Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Quick note on Obama victory and Mideast

Been watching Al-Jazeera coverage along with all the US networks as well (should have been watching Al-Arabiya too come to think of it, but only so many channels my brain can absorb! - Angry Arab claimed this week that Al-Arabiya had been backing McCain to the hilt until just recently when they flipped to Obama). Jazeera (Arabic version I'm referencing here) pretty much mimicking US-style coverage with touch screen maps, in-studio pundits, correspondents out in key states, at the campaign headquarters, etc.

Sense I've gotten all along is that (1) people in the Mideast recognize that Obama won't necessarily automatically be "pro-Arab" given all his pandering to Israeli lobby and the belief in the Mideast that Israel basically controls US policy in the region, but (2) despite it a sense of cautious hope/optimism that Obama having family who are Muslim and from the third world, and being a more sensible person generally who is clearly an ideological break from Bush and the Republicans, will somehow be better for them. Let's remember that decisions made in Washington all too frequently have more impact on people's lives in the Mideast than decisions taken by their own (unelected and often unwanted) leaders in their own capitals. US elections in many ways are choices of leaders that impact their lives as well, and people are hopeful Obama will be better and more sensible.

My suggestion for Obama's first, low-cost, high-impact move to win over hearts and minds in the Mideast: shut down Gitmo as soon as he takes office. The amount of goodwill that will generate in the Mideast (presuming it's done right) is hard to overestimate and will give him political capital for the tough foreign policy choices he has to make in the Mideast in the years ahead that is hard to overestimate. Will he do it? I don't know. Now we will see what the substance behind the man will really be.

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At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Bilal said...

We have a saying here in Jordan (and probably all over the MEast) that goes: Cucumbers are the brothers of Pickles.

Basically means, Obama 'in essence' wont be of any difference than McCain (Regarding MEast issues). Just different faces for the same coin. At least in modern history, most if not all American presidents had the same stance towards the middle east. don't expect that to change just because Obama calls for a change.

America is more governed by institutions than by individual leader. So it takes more than Obama to make a better policy in the middle east.

that said, I don't hope he would be a better president, certainly I have no hope in any american leader, (infact the world knows now that american leadership is fading, welcoming multi-polar leadership) but I hope that there will be a change, 'hopefully' soon.

At 7:43 AM, Blogger NonArab-Arab said...

Thanks Bilal. Yes, that certainly seems to sum up most of the feelings I heard last time I was in the region in the spring.

Totally agree on the institutional issue here. The default position is always for an American President to just go with the flow, not rock the domestic boat, and that means in relation to anything even remotely touching Israel to at a minimum just do whatever WINEP and AIPAC tell you. The fact that the do-nothing Dennis Ross (i.e., his strategy has always been deliberate meaningless talk with no results which always ends up giving the Israelis more time to colonize Palestinian land and more deeply entrench the occupation) is a top advisor to Obama on Mideast issues is a sad sign. As is the fact that Obama said nothing to defend Rashid Khalidi in the midst of McCain and Palin's blatantly racist attacks on him past few weeks. As are Obama's earlier policy speeches wherein he basically seemed to be laying out a blueprint for what he thought would be a kinder, gentler American empire instead of the end of empire and its replacement by responsible American global citizenship.

But let's hope that Gitmo is closed, that renditions and secret torture sites are ended, that Obama follows through on his promise to get the US out of Iraq, and that realism sets in and convinces him that bombing Pakistan (as Bush has already begun) is not a recipe for any good. Fingers crossed.

Also appreciate your earlier comments on other posts Bilal, hello to you and all my friends in Jordan!


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