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Obama’s Visit.. And Beyond?! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Obama did it! He carried out one of his election campaign promises. Less than one year after he reached the White House, he visited a Muslim country and from there he sent a message to the Muslim world or, to be more accurate, to countries of the world with Muslim majorities. He can now tick “mission accomplished” on one of about 500 promises that he made to himself and one of 29 promises for which he decided to give priority in the first few months of his rule. However, the implementation of pledges and promises is not mere commitments to the voters or a search of a different kind of popularity. At the end of the day, it is part of a larger “policy” or a great strategy that can be summarized as follows:

The United States hit rock bottom with the end of former President George W. Bush’s Administration both on the internal economic situation and in its foreign influence. Such a state of affairs is dangerous to the United States because the potential for further deterioration exists and the US ability to influence world politics would definitely erode further. But the matter poses a danger to the rest of the world as well because a world under the leadership of a superpower that is regressing can only turn into an arena for chaos and adventure. If Washington and the rest of the world are to emerge and overcome this miserable state of affairs, if the United States is to return to its former stature as a state, and if the first good days of globalization are to return to what they were, a radical and structural economic fix is needed to the US economy and to capitalism in general. Such a task needs a drop in US strategic commitments abroad as required and as necessary. This can be dangerously seen in Pakistan and Afghanistan where fundamentalism, radicalism, and terrorism have reached extremely high dangerous levels. This danger can multiply if Iran were to expand its radical influence and produce an atomic bomb.

Therefore, the US military, economic, and political prowess should be used at its maximum levels and for this to happen, it should exit Iraq and build a bigger international Muslim alliance that can deal with this source of danger to America and the world. But the hands of the Muslim countries, especially the moderate ones led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, will remain tied unless there is movement on the Palestinian issue and other important issues in the region. Afterward, it is necessary to turn a new leaf that would cleanse the wounds that were formed in the post-11 September era. A world and regional alliance should be built that would give the United States the opportunity to rebuild itself and at the same time protect it from the surprises and dangers of enemies that are determined to destroy it along with the whole world. Such a diagnosis helps us understand Obama’s move toward Riyadh and Cairo and why he gave them this stature and priority.

First of all, he came to us in person where his character is formed around several compound factors each of which constituted an asset for his “charisma” and message. Not every day does an American of African descent reach the White House and in a region with a mix of diverse Semitic and Hamitic races. Barack Hussein Obama appears to be familiar. The image of the Englishman or Frenchman or Italian – with the white complexion that is flushed with the wine of power and excellence and with the blue eyes that seem to indicate that they conceal blueblood behind them – does not apply. Obama is none of these. He is not Carter or Clinton or other good Presidents. In his upbringing and his rapid rise, he represents the exciting story of one who knew Islam in three continents even before setting foot on the land that was the cradle of the three heavenly religions. But the issue is not one of religions as much as a life that included pains of marriage and divorce and homogeneous and divergent races. All this existed in an environment where racial discrimination is still one of its most important features.

But Obama was not only a color or a race or a personal life. He was also the loyal son of the “eastern establishment” in the United States. If you are a graduate of Colombia University in New York and Harvard in Boston this gives you an extraordinary degree of scholarship and knowledge of the world and its diverse cultures. On top of that, it gives you a high degree of self-confidence and self-pride that approaches intellectual arrogance or aristocracy. But the most important aspect of the “eastern establishment” in the United States is its liberalism and its optimism toward the world and the future of America and its stature in the world. It is the establishment that was generally formed by the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, victory in the Second World War, and the ideas, beauty, and elegance that was left by John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline. Despite all this, the defeat in Vietnam, Kennedy’s assassination before that, the agitation of the civil rights movement, the rise of Ronald Reagan, and the Republican assumption of power for12 years led to doubts, even in Bill Clinton’s era, on the ability of the liberal establishment to lead America and the rest of the world behind it. It was no coincidence that in one way or another, Clinton’s policies were Republican policies enveloped in Democratic packages. At any rate, George W. Bush came later to cause the bankruptcy of all these policies.

Secondly, Barack Obama’s message came to say that it is possible for the good days to return but this cannot happen this time without partnership with the world perhaps because the responsibility is bigger than to be shouldered by one state or perhaps because the only superpower is exhausted and may need a certain degree of assistance from others. This way there can be no surprise in the message that Obama conveyed in Cairo and before that in Istanbul and Riyadh. Without the cooperation of the moderate leaderships of the Muslim world, his project or his establishment’s project would not succeed. Put simply, Obama needs us as much as we need him, and he knows it. Thus, he had no problem doing what none of his peers had done before him, even when he called on Israel to stop settlement construction activities, sign the treaty banning the proliferation of nuclear arms, and accept the two-state solution regardless of Israel’s protests and suspicions. It is noteworthy that all this took place without a strong reaction from the Zionist groups in the United States. When I met several of them during my recent trip to Washington, it was obvious that these groups did not wish to engage in a political battle with such a highly popular President. All that these groups aspire for is to move the focus at this stage away from the Palestinian issue to the Iranian peril.

But it is also obvious that these [Zionist] groups have failed or have failed so far. This matter will remain contingent on Obama’s ability to achieve what he wants. No doubt, the economic front is the crucial and decisive one. It might elevate him to the ranks of Roosevelt when he took America out of the Great Depression but it can also lower him to the status of Carter who won one term in office due to the inflation and unemployment that reached their highest levels under his rule. But the strategic world front will not be less important. Until the writing of these lines, Barack Obama has not come across his first strategic test when he will have to deal with an international crisis that never crossed his mind. It is possible that the aim of Obama’s trip to Riyadh and Cairo was to pre-empt such a crisis. So far, the Gaza front is quiet and there are no signs of a war on the Lebanese front because Hamas and Hezbollah are both preoccupied with the internal Palestinian front and the Lebanese front more than in their dealing with Israel. It is also obvious that Israel has accepted to stop a military dealing with a possible nuclear arming in Iran even if it is until the end of the year. All this gives Obama the opportunity and the window to wrest rights that were lost too long ago and to make arrangements for a new situation more suitable than what we have become used to in this region.