy towards the Middle East. Not averse to a bit of populism, I am going to go for an American-style gradecard.

Israel/Palestine – On the issue of Israel and Palestine Obama’s early months brought hope where previously there had been none. This optimism appears to have faded as the year wore and the lack of clear leadership within the Palestinians was exacerbated by the failure from the US to gain any real concessions from Israel. If Obama was going to aid Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah over the more radical Hamas the he needed to ensure the Israeli leadership offered some firm commitments, particularly on settlements. These have not happened and Abbas, Washington’s chosen man, has become increasingly frustrated and is currently threatening to resign.

Grade: C

Guantanamo Bay – One clear distinction with President Bush was that Obama would close down Guantanamo, right? Well apparently it’s not that simple. Though I have no doubt that Obama has a genuine conviction to close the camps it has often gone by the wayside and to this day there are still 198 detainees at the camp. He assures us it will be done in the New Year but an interesting fact is that over 40% of the detainees remaining are from Yemen – and sending them back to a state that appears to be failing may prove unpopular.

Grade: B

Iran – Iran has been bubbling away in the background for a few years now and there is no doubt that the Iranian government are working hard to wind-up the Americans. Obama initially moved away from the threat of regime change that was looking increasingly likely under George W Bush but since then has been struggling to maintain a consistent line. The domestic chaos in Iran may help him but he lacks vision on how to deal with aggressive Iranian leadership.

Grade: B

Afghanistan – In foreign policy you very rarely get much time, even if you’re the world’s only superpower. Obama spent a long, long time deliberating his policy on Afghanistan before declaring in November that he would put 30,000 more troops into the nation for a ‘surge.’ In the same speech, however, he declared that to avoid Afghanistan becoming another Vietnam the troops would begin to leave by July 2011. This policy could have worked but for Obama’s inexplicable decision to continue backing the ludicrously corrupt Hamid Karzai, a decision which turns increasing numbers of moderate Afghans against them and will only help the resistance to American rule.

Grade: C

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