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What an Obama Victory Means for the Middle East

By Claude Salhani | Wed, 07 November 2012 23:32 | 0

Memo to the Arab World: Good news and bad news with the re-election of Barack Obama to the White House.

The good news is that a victory by the Republican candidate Mitt Romney would have given Israel and its current leadership a free hand at continuing a policy of arrogance that will lead the region towards greater mayhem. Romney’s lack of experience in foreign affairs compiled with his extreme pro-Israeli stance could have encouraged Israel’s hawkish government towards military adventurism rather than to seek solutions through diplomacy and dialogue, the latter being the only way anything will ever get resolved. Perhaps Obama, who sees things somewhat differently, might help keep Mr. Netanyahu’s government in check until there is a change in Israel’s political landscape.

On the other hand, while there may be reason to rejoice with Obama in the Oval Office, seeing that Israel might have to think twice before turning to its military instead of its foreign service to address matters of national importance,  don’t expect anything drastically different to happen in the Middle East in so far as US involvement goes.

The enthusiasm with which Obama came to Washington four years ago and the eagerness with which he wanted to tackle the Middle East problem has followed in the footsteps of others before him who have also started out with similar vigour only to be stonewalled from one side or the other. Just ask Gunnar Jarring, John Rogers, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter and to Bill Clinton, to name but a few.

The next four years, in so far as active and positive involvement by the United States in the Middle East, are likely to be as lean as the past four years have been; in other words, minimal involvement and dismal at that.

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Don’t expect anything terribly different from the second Obama administration when it comes to the Middle East. Barack Obama started out his first term four years ago by grabbing the Middle East bull by the horns, believing he could, come Inauguration Day on January 20th, use the leverage of America’s clout with Israel and with some Arab countries that were heavily indebted to the United States, like Egypt, to finally bring about a negotiated peaceful settlement to the sixty-plus years of strife that the region has had to live with.

However, once faced with the reality of the complexity of the task ahead and the potential negative repercussions that meddling in Middle Eastern affairs could have on voters at home, solving the country’s domestic issues – unemployment, the deficit, etc. – seemed an easier and more rewarding task.

The degree by which Washington was removed from what was happening on the ground is reflected in the manner in which the administration was caught by surprise by the events of the Arab Spring. Indeed, Washington lost precious time when the popular uprising first began to shake and reshape the destiny of the Arab world as crowds took to the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi, forcing long-standing dictators to step down and in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, forced the US to lose close allies.

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And if Obama’s acceptance speech delivered in Chicago Tuesday night is anything to judge by, where his only mention of anything related to foreign affairs was a reference to “freeing ourselves from foreign oil,” it seems obvious that the Obama administration will want to focus on solving domestic issues such as the economy, unemployment and fixing the deficit, tackling health insurance, issues that have dominated the presidential campaign and debates these past few months.

And at the end of the day these are issues that matters most to the average American who would rather not have to worry about the Middle East and terrorism – that is until they come knocking at our doors as they did on September 11, 2001.

That memory alone should act as a reminder that we cannot live secluded from the rest of the world’s problems. If we don’t help others address their issues those issues will very likely become our issues too one day; as was the case before.

President Obama’s reluctance to become involved is understandable. However with the elections behind him now and without the burden of future campaigns Obama should renew his efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East.  Helping the Palestinians to establish their state will help set America’s place in the Middle East as an honest broker for peace.

By. Claude Salhani

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution, is an independent journalist, political analyst and author of several books on the region. His latest book, 'Islam Without a Veil,' is published by Potomac Books. He tweets @claudesalhani.

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