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A growing vacuum in the Middle East

by John Mccain and Lindsey Graham

The Washington Post

Every American should be aware of recent reports that describe the Obama administration’s abdication of a leadership role in the Middle East and its serious consequences for U.S. national security interests.

Nothing highlights these failures more vividly than the administration’s abandonment of the Free Syrian Army and other moderate opposition forces in Syria. President Barack Obama specifically committed to us in the Oval Office that his strategy in Syria was to degrade the Assad regime’s military capabilities, upgrade the capabilities of the moderate opposition and shift the momentum on the battlefield, leading to a negotiated end to the conflict and the departure of President Bashar Assad from power.

We have seen no indication that this commitment has been honored. In fact, Assad and his forces continue to terrorize the Syrian people as military assistance and fighters continue to flow in from Hezbollah and Iran. Meanwhile, Russia assists in the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons while resupplying Assad’s forces with conventional weapons that are used to murder Syrian civilians by the tens of thousands — a bizarre set of circumstances.

Obviously, Syria is now a regional sectarian conflict that has spread to the surrounding nations, threatening U.S. national security interests and those of our closest partners. Consequently, any hope of ending this conflict through a negotiation in Geneva this month has little to no chance of success.

What’s worse, the administration’s failure on Syria is part of a broader collapse of U.S. credibility in the Middle East. As recent reports make clear, Israel and our Gulf Arab partners are losing all confidence in the competence, capability and wisdom of the administration’s diplomacy in the region. America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, in particular, is deteriorating rapidly, to the detriment of U.S. national security interests. The most salient example of this deterioration is the recent Saudi decision not to claim a seat on the U.N. Security Council. According to a recent report, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan told diplomats the decision was “a message for the U.S., not the U.N.”

We further share the concerns expressed by our Israeli and Arab partners about the risks of being drawn into protracted negotiations with Iran’s rulers that become a stalling tactic for Tehran. We should be prepared to suspend the implementation of new sanctions, but only if Iran suspends its enrichment activities. We should not accept that the centrifuges spin while the diplomats talk.

America is experiencing a serious failure of policy and loss of credibility in the Middle East. Events in the region are headed in a perilous direction, and there is little reason to feel confident that the Obama administration has a strategy to secure U.S. interests and values in this vitally important part of the world.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are Republican senators representing Arizona and South Carolina, respectively.