Obama’s eastern promise
By Khaled Diab
Barack Obama’s first name derives from the Arabic for ‘blessing’, but if he becomes president will he be a boon or a curse for the Middle East?
Barack Obama’s name and his supposed secret Muslim faith have been used by his opponents to smear him. Of course, whether or not Obama is or was a Muslim is, in theory, irrelevant and contravenes the values of the American constitution.
With such fear-mongering, the Democrats have shown real courage and conviction in putting forward a presidential candidate who, in terms of his background, is so atypical. But Obama’s ‘new kid on the block’ profile does pose some intriguing questions, given the massive influence the United States exerts in the Middle East.
If he were to become president, would he manage
Arabs, generally disillusioned with
He has even attracted support from some unusual quarters. Despite the USA’s instrumental role in engineering their daily misery, a group of Gazans have used their limited resources to make the case for Obama with American voters – how many voters they will sway is, of course, questionable.
Others are more sceptical. “We, as Palestinians, are not concerned about the elections, we know the US administration’s policy on the Middle East has totally neglected the Palestinian cause for many years,” another Gaza resident said on an al-Jazeera forum.
believe that the foreign policy of a superpower is fixed in strategy,” one
Baghdad resident opined.
“Therefore, I believe that the elections results will change nothing regarding
One blogger, the Angry Arab, went so far as to predict that: “If Obama is elected president, I am sure that he would order the bombing of some Arab or Muslim country in the first year of his presidency to… prove that he really is not a Muslim after all.”
Nevertheless, progressive Israelis see in the Democratic candidate an opportunity for change. “Any US president who would push us, either politically or by using the aid package as a bribe, to end the conflict in a peaceful and just way would be good for Israel,” one Israeli commented on the same al-Jazeera forum.
So, given this divided opinion, how does Obama’s declared Middle Eastern policy actually fare? Well, his positions on Iraq, Iran and the so-called “War on Terror” seem to be more enlightened than George W Bush’s and less Hawkish than Hillary Clinton’s.
An opponent of the Iraq war from the start, he has expressed his belief that “there is no military solution” to the conflict and released plans in September 2007 to end the American presence there. However, he has not made clear what he intends to do about the legal licence to plunder given to American corporations in Iraq, such as Executive Order 13303. He also favours opening dialogue with Iran, opposes war and supports “tough sanctions” against Tehran.
Ridiculing Bush’s “War on Terror”, he proposed the alternative of focusing attention on the more sensible alternative of empowering the “forces of moderation” by boosting “access to education and healthcare, trade and investment”.
Despite Obama’s past
sympathy with the Palestinians, since the announcement of his candidacy, he has
been at pains to appear as pro-Israeli as
The following month, Obama
expressed his “clear and
strong commitment to the security of Israel” and “the isolation of Hamas” to AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby group. This
strikes me as inconsistent with the importance he attaches to dialogue, as
expressed in his position towards
Obama went even further in his first speech after
claiming victory against
Although a President Obama is bound to be an improvement on his predecessor, his position on Israel and his support of American military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan mean that it would be naďve to believe that he would revolutionise American foreign policy. At best, he is likely to make it more multilateral and less militaristic.
In theory, the American president is the most powerful man in the world, but this does not give him a carte blanche to exploit the full potential of his office, especially if he is an outside candidate. His foreign policy is constrained by public attitudes, opinion shapers, and is beholden to the special interest groups, especially as oil supplies become tighter, who exploit public disinterest in the outside world.
There is a danger that supporters, both inside
ă2008 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.