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Opinion: Are we seeing a new Obama? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of international advocacy group Avaaz take part in a protest wearing masks of Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani (R) and U.S. president Barack Obama, outside the U.N. headquarters in New York September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

President Obama didn’t describe what happened in Egypt as a coup, and he did not give up on overthrowing Assad’s regime in Syria. He didn’t stay silent over Russian expansion in the Middle East, and he didn’t say he would abide by the Security Council resolutions. Barack Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly presented a different image of the president, who was devoting himself to internal American affairs.

Regarding governance in Egypt, we heard a new stance from the US president. Obama said that deposed President Mohammad Mursi actually won power democratically through the ballot box, but he did not govern according to democratic principles. Thus he did not earn the legal immunity, which the US government has been invoking ever since Mursi was isolated, to reject the current transitional government.

I don’t know if his speech was the manifesto of a new US policy. What we heard was different from what we have been hearing ever since Obama was elected president. He appeared to distinguish himself from his predecessors.

The speech at the General Assembly is an important annual event for all governments of the world to outline their policies and positions. In his speech, Obama suggested that the United States will not abandon its interests against Russia and other countries—a response to many political commentators who said that Obama had decided to withdraw from the Middle East and refrain from intervening in the region’s conflicts after the US lessened its dependence on the region’s oil.

During the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, we heard Obama saying for the first time that he would not refrain from protecting his country’s interests in the region, and that even if US oil imports from the Middle East decrease it will not diminish the impact of the region on global oil prices and the US market.

Obama also reiterated his willingness to fight terrorism. He did not only state his determination to protect the vital interests of his country but, in an unexpected announcement, reminded us of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and his refusal to abide by the limits of the Security Council regarding intervention in international conflicts. He said that what Assad’s regime has done to the Syrian people cannot be tolerated, regardless of the position of the Security Council. This new policy seems to arise from Obama’s frustration with the Russian position, which abused the Security Council to protect one of the biggest war criminals in modern history. Obama has finally discovered that trusting international law requires the imposition of the law. The Russians abused the Security Council when they discovered that Obama chose not to intervene, whatever the reasons were.

But what was really worrying in Obama’s speech and policy is his position regarding Iran. Obama is drawn to the messages of the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who turned into a peace-loving person ready to give Obama the political deal of the century.

For over a decade and a half, Iranians have always played the time card. Iranians only need to succeed in producing a nuclear weapon, and then the game would be over. But the question is: how much time do they still need before acquiring this capability? A year or two? Rouhani said that he needs a year to find a solution for Iran’s nuclear project, but why would he need all this time? If the Iranians were really serious about that, they would have submitted an offer that can be settled within weeks. They want to reach the moment when they will be able to declare that they have become a nuclear power; then it will be impossible for anyone to attack their facilities or wage any form of war against their regime, no matter how many wars they wage or how much they threaten their neighbors or the world.

Iran is not India or Pakistan, or even Israel. We believe that Iran knows pretty well the limits of political games. It is ruled by an extreme, ideological regime that has been clearly expressing its ambitions to expand and dominate its neighbors and the world for the past 30 years. Obama would be committing an irreparable error if he lets Iranians fool him with Rouhani’s smiles and sweet words, or by giving him a fake, cheap promise that they will not use their nuclear weapon.