Commentary

Shutdown Affects Perceptions of U.S. Power

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

One of the themes of President Obama’s remarks throughout the U.S. government shutdown has been the impact that it would have on U.S. standing in the world. Judging from the comments and reports from the Middle East's regional dailies, that concern is shared by many observers who believe the U.S. shutdown is bad not only for America’s standing in the world, but also for stability in the region. Some have even raised questions about the ability of the U.S. to continue to fight al-Qaeda if it becomes further disengaged. Meanwhile, with the suspension of U.S. military aid to Egypt, some wonder whether Washington’s posture in the region is due to decline further.

It is clear from many of the dailies and editorials, including that of the Peninsula, that the first question coming to everyone’s mind are the shutdown’s implications for U.S. influence: “Barack Obama was conspicuous by his absence in Asia this week. And it is an absence which is being vigorously discussed both in Asia and the U.S. due to its ramifications....Due to Obama’s absence, Washington has lost a golden opportunity to cement ties with its Asian allies. Obama has been absent from the APEC summit meeting two years in a row, which means the U.S.-led effort to form a regional partnership framework through the APEC forum and of promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade talks will likely lose momentum....If the president gets stuck with domestic politics, it will be at the cost of U.S. influence in the world.”

Similarly, Gulf News’ Linda Heard argues in a recent op-ed that, following the latest skirmish between Congress and President Obama, the latter’s stature has taken a hit: “No leader can hope to please all the people all of the time, but these days, U.S. President Barack Obama struggles to please some of the people some of the time....Washington’s foreign policy is not in a good shape either. The neoconservatives — who drove George W. Bush into simultaneous multiple wars, dreamt of a ‘New American Century’ when the U.S. would increasingly project power and influence overseas — must be bitterly disappointed. Obama has managed to fritter away goodwill from US traditional allies due to US breaches of international law and his own confusing policy U-turns that pull the rug from under America’s closest friends.”

And there is evidence that such questions of waning influence are not of merely academic concerns. For example, the Gulf Times editorial takes the U.S. government to task for underestimating the impact the shutdown and the impending debt default could have for the global economy: “The first-ever default could trigger a massive drop in global stock markets, push up borrowing costs sharply and cause businesses to stop hiring and consumers to stop spending....True, the shutdown and the threat of a default is ultimately a product of the US democratic system. But its impact is no longer a domestic concern with the US still being the hub of a highly globalised economic system. Consider the serious damage done in emerging economies from the Federal Reserve’s premature talk of “tapering” its stimulus programme. If the world catches a cold when America sneezes, US lawmakers would better reach an early deal to prevent it from worsening into an acute infection that would require stronger medication for cure.”

Warning about the possibility of institutionalized chaos, the editorial of Khaleej Times, suggests that unless Washington finds a way forward, it will be find itself left behind: “It is a question not limited to the American economy, which was apparently living beyond its means, but also of trends that will go a long way in furthering recession if Washington is pushed on the brink of default....Obama, to a great extent, is right in saying that a group of lawmakers cannot hold the gun and ask for ‘extortion’ for a job for which they are entrusted with!...There is no rationale in demanding suspension of a public facility that is across the board for all Americans, and making it sound like a part-affiliated affair. The sooner the closure comes to an end and budget allocations released will be a sigh of relief. It will inject new life for dozens of developing countries related to US economy and enable Washington to once again lead from the front.”

Even the recent discussion about the possibility of halting not only military, but also economic aid to Egypt has been connected to Washington’s financial woes, and for the Jerusalem Post editorial board that is not necessarily a positive development: “In mid-August, U.S. President Barack Obama interrupted a golfing trip at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to condemn the military junta in Egypt for its violent attack on the Muslim Brotherhood government leaders…. Now, as America faces huge budgetary woes and increasingly looks to scale down its involvement in our region, the White House is considering cutting, if not halting, U.S. economic and military aid to Egypt. This would be a major turnaround in consecutive administrations’ policy.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed reminds us of Washington’s leadership in the pursuit and dismantling of the al-Qaeda network, which is not altogether removed from the current financial debate in Washington: “Arresting Abu Anas Al-Liby, who appears to have been kidnapped, reminds us that the war is ongoing. Luckily, the Americans are a party in this battle....It must also be noted that the Americans could not have won over this extremist organization if it were not for the cooperation of Islamic countries, which better understand local customs and are more capable of confronting the organization’s religious bent. The Americans, however, continue to dominate the field capabilities in the war against al-Qaeda.”

Finally, there are those who believe that if there is a lesson to be gained by the current debacle on the Capitol Hill, it is not necessarily the possibility of a declining U.S. influence in the world. Rather, as Hurriyet Daily News’ Mustafa Aydin notes, the region could learn a valuable lesson in how a democratic system ought to function: “This may sound strange for the countries under the parliamentary system, where the executive and legislative branches are not separable in practice, though separate in theory, as the government is formed by the majority party in the Parliament. Yet, this is how the system of checks and balances, the bedrock of healthy democracies, works in the U.S....Such constraints and the consequences will eventually force both the president and the Republicans to compromise. After all, negotiation and compromise are fundamentals of the democracies. Or at least Americans seem to think so.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.