All signs seem to indicate that the honeymoon period between the US and President Barack Obama ended quickly by the end of his first year in office. It now seems that 2010 will see the president under siege by domestic political issues in Washington, and in the coming month these will focus upon the midterm elections that are due to take place in November.
The shock felt by the Democrats at losing their congressional seat in Massachusetts, which is something that allows the Republicans to obstruct the US administrations plans in Congress, is the first and most important indication that the Obama administration may find itself in the same situation as that of the last Democrat President, Bill Clinton, where his administration was continually at odds with Congress and the Republican congressional members.
This is illustrated by the cautious position being taken by some Republicans towards the healthcare bill that Obama established as a priority during his election campaign. It is still unclear whether Obama will manage to get this bill passed or not, or whether he will be able to get US Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, confirmed for a second term.
Obama also put forward a project in response to public outrage over the lack of improvement in the economy and the ongoing banking crisis. This project proposes a return to the separation of conventional and investment banking from stock market transactions, as well as setting limits on the size of banks in order to prevent the emergence of financial institutions that are too big to fail. However this project is also expected to ignite a congressional battle in light of these banks mobilizing pressure groups, in addition to the [political] maneuvering of the two major parties.
All of this is definitely bad news for the Middle East, which is relying on Washington’s efforts to revive the stalled peace process. Hopes for peace were raised in the wake of the new US administration’s announcement early last year that the peace process would be a top priority, and following the President’s famous speech in Cairo. However Obama admitted in an interview with Time magazine this week that he was not being realistic in raising the ceiling of expectations, and he said that both parties are not yet ready to negotiate.
This is a major challenge for the Middle East which does not have the luxury of waiting another decade to see a peace agreement in light of the increasing crises in the region, all of which are interconnected in one way or another to the Arab – Israeli conflict. Even if there is no direct connection between these crises [and the Arab – Israeli conflict], following the path of peace would create a different and far more optimistic atmosphere in the region, which would have a positive effect on all other issues.
Dealing with an administration that is completely occupied with domestic issues and political games in Washington is a major challenge, as this makes the administration less patient and willing to deal with complex external issues, as all of its concern will be for mitigation rather than probing the core of these crises and attempting to find viable solutions.
This is something that calls for the concerned Arab parties to demonstrate innovation when approaching a US administration that is preoccupied with domestic issues but whose help is needed in the peace efforts. This is not impossible, for example Damascus managed to impose itself on the US administration’s agenda when it began indirect talks with Israel via Turkish mediation. This is an issue that requires new ideas and initiatives in order to revitalize this stagnating situation, because falling into a prolonged period of stalemate would only lead to a devastating state of frustration.