This paper explores the extent to which the Arab uprisings that began in December 2010 have transformed US policy to the Middle East under Barack Obama’s presidency. The first term was marked by a desire to disengage from the type and scale of political commitments and military presence in the Middle East that were most strongly associated with Obama’s predecessor. The hesitancy which marked the US response to the first wave of protests across the Arab world has gradually given way to a series of selective commitments, particularly in Syria, Iran and Palestine-Israel, which have developed despite the reported personal reluctance of Obama himself. The paper will explore four major reasons for this partial reversal of stance: as a response to changing circumstances, a result of domestic pressures, arising from the role of key regional allies, and as part of the projection of international credibility. Overall, the paper examines the national and international dynamics that continue to propel heavy US engagement in the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, and the prospects for the Arab uprisings themselves in the context of a re-energised US policy approach.
Glen Rangwala is a University Lecturer and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University in England