Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Obama’s Quick Start Raises Hopes

Within days of his inauguration, Obama had already begun to take substantive steps toward jumpstarting Arab-Israeli peace process.

Print Friendly

(Inter Press Service)

A series of unexpectedly swift moves to begin addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict taken by Barack Obama in the week since he was sworn in as the U.S. president is being hailed by many regional specialists here who were deeply frustrated by George W. Bush’s relative indifference and virtually unconditional support for Israel.

"The speed with which he has engaged on this is really stunning," said Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab public opinion at the University of Maryland. "While it’s too early to tell whether he’s prepared to make the difficult policy trade-offs, I’d have to say that he’s off to a fantastic start."

During his presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly promised to begin working for Israeli-Palestinian peace "from day one" of his tenure and criticized his predecessor for waiting until his last year in office to launch the so-called "Annapolis process" which failed to make any tangible progress toward resolving the critical "final status" issues.

Within 24 hours of his inauguration, he had telephoned the leaders of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan apparently to reiterate that commitment. One day later, he announced the appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell, who mediated the 1995 Good Friday accord that helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, as his special envoy on Israel-Arab negotiations, a post that some had feared might be given to Dennis Ross.

By Tuesday, Mitchell had arrived in Cairo for a "listening" tour of the region that will include visits with those same leaders, as well as a stop in Saudi Arabia, whose strong support for the revival of the 2002 Arab League peace initiative is considered vital for progress.

Meanwhile, Obama gave his first television interview as president—even before the major U.S. networks—to the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya company Monday in which he reiterated his commitment to work on Israeli-Palestinian peace as a priority, praised the Arab League plan, and offered a "new partnership" with the Arab and the Muslim world "based on mutual respect and mutual interest."

"Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect," he told interviewer Hisham Melham. At the same time, he stressed that he understood that "people are going to judge me not by my words, but by my actions and my administration’s actions."

"And I think that what you’ll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity," he added.

While all of these steps have not yet translated into the kind of concrete "actions" that Obama said his administration will be judged by, they have clearly given heart to Middle East experts here who felt that they had been ignored for most of the past eight years.

"I’m accustomed to being disappointed," said retired Col. Pat Lang, a former top Middle East intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, who had been among the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration’s neglect of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and its refusal to take seriously Arab and Muslim grievances about Washington’s strong support for Israel.

"What I see so far seems rather hopeful; at least there’s a lot of attention being paid to the [Arab-Israeli] conflict, instead of a refusal to deal with it. I’m willing to wait and see and hope for the best," he told IPS.

Marc Lynch, another specialist on Arab public opinion at George Washington University, was particularly thrilled by Obama’s performance on Al Arabiya, writing on his much-read blog in Foreign Policy that, ”It’s impossible to exaggerate the symbolic importance" of Obama’s choice of an Arabic satellite station for his first formal interview as president "and of taking that opportunity to talk frankly about a new relationship with the Muslim world based on mutual respect and emphasizing listening rather than dictating."

"I couldn’t have written the script better myself," he noted, adding that Obama’s reference to "words" and "actions" showed his appreciation that "public diplomacy is not about marketing a lousy policy—it’s about engaging honestly, publicly, and directly with foreign publics about those policies, explaining and listening and adjusting where appropriate."

Telhami, who served as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign, was similarly impressed, noting that the new president made a number of key points that highlighted his differences with Bush, particularly his acknowledgement that the Arab-Israeli conflict is "central" to the region. "This is totally different from the neoconservative view that the conflict has nothing to do with other issues in the region [that are] important to the U.S."

Indeed, the centrality of the Arab-Israeli conflict was brought home to the new administration late last week in the form of a stunningly blunt column by the former Saudi ambassador here, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who denounced the "sickening legacy" left by the Bush administration in the region and its complicity in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

He warned that Washington’s "special relationship" with the kingdom was at risk "unless the new U.S. administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians," including promoting the Saudi-inspired Arab League initiative, which offers normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

Lang told IPS that the column, which was published by the Financial Times, may have played a role in the decision to grant Al Arabiya the first television interview. "This is a deliberate gesture [by Obama] to say to the Saudis that ‘I really am serious, and I’m not fooling around,’" he said.

Indeed, Israel’s three-week Gaza campaign, in which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, may have spurred Obama, who declined to comment about the assault while Bush was still president, to move more quickly than he had originally planned to reassure Arab opinion that he considered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority, even at a time when the country is dealing with a major financial crisis and two wars.

"I think Gaza has had a far more profound impact than I anticipated, and I would say there’s more disbelief in the region in the possibility of peace [with Israel] by far than a month ago," said Telhami. "Both his actions so far and the interview would have generated much more optimism, had the bloodshed in Gaza not taken place."

Lynch, too, had warned before the Al Arabiya interview that the Gaza campaign and Bush administration support for it had "poisoned the well" for Obama in a number of ways that he would have to overcome to gain credibility in the Arab world. "If—and only if—Obama demonstrates serious changes in U.S. policy in the region, he will find many takers," he warned.

While the tone appears to have changed quite substantially, Obama has yet to make clear that policy changes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will follow.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to PRA’s Right Web (http://rightweb.irc-online.org). His blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/.

Citations

Analysis by Jim Lobe, "Obama's Quick Start Raises Hopes" Right Web with permission from Inter Press Service (Somerville, MA: PRA, 2009). Web location:
http://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/4978.html Production Information:
Author(s): Right Web
Editor(s): Right Web
Production: Political Research Associates   IRC logo 1310 Broadway, #201, Somerville, MA   02144 | pra@publiceye.org

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

The Foreign Policy Initiative, founded in 2009 by a host of neoconservative figures, was a leading advocate for a militaristic and Israel-centric U.S. foreign policies.


Billionaire investor Paul Singer is the founder and CEO of the Elliott Management Corporation and an important funder of neoconservative causes.


Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and close ties to prominent neoconservatives.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and a close confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Blackwater Worldwide founder Erik Prince is notorious for his efforts to expand the use of private military contractors in conflict zones.


U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a retired U.S Marine Corps general and combat veteran who served as commander of U.S. Central Command during 2010-2013 before being removed by the Obama administration reportedly because of differences over Iran policy.


Mark Dubowitz, an oft-quoted Iran hawk, is the executive director of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The time has come for a new set of partnerships to be contemplated between the United States and Middle East states – including Iran – and between regimes and their peoples, based on a bold and inclusive social contract.


Print Friendly

Erik Prince is back. He’s not only pitching colonial capitalism in DC. He’s huckstering ex-SF-led armies of sepoys to wrest Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and perhaps, if he is ever able to influence likeminded hawks in the Trump administration, even Iran back from the infidels.


Print Friendly

Encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, neoconservatives appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan.


Print Friendly

When asked about “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing in world affairs,” 22 percent of those surveyed as part of a recent Pew Research Center global poll expressed confidence in Donald Trump and 74 percent expressed no confidence.


Print Friendly

A much-awaited new State Department volume covering the period 1951 to 1954 does not reveal much new about the actual overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq but it does provide a vast amount of information on US involvement in Iran.


Print Friendly

As debate continues around the Trump administration’s arms sales and defense spending, am new book suggests several ways to improve security and reduce corruption, for instance by increasing transparency on defense strategies, including “how expenditures on systems and programs align with the threats to national security.”


Print Friendly

Lobelog We walked in a single file. Not because it was tactically sound. It wasn’t — at least according to standard infantry doctrine. Patrolling southern Afghanistan in column formation limited maneuverability, made it difficult to mass fire, and exposed us to enfilading machine-gun bursts. Still, in 2011, in the Pashmul District of Kandahar Province, single…


RightWeb
share