Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

President Obama is the winner of WHAT!!!

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on October 13, 2009
A combination of outrage and confusion is brewing over the President's Nobel victory

A combination of outrage and confusion is brewing over the President's Nobel victory

Considering that President Obama has promised a great deal to the Arab world in general, it is quite understandable that some distinguished foreign-policy experts are feeling both skeptical and bewildered over his Nobel Prize victory.  It does not take a genius to figure out that Mr. Obama’s hopes for the region have been drastically curtailed by the debacle in Afghanistan…as well as other domestic priorities that are high on his administration’s agenda (i.e. health care reform and fixing the national economy).

Scholars such as Marc Lynch and Stephen Walt have already pointed to his lack of progress on substantial issues relevant to Arabs worldwide.  President Obama’s vision for a genuine and long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is perhaps the most effective illustration.

In the first few months of Obama’s presidency, the White House essentially re-formulated its entire perspective with respect to the conflict.  Palestinian grievances would be heard with open ears and respected with an open mind; Israelis would be pressured into making concessions that they have never made before; and Arab nations would be expected to moderate their behavior to further the prospects for regional peace.  The key was to depart from the status-quo of the George W. Bush years, when U.S. support for Israel was virtually unlimited and unquestioned.

Months later, what has been accomplished on the Israeli- Palestinian front?  The answer, of course, is nothing; unless you count Washington’s regression back under the same old “we work for Israel” banner.  Obama, for reasons I still do not understand to this day, has decided that caving-in to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s settlement policy is more important than working towards a comprehensive agreement…not only exacerbating the already horrendous living-conditions of the Palestinian population, but diminishing the optimism that so many Arabs wanted to experience.  U.S. policymakers are once again viewing Israel as a “reliable” partner, re-inflaming the same hostility that President Obama hoped to eliminate in his Cairo speech.  The “say one thing and do another” approach is once again the microcosm of American foreign-policy

Perhaps the biggest blunder to Mr. Obama’s Mideast peace plan is the fact that he has lost a considerable amount of support from the Arab world.  While the 44th president still enjoys widespread international support (hence the Noble Peace Prize), people may be slowly realizing that he lacks the strength and resolve necessary to back up the “yes me can” rhetoric.

Iran is another case in point.  Despite the President’s pledge to limit Iran’s nuclear capability (a key issue among Arab populations), Tehran continues to produce uranium at an unprecedented speed. Yes, talks between Iranian representatives and western powers are gradually gaining fruition on both sides; the idea that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is willing to export uranium for further enrichment is by no means a minor breakthrough.  Yet, as everyone knows, this is certainly not a show-stopper.

There is a very real possibility that Obama’s premature acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize could translate into his own demise, undermining his credibility and ruining his legacy.  With the Prize in hand, the President is now placed with a tremendous amount of added pressure on his shoulders.  With more power comes more responsibility, and if the White House fails to live up to its end of the bargain, the United States may very well return to its previous position: the most hated and unpopular nation on earth.

Of course, one cannot solely blame the President for these failures.  After all, the man has only been in the Oval Office for the past nine months.  No leader, however transformational on the global stage, would be able to successfully complete all idealistic objectives in such a short period of time.

Nevertheless, Arabs are losing patience.  At least George W. Bush lived up to his philosophy.

Note:  This post was originally published on Marc Lynch’s blog at ForeignPolicy.com

-Daniel R. DePetris


10 Responses

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  1. Tess said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    “unless you count Washington’s regression back under the same old “we work for Israel” banner.”

    I think this remark highlights a key point. One that is relevant not only to US’s behavior in the conflict, but Israel’s as well. We have the impression that the office of leaders are no more than who the person we pick to represent us in democracies. Yet, the office the person has bindings it places on those that occupy its seat. Coming in wanting to change things does not undo previous guarantees and treaties, the power structures and alliances in place in the world, the bureaucratic system that also influences outcomes, ect….. I think the example most often given of this is President Reagan’s wanting to stop our trade relationship with China only to hit office and find that it was not possible.

  2. AbuSous2000 said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    You are 100% correct, you have captures exactly how we Arabs felt when Obama came to office, simply we felt hope as many around the world. However, quickly, actually very quickly, this hope is turning in front of our eyes to big disappointment and despair.

    As an Arab American, I see Obama as sincere, however, his priorities are domestic first and last, and everything else is by far 2nd. I don’t believe he will be willing to spend any political capital until the economy is fixed, and health care reforms is solidly in place, and for that to happened many years have to pass; may be in his 2nd term.

    So far, he does not seam to me the FDR we need, he is more like a Kennedy: a weak president.

    Salah Mansour
    BTW, I came to your blog from Google’s Fast Flip

  3. Dan said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    Salah, your unique perspective as an Arab-American is duly noted. From my humble observations, it appears that your feelings with respect to President Obama is a microcosm of Arab frustration in general.

    There was so much hope and happiness throughout the Middle East when George W. Bush’s presidency was over. People around the world firmly believed that the unilateralism and military might that had come to dominate American foreign-policy during the Bush years would be replaced with a more fresh and unbiased approach. With Mr. Obama entering the Oval Office, it seemed like the world felt at peace for the first time in eight years. Africans, Arabs, Asians, Europeans, Americans, and Hispanics felt as if the new president-elect would be willing to make unpopular decisions for the sake of a safer and more prosperous world (such as coercing Israel into negotiations).

    Naturally, like you have said, this hope failed to live up to its expectations. Virtually no conflict has been solved, democratic governance remains at a standstill in the Middle East, and Al’Qaeda continues to run rampant throughout the African continent (and of course the mountains of Pakistan). On the contrary, problems of significance have not only failed to mitigate…they have escalated in response to worsening circumstances. This is especially true in Afghanistan, where the President is debating whether to send thousands of additional troops (on top of the 20,000 already deployed in March) to the front-lines.

    If this is not a prime example of a love-hate relationship, then I do not know what is. As history demonstrates, presidents often take on a different persona from their former days as a candidate. Despite the lack of progress, I still hold a small amount of confidence that Mr. Obama will be able to transform into the type of leader that he so blatantly promised.

  4. bb said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    When are you all going to realise that Obama’s role in history is to play good cop to Bush’s bad cop in pursuit of the same end goals? The goals remain the same because (a) the future doesn’t stand still and (b) because US self interests generally maintain the same trajectory no matter who is president.

    In this regard, Obama’s peace prize is plus because it continues the illusions about Obama that keep the Left in line allowing Obama to continue to pursue Bush’s end goals without serious opposition from his own base.

    • uman2005 said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:39 pm

      While many would disagree with this I firmly believe that there still would have been some sense of “hope, change, etc” even if McCain were president. It wouldn’t have been anything near the level that President Obama commands but it still would have been there merely because anyone would have been accepted more than Bush. But it always comes down to the fact that while politicians can spout hope and change and how the world will soon be a place of acceptance and peace, the US will continue to look out for #1. Bush found himself a lonely man during his presidency for the policies he pursued but no one is saying anything now that Obama is largely perpetuating those same policies.

      • janbekster said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:40 pm

        One would say, it is unfair to assume that, President Obama follows the same policies of the former administration, for as I recall, he has already overturned many of the decisions taken by the Bush administration; albeit unrelated to the Middle East. But even in this department, perhaps the subtelty of those changes may render them unnoticed; but for someone like yours sincerely, the same as any other Middle Easterner, sensitive to the political Barometer variations in Washington, can say that there are significant changes introduced by President Obama.

        Though it is true again, that President Obama doesn’t deal with Hamas, and Sec. Clinton has insisted that, the US funding for the re-construction of Gaza 900 million$ {I think} should go through the PNA, yet Mr. Mitchell, gave the administration’s support for a Palestinian National Unity Government, that includes Hamas. Unthinkable during the era of President Bush.

        More importantly, the current Washington administration is talking to Syria now, attempting to dissuade Damascus from keeping its close alliance wit Iran, and has abandoned the idea held by the former administration, of creating a united front of Arab moderate regimes; Saudia, Egypt, and Jordan, against, Syria and Iran.

        khairi janbek.paris/france

  5. Dan said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Remember, the President that you speak of is the same man that decided to continue Mr. Bush’s economic sanctions on the Syrian regime.

    Undoubtedly, trips to Damascus by a high-ranking U.S. official (George Mitchell) is a great step in the right direction. When was the last time you saw an American president dispatch a diplomat to Syria, regardless of his/her status in the department?

    Yet, as everyone already knows, “talk is cheap.” What has changed with respect to U.S.-Syrian relations? Has Bashar al-Assad opened up Syrian society in a way that is consistent with the world’s democracies? Is the press allowed to report on the Syrian Government in an impartial way, free of fear and political persecution? Or has Mr. Assad’s regime strengthened as a result of their strategic alliance with Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah?

    The answer is more consistent with the latter statement. Mr. Assad is significantly bolstering his stature in Syrian political life, and he is doing so in a way that is dangerously similar to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In fact, the foreign-policies of Syria and Iran are perhaps the closest today than they have ever been in the past. Both are funding and training Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, both continue to view Israel as an illegal entity within the wider Middle East and both are viewed by the international community as hostile and irresponsible nations.

    More importantly, U.S. attempts to persuade Damascus away from Tehran has been a meaningless and frustrating endeavor thus far. If Syria’s immediate neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan) cannot breach the nuts and bolts of the Iran-Syria alliance, there is no reason to believe that a foreign American President can perform the same function; especially if this same President is beginning to draw Washington back into Israel’s pocket.

    The argument that President Obama’s policies are independent from his predecessor is both falsified and inaccurate. Yes, American and Syrian counterparts are beginning to warm up to each other. But, as history demonstrates, dialogue does not necessarily translate into a strategic re-alignment.

    P.S. Obama’s main anti-Bush reversal (the closing of Guantanamo Bay) has not even happened yet

    • janbekster said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:41 pm

      I thought we were discussing whether there is a current departure from Mr. Bush’s policies or not, but what your good self seems to be assessing Mr. Obama’s rate of failure, and Mr. Assad’s strength; issues which I am not really talking about. 1) Irrespective of sanctions, there is a US-Syria dialogue now, which didn’t exist at the time of Mr. Bush. 2) The project of Arab moderate front has been dropped. It was pursued by Mr. Bush. 3) Hamas is accepted as part of a unity government, which was unthinkable at the time of Mr. Bush. 4) Of course your good self is entitled to see Guantanamo as main anti-Bush reversal, but then again, probably a Republican administration would have closed it anyway at one point.

      I don’t think there is a revolution in the US foreign policy, and I didn’t imply so, however, there are differences now from the Bush administration era, in as much as there are probably continuations also. But to say that there is no difference from the Bush days, I think it falls under the category of error of judgement.

      khairi janbek.paris/france

      • bb said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:42 pm

        When was Hamas accepted as part of a Palestinian unity government, Mr janbekster?

        The Obama admin has droned incessantly right from the beginning: recognise Israel, renounce violence, abide by previous agreements signed by the PA. Only then it will be accepted by the US as part of a unity government.
        Exactly the note Bush and Rice had been droning since Hamas won the election in 2006. The transition from admin to admin was seamless.

        When did Obama abandon the “moderate Arab front”? And what’s different about the US/Syria dialogue today from that which existed under the Republican George Bush Sen Admin and the Clinton admin? This dialogue ended under the Clinton admin, not under George W.

        Obama’s only new move has been to publicly strong-arm Israel over the settlements – and he’s backed off that already! In about 3 months!

  6. janbekster said, on October 13, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    I hope Mr./Ms bb you’ll find my answers satisfactory. One is neither an American citizen nor a partisan of any US administration, rather basing my analysis on the following observations:

    1) Ties between Damascus and Washington have been increasingly strained, since the US led invasion of Iraq 2003, and the assassination of late Mr. Hariri in Beirut in 2005. Washington recalled its ambassador to Damascus in 2005 {January if I recall correctly}. Jeffrey Feltman’s visit ot Damascus in March this year, was the first high level US trip to Syria since then; being the Principle Deputy Assistant Sec. of State for the Near Eastern Affairs. He was quoted saying in a press conference ” We came here today, as part of President Obama committments to use diplomacy and more dialogue, in order to try to see where we can can move forward, where our interests overlap, and to see where we can try and work together to bridge the differences that remain in some of our policies”.

    2) Ha’aretz 21.2.2009. ” The Obama administration’s special envoy to the region; George Mitchell, said Thursday, that Washington wished to see the formation of Hamas-Fateh unity government. He said that efforts to reconcile the factions were important, and labeled the schisms as an obstacle to the peace process. Mitchell made the comments at a meeting with the leaders of several US Jewish groups”.

    3) President Obama remains till this day, committed to the two-state solution to the Palestinbian problem, and is committed to the establishment of a contiguous independent Palestinian state. That’s what he keeps saying.

    4) The recent visit of the Saudi King Abdullah to Damascus, the first since 2005; with almost 1 billion US$ of Saudi investment money heading Damascus’ way, and the return to the meetings of the stalled Jordan-Syria Joint High Committe, as well as the Arab mediation efforts between Cairo and Damascus, are the clearest signs yet for the abondenment of the US to the policies of axis in the Middle East.

    khairi janbek.paris/france

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