Campaign Promises

Cabinet/Departments -> State -> Middle East

Middle EastGrade
The Promise: "I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."
When/Where: Senator Obama Campaign Statement of 01/19/08.
Status:President Obama's statement on 04/24/09, a day of memorial for the Armenian Genocide, failed to mention the key word that interested parties wanted to hear: "genocide". On 03/05/10, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 23-22 on a resolution officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

This action prompted the Turkish Government to recall its Ambassador to the U.S. home for "consultations." The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement stating: "Secretary Clinton emphasized that the U.S. administration opposes both the decision accepted by the committee and the decision reaching the general assembly."

The White House went further by opposing House Resolution 306 which called for Turkey to return christian churches that were confiscated during the Armenian Genocide.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...promote a regional compact that would ensure commitments by Iraq's neighbors to non-intervention and to Iraq's territorial integrity."
When/Where: Obama's Plan to Responsibly End the War in Iraq, undated.
Status:The appointment of former Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace" on 01/22/09 was a critical first step in honoring this promise. Senator Mitchell resigned from this post on 05/13/11 out of frustration that no progress was being made with any of the principal Middle East players in the desired peace process. Senator Mitchell was replaced by his deputy, Ambassador David Hale, who himself was replaced in 6/14 by Ambassador Martin Indyk who stayed on the job only one year.

The promised "comprehensive compact" remained elusive since regional security could not be attained unless meaningful dialogue was initiated with the likes of Iran, Syria, Pakistan, the Palestinians and others.

When the USA pulled its remaining troops out of a marginally stable Iraq at the end of CY2011 as announced by President Obama on 10/21/11 (and requested by the Iraqi Government), the Obama Administration needed to engage with Iran and other unfriendly Middle East nations at the senior diplomatic level. This was to ensure that Iran did not dominate Iraq and the Persian Gulf region after the USA's departure. Lack of immediate engagement with Iran paved the way for Iran to instigate increased subversive activities against remaining U.S. assets and resources in Iraq and the Iraqian Government itself. This was a U.S. diplomatic "faux pas."

In the absence of a "comprehensive compact" for Iraqi and regional stability as of end-CY2016, coupled with the inability of special envoys to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the peace table, this promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will lead a diplomatic effort to bring together Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders and negotiate a comprehensive agreement that deals with the PKK threat, guarantees Turkey's territorial integrity, and facilitates badly needed Turkish investment in and trade with the Kurds of northern Iraq."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "A Stronger Partnership with Europe for a Safer America", dated 10/14/08.
Status:During his first overseas trip in 04/09, President Obama made stops in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey. His message was to pledge support for Turkey's efforts to thwart the terrorism tactics of the Kurdistan Workers Party (in Kurdish: Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or "PKK").

Although much more work was required to build a real cooperative relationship between Turkey and Iraq (including the Kurds), Turkey had to look within its own borders to ensure that the Kurds there received equitable attention in the fields of education, health care, economic opportunities and assistance, etc.

While the Turkish Government met resistance as it tried to resolve problems with the Kurds, it has announced its determination to do so. The first step agreed to by the Obama Administration was the disarmament of the PKK under Turkish-US-Iraqi supervision, where the weapons would be handed over to U.S. Forces in northern Iraq.

The next step was to clear all the northern Iraq PKK camps and return those camp areas to control by the regional northern Iraqi administration. Meanwhile, Turkey opened a consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, based upon an agreement reached between Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu and the leader of the northern Iraqi regional government, Massoud Barzani.

The above was a clear indication that the two sides were talking. President Obama did not promise success. He promised to "lead a diplomatic effort" to give success a chance.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will support the promotion of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression in Turkey and support its efforts to join the European Union."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "A Stronger Partnership with Europe for a Safer America", dated 10/14/08.
Status:During his first overseas trip in 04/09, President Obama made stops in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey. In a speech before the Turkish Parliament, he stated: "The United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union...Centuries of shared history, culture, and commerce bring you together...And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."

President Obama did voice his support for Turkey in its bid to become a member of the European Union, but those words did not lead to membership by end-CY2016.

Other aspects of this promise (i.e. promotion of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression) were not fulfilled.

The State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Turkey for CY2016 reveals that the Obama Administration was ineffective in influencing improvements in the following areas, which included but were by far not limited to:

- arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life,
- torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,
- prison and detention center conditions,
- denial of fair public trial,
- arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence,
- respect for freedom of speech and press,
- respect for internet freedom,
- respect for academic freedom and cultural events,
- freedom of peaceful assembly and association,
- freedom of religion,
- freedom of movement, internally displaced persons, protection of refugees and stateless persons,
- respect for political rights,
- discrimination, societal abuses, and trafficking in persons,
- child labor, especially among the refugee population
- pro-government media use of anti-LGBTI, anti-Armenian, anti-Alevi, and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and
- failure to prevent marriage of children.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Obama also will increase aid to Pakistan for development and secular education to counter extremists."
When/Where: Obama Plan: "The War We Need to Win" dated 07/31/07.
Status:In Pakistan, a country of 180M people, youth literacy was a little over 60%, while adult literacy rate was closer to 50% by end-CY2016. Of the 21.6M school-age (5 to 9) children in Pakistan, 6.2M or 29% (2.6M boys and 3.6M girls) were out of school. Only 32% of Pakistani children get a secondary education.

One way in which U.S. education assistance was being used during the Obama Administration was to offer stipends to poor families to offset the cost of education with the objective of reducing militancy resulting from education received from madrasas.

Total funding by the U.S. taxpayer for assistance to Pakistan in FY2010 was $4.289B, up from $2.925B in FY2009. Of this amount, only $180M was specifically earmarked for education reform.

Amid calls from various sectors to cut off all foreign aid to Pakistan for many well-founded reasons (i.e. allegedly harboring/hiding Osama bin Laden, blocking supplies from reaching U.S. troops in Afghanistan), Congress immediately decreased total funding for Pakistan in FY2011 (to $2.369B) and FY2012 (to $2.102B). By FY2014, foreign aid to Pakistan totaled $1.162B, only $53M of which went toward education reform under the Economic Support Fund.

Undaunted by dwindling financial resources but buttressed by the first "over-and-above" Kerry-Lugar "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009" ($1.5B authorized annually for five years starting in CY2010), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) managed to accomplish the following in Pakistan by end-CY2016:
- built or repaired over 1,400 schools across Pakistan,
- trained over 35,900 teachers and school administrators,
- provided over 18,000 scholarships for talented students to attend tertiary education in Pakistan, and
- reached more than 1,349,000 primary-level learners through reading programs.

As of end-CY2016, the promise to "increase" development and education funding to combat extremist influences in Pakistan was not fulfilled. USAID accomplishments aside, Pakistani madrasas continued to proliferate during the Obama Administration.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "Provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries."
When/Where: "Blueprint for Change: Obama and Biden's Plan for America" dated 10/09/08.
Status:By United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates, approximately 4.5M Iraqis (one sixth of Iraq's population) were displaced as of end-CY2016. Nearly 4M were internally displaced, and most of the rest were living in countries in the region such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Egypt.

According to State Department estimates, the Obama Administration provided over $2.5B of humanitarian assistance for displaced Iraqis in Iraq and in neighboring countries during President Obama's two terms in office, this allocation being on top of other foreign aid given to Iraq during the same period (CY2009-CY2016).

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...will implement a Memorandum of Understanding that provides $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade - investments to Israel's security that will not be tied to any other nation."
When/Where: Candidate Obama Speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington, D.C., dated 06/04/08.
Status:The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in question was actually signed on 08/16/07 and provided for a $30B hand-out to Israel over the timeframe 10/08-10/18, an increase of $6B over the $24B provided in the previous decade.

The Obama Administration lived up to the terms of the MOU and provided funding to Israel in the following amounts:
FY2010 - $2.803B
FY2011 - $3.029B
FY2012 - $3.098B
FY2013 - $3.118B
FY2014 - $3.118B
FY2015 - $3.118B
FY2016 - $3.110B
FY2017 - $3.107B

On 09/14/16, the USA and Israel signed a new 10-year MOU covering the period FY2019-FY2028. Under the terms of the new MOU, the USA pledged to provide Israel $38 billion in military aid ($33B for Foreign Military Financing grants plus $5B for missile defense.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...would work with key European allies to persuade the European Union as a whole to end its practice of extending large-scale credit guarantees to Iran."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "A Stronger Partnership with Europe for a Safer America" dated 10/14/08.
Status:On 07/26/10, European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton announced that all 27 EU countries were united in imposing sanctions on Iran in an effort to force the Iranian regime to halt uranium enrichment as proof that it is not seeking a nuclear weapons capability. These sanctions would reportedly go beyond United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 of 06/09/10, and deepen Iran's international isolation.

EU sanctions (referred to as "restrictive measures") are documented in EU Council Regulation 961/2010 dated 10/25/10. Chapter IV (Freezing of Funds and Economic Resources), Article 25 states:

"It shall be prohibited:

(a) to sell or purchase public or public-guaranteed bonds issued after 26 July 2010, directly or indirectly, to or from any of the following: (i) Iran or its Government, and its public bodies, corporations and agencies; (ii) a credit or financial institution domiciled in Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran, or any credit or financial institution referred to in Article 23(2); (iii) a natural person or a legal person, entity or body acting on behalf or at the direction of a legal person, entity or body referred to in (i) or (ii); (iv) a legal person, entity or body owned or controlled by a person, entity or body referred to in (i), (ii) or (iii);

(b) to provide brokering services with regard to public or public-guaranteed bonds issued after 26 July 2010 to a person, entity or body referred to in point (a);

(c) to assist a person, entity or body referred to in point (a) in order to issue public or public-guaranteed bonds, by providing brokering services, advertising or any other service with regard to such bonds."

In summary, the announced EU sanctions include a ban on investing or selling equipment to Iran's oil and natural gas industries, restrictions on export-credit guarantees and insurance, and closer monitoring of banks doing business with Iran.

The extent of U.S. influence in the EU's actions is unclear.

Nonetheless, this promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...would conduct direct talks with Iran..."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "A Stronger Partnership with Europe for a Safer America" dated 10/14/08.
Status:On 08/02/10, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated that he was ready to meet/debate with President Obama when the two were attending a General Assembly meeting at the United Nations in 09/10.

The Obama Administration rebuffed this call for a meeting on 08/03/10. In the words of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: "We have always said that we'd be willing to sit down and discuss Iran's illicit nuclear program, if Iran is serious about doing that. To date, that seriousness has not been there."

Three years later, President Obama spoke directly via telephone with President Hassan Rouhani on 09/27/13, just before President Rouhani left New York where he had been attending the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

White House officials described the 15 minute conversation, initiated by President Rouhani, as cordial. During the same timeframe, Secretary of State John Kerry held a rare meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions...would offer the Iranian regime a choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, we will offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "To Secure America and Restore our Standing," undated.
Status:As a direct result of President Obama's "carrot and stick" approach in dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nuclear deal framework agreement was reached on 04/02/15 between Iran and the P5+1 Group (permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - the USA, United Kingdom, Russia, France and China plus Germany) and the European Union. The resultant agreement was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Under the terms of the JCPOA, sanctions relief would affect the economy of Iran in four ways:
- release of Iran's frozen funds abroad, estimated at $29B, representing approximately one third of Iran's foreign held reserves,
- the removal of sanctions against exports of Iranian oil,
- allow foreign firms to invest in Iran's oil and gas, automobiles, hotels and other sectors, and
- allow Iran to trade with the rest of the world and use global banking systems.

On 01/16/16,the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Iran had adequately dismantled its nuclear weapons program. The United Nations immediately lifted all sanctions against Iran, allowing Iran to immediately have access to more than $100B in assets frozen around the world and resume selling oil on international markets.

Iran's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) will take years, as there will likely be efforts by Iran's foes (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Israel and others) to thwart membership, much as the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the USA and Iran will not be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.

Strong-arming Iran early in the Obama Administration produced cautiously positive results.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...strongly support the U.S.-Israel relationship, believe that our first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel, America's strongest ally in the Middle East. They support this closeness, stating that the United States would never distance itself from Israel."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "To Secure America and Restore our Standing," undated.
Status:During the first three years of the Obama Administration, it in fact distanced itself from Israel because of the latter's building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. The relationship between the U.S. and Israel was considered by some as being at the lowest point in over 35 years.

The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel reached a new low on 05/19/11 when President Obama called for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 Six-Day War borders (with mutually agreed swaps) behind which more than 350K Jews reside. In the words of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, Obama threw Israel "under the bus" when he stated this position. Prime Minister Netanyau immediately described Obama's call for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders as "indefensible." Prime Minister Netanyahu's changed stance was seen as his way of placating his constituency and preserving his weak coalition government by disagreeing with any plan to exchange land for peace.

President Obama offered clarifications during a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on 05/22/11, rightly stating that his 1967 border statement of 05/19/11 had been misrepresented.

While no one denied or questioned President Obama's commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Israeli perceptions of the U.S. President were exactly the opposite of what they should have been, because President Obama unwittingly created tension between the U.S. and Israel at the highest levels.

But this strained relationship has not affected continued financial support to Israel promised under the President Carter-era Camp David accords with Egypt -- assistance that President Obama supports.

Nonetheless, tensions between the USA and Israel festered during the remainder of President Obama's tenure in office.

This promise was not fulfilled.
The Promise: "...Israel should not be pressured into a ceasefire that did not deal with the threat of Hezbollah missiles. He and Joe Biden believe strongly in Israel's right to protect its citizens."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "To Secure America and Restore our Standing," undated.
Status:In 05/10, Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor estimated that Hizbullah had 42K missiles "aimed at Israel." He claimed that they could reach anywhere in Israel. The missiles possessed by Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon originated in North Korea and reached these organizations via Iran and Syria. With U.S. support, Israel's "Iron Dome" short range missile defense system successfully shot down a Grad rocket fired against Israel from the Gaza strip on 04/07/11.

To President Obama's credit, peace talks between Israel and Palestine resumed on 09/02/10 in Washington, D.C. At that time, the State Department anticipated that those talks would continue toward a final resolution by 09/11 -- although either side could break off the talks for myriad reasons.

By end-CY2011, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians stalled. This failure was largely attributed to the terrorist group Hamas' unity agreement with the Palestinian political party "Fatah." The Hamas charter called then as it does now for the eradication of Israel.

A potential peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, orchestrated by U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell and other third parties such as Jordan and Egypt, also failed. This draft agreement addressed the disposition of the Hizbullah missile/rocket threats, including Hizbullah's receipt of approximately 10 SCUD-D from Syria. Special Envoy Mitchell announced on 05/13/11 that he was quitting his job, a sign of frustration that neither a ceasefire nor peace agreement would become reality in the foreseeable future. His successors were equally unable to influence peace in the region.

The new Lebanese cabinet announced by Prime Minister Najib Mikati on 06/13/11 gave Hizbullah 16 of 30 seats, making it the dominant political and military force in Lebanon. In practical terms, peace with Israel was seen by many as less likely than when President Obama assumed the presidency.

On the plus side, however, the Obama Administration was supportive of Israel's "Iron Dome," "David's Sling," and "Arrow Defense" capabilities, while approving the sale of 19 F-35 stealth fighter jets with an option for 75 more to replace aging F-16 fighter aircraft.

Further, the Administration has routinely authorized the conduct of large-scale military exercises with the Israeli armed forces, and has conducted joint intelligence operations with the Mossad.

Despite strained relationships at the senior level between the USA and Israel, the Obama Administration has maintained support of Israel's efforts to protect its citizens.

This promise was fulfilled.
The Promise: "...continuing U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "To Secure America and Restore our Standing," undated.
Status:From FY2007 to the start of the Obama Administration, more than $750M had been appropriated for Israel's Arrow and David's Sling anti-missile systems.

The Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 (H.R. 1473) signed into law on 04/14/11 included $205M for the procurement of the Iron Dome defense system to counter short-range rocket threats, $84.7M for the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD) program including cruise missile defense research and development under the SRBMD program, $58.9M for an upper tier component to the Israeli Missile Defense Architecture, and $66.4M for the Arrow System Improvement Program including development of a long range, ground and airborne detection suite.

"Iron Dome" was first activated in 04/11 and is credited with shooting down 80% of an estimated 300 rockets launched against Israel in 03/12 alone. At these initial stages, however, "Iron Dome" was not expected to be fully capable of protecting all Israeli cities from all rockets/guided missiles that Hamas was acquiring from Syria, Iran and other sources. Attainment of this goal was exacerbated by the reduction of the FY2011 appropriation of $205M for "Iron Dome" in FY2011 to $0.0M in FY2012.

In summary, here are the principal Israeli missile defense systems with which active U.S. cooperation took place during the first three years of the Obama Administration:

- "Iron Dome" for missile threats less than 70 kilometers from Israel;
- "David's Sling" for cruise and ballistic missiles launched less than 300 kilometers from Israel;
- Upgrades to the U.S.-provided Patriot missile interceptor system; and
- "Arrow-2" and "Arrow-3" interceptors against Iran's Shabab class ballistic missiles.

The above signified continued U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.

This promise was fulfilled.