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Opinion: Obama’s Legacy and the Future of the White House | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US President Barack Obama speaks during the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)

After a long flight, I always rush to purchase a newspaper or two to check out what has been happening in my absence, and to take a look at the more local news at my destination. This is precisely what I did on my arrival in New York a few days ago. The US newspapers I bought focused on a number of issues, not least the situation in the Middle East and the domestic political situation in the US.

There has been an increasing number of articles in the US press focusing on Arab resentment towards Tehran and Iranian rapprochement with the US. The US, for its part, is viewed by the majority of Arab states as being a major cause behind the tension, unrest, violence and terrorism that has beset the region recently. Some US newspapers, for their part, concur, viewing the deteriorating situation in the Middle East as a failure of the Obama administration, which has been unable to reassure Washington’s traditional allies in the region. With US elections now fast approaching, Washington’s putative nuclear agreement with Iran is now a source of speculation and concern not just in the Middle East, but also domestically. Although according to most signs, this agreement will be concluded before the end of Obama’s second term in office, with the current US Congress pushing it through, it will still be a major feature in the upcoming battle between the Democratic and Republican parties at the next election.

Analyses by major US newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journey agree that Saudi Arabia—under the leadership of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz—has decided to take the reins of leadership in the Middle East, gathering the rest of the region’s countries around it, in order to secure regional security and stability in the face of outside intervention and the threat of terrorism. The threat of terrorism, in particular, is one that is plaguing the region, seemingly coming from nowhere and affecting everywhere at once. There is clear recognition in Washington that Saudi Arabia, under new leadership, has an important, proactive vision and is not hesitating to see this through, and that Riyadh will not think twice about protecting its borders, territory, and regional interests.

Another issue that US media is paying particular close attention to these days is the threat that the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is posing on US soil itself, with a number of US states reportedly directly under threat from ISIS. America’s military, also this week, raised its level of alert for all US bases in the face of mounting threats from ISIS and its supporters. America’s media also continues to review and debate the results of the recent UK parliamentary elections, with the Conservatives winning a surprise majority and Prime Minister David Cameron securing another term in office. The US newspapers viewed this as part of Europe’s ongoing political move towards the right, questioning whether the upcoming US elections will see a similar move or not.

America’s Democratic Party now finds itself in a difficult position, having served two consecutive terms in the White House, with President Barack Obama now set to step down as party head and likely be replaced by Hillary Clinton. This would be the first time a woman has headed a major US political party, and contested the presidential elections, after she failed to beat Obama in the Democrat leadership race last time around. But is the US ready for a female president?

There are two sides to this question. US voters are well-known for their capacity to embrace change, so Mrs. Clinton is well positioned in that respect. On the other hand, this capacity to embrace change also usually includes embracing a change in party. Therefore we could very well see a Republican President succeed Democrat President Barack Obama. America’s media is notoriously divided, so there is more than one reading of this situation. For the neutral, however, reading both sides of the story allows for a more nuanced and balanced understanding.

Obama knows that he has now entered the second half of his second term in office—so he is shopping for an achievement that will crown his presidential legacy. There are some within his party who are warning against setting his sights too high or trying to push through something for the sake of appearance without first studying the situation in full. If Obama seeks to place his own legacy ahead of US national security and interests, this will have major implications for America, and for the Middle East’s future.