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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