The looming deadline on the debt ceiling is casting a long shadow over Washington and the trust in its ability to function. Since the Barack Obama administration started to govern more than two years ago, historic pieces of legislation like a healthcare overhaul and financial reform package passed along strict party lines. But once the majority in the House changed following the midterm elections, a new generation of conservative Republicans, or Tea Party members, not only divided the government, but made it dysfunctional by dividing themselves and even their own House leadership with their uncompromising attitude. As of Friday morning, as the clock ticks down to Aug. 2, the default date, there seems to be no consensus in the making.
The new guard of the Republican Party is not only asking for heavy domestic spending restrictions, there is also a strong isolationist wind blowing within the opposition. The latest reflection of this sentiment was Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to request serious restrictions on contributions from the United States to international organizations, ban funds for the Obama administration’s Global Climate Change Initiative and prohibit any economic or democratic aid to countries whose votes at the United Nations oppose the U.S. more than 50 percent of the time. If the new isolationist spirit prevails in Washington, it will surely further handicap the U.S. showing in the Middle East region, which gave the U.S. a failing grade again in the latest polls.
The Obama administration’s low ratings in the latest Zogby poll as well as previous polls prove that Obama’s unequivocal support for pro-change movements across the region during most of the Arab Spring is not enough to win the Arabs’ hearts and minds.
Why then, I asked Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson of the State Department, hasn’t this administration been able to gain the favor of the people of the Middle East?
“We have sought a cooperative relationship with the Middle East,” Toner responded. “And it is a region clearly undergoing tremendous change ... we’re going to continue to stand for universal rights, as we have thus far in the Arab Spring and continue to work with these countries... which are on a path toward democratic transition. [We’re doing this] because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Even though some experts blamed the Obama administration for being too slow to give support for the popular uprisings, especially the one in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, it can be well argued that Washington did not shy away from showing its solid sympathy with protesters once the latter proved their resilience and determination to get rid of their dictators.
Egypt is a perfect example. Washington backed the January 25 Revolution movement once it became clear the movement was determined to push President Hosni Mubarak out. At the moment, Washington is also avoiding criticizing the Egyptian Army, and is trying to advance its relations with it. Toner, following a question at a Thursday briefing, said: “The U.S. stands ready to support the Egyptian people... [We] will continue to offer that support for the Egyptian people as they move toward elections and … we stand ready to help..” In addition, he complemented the Egyptian Army’s professionalism during the revolution.
Washington is divided and dysfunctional. This administration’s Middle East policies are overwhelmingly disliked by people. The peace process stalled almost a year ago while all of us are watching out for a potential train wreck at the U.N. General Assembly, if Palestinians indeed are to ask for full recognition of their statehood – something the U.S. has threatened to veto unilaterally.
Washington is teetering because of its economic deadlock at home and teetering because of its inability to put forward any meaningful road map for the peace process in the Middle East.