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Amman lecture takes on US’ regional policies, Arab Spring aftermath

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Mar 16,2020 - Last updated at Mar 16,2020

Columnist Robert Cohen speaks during a lecture at the Columbia Global Centres in Amman on Saturday (Photo courtesy of the Columbia Global Centres)

AMMAN — The inherent instability born of unresolved conflicts and inadequate political systems in the Middle East has been exacerbated by US abandonment of its allies and its values, according to a noted American op-ed columnist.

“The Middle East is the most concerning and the most combustible part of the world today,” said Roger Cohen, The New York Times op-ed columnist, during a lecture titled “Adieu Middle East: The Consequences of American Abdication” held at the Columbia Global Centres in Amman on Saturday.

The US’ departure has opened space for other powers, especially Russia, to play a major role in regional conflicts, particularly that in Syria, he said.

A long-awaited so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace plan from the Trump administration “proved to be little more than a joke, given its utter disregard for Palestinian aspirations and its uncritical support for Israeli expansionism throughout the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River”, Cohen said. 

There is a “clear difference” between Trump’s administration, which gave carte blanche to Netanyahu’s government, and the previous administration, that at least drew the line to preserve the possibility of some subsequent negotiations, he said.

A balanced approach is not the approach favoured by President Trump, he stated, adding that this “is also apparent” in the US’ abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The risk of war with Iran is always there, as events this year have already shown,” Cohen added.

Regarding the Arab Spring and failed aspirations that the street movement would bring democracy and freedom to the region, Cohen admitted that he was wrong back in 2011 when he was “over-optimistic” and believed that the new generation across the Arab world insisted on a more representative government.

“Only in Tunisia, the Arab Spring does seem to alter course and find a middle way,” he said, adding that what characterises the region is “unpredictability”.

He noted that a young population›s thirst for change across the region, “in the direction of greater agency, more representative government and greater economic opportunity, away from cronyism and authoritarianism of various forms, remains strong”. 

“A millennial generation in the Middle East deserves better. It is sick of frozen political systems and frozen conflicts,” he concluded. 


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