Opinion | Columnists

The best way forward for Obama

Obama needs to proceed quickly, establishing command of the American system and avoiding any compromise as happened during his first term

  • By George S. Hishmeh | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 November 9, 2012
  • Gulf News

Well, Barack Obama is back at the White House for four more years — a step that had delighted many, in a shockingly divided US, and elsewhere despite the fact that the American president and his right-wing Republican opponent virtually split the popular vote: 50.4 per cent of the votes went to the first African-American president and 48 per cent to Mitt Romney.

However, it will not be a smooth ride for the second-term president, something many had thought would be unachievable especially after his disastrous first debate with Romney where he seemed out of sync. There are also built-in problems for any second-term president in the US, who is often described as a lame-duck leader. In fact, an analyst at the New York Times wrote: “Few, if any, expect him [Obama] to seriously change Washington anymore. Most voters just seemed to want him to make it function.”

The chances of any progress for a second-term American president are limited. His former chief-of-staff and now mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, explains that his “first 14 months are productive, the last 14 months are productive and you sag in the middle”. What will continue to tighten Obama’s handcuffs is the fact that the House of Representatives, which serves for two years, is still controlled by the Republican Party, which remains uninterested in accommodating Obama, as was the case in the past. The Democrats, in turn, had increased their lead in the 100-member Senate to 53. In other words, the two legislatures remain divided as was the case in the last two years.

This being the case, the best way forward for the president henceforth is to proceed quickly, establishing command of the American system, revealing his agenda and avoiding any compromises as happened to him during his first term. For example, Obama had raised high hopes in the first months of his first term when he proceeded to Cairo and Istanbul in the hope of assuring the Arab world of his good intentions vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and US ties with the Muslim world. But Obama dropped his grandiose plans shortly after his return home reportedly because the pro-Israel lobby and their supporters within the US Congress had refused to go along.
Consequently, Obama’s popularity in the Arab and Muslim world dropped precipitously, especially after he adopted Israel as an “ally” and supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his conflict with Iran over its nuclear policy. Much to the disappointment of many nations, particularly in the Middle East, the American president had conveniently overlooked the continued failure of Israel, which reportedly has a huge nuclear arsenal, to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty — a landmark international agreement whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Speaking last month at the Middle East Institute in Washington, Professor Walid Khalidi, a noted Palestinian historian, scoffed at what he described as the ”centrality of the discourse on the Middle East,” in the US, namely “the concept of ‘no daylight between Tel Aviv and Washington.’” Rather, he argued, the US role on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be “an umpire, honest broker, outside observer or as [former secretary of state Madeline Albright had coyly put it] a handmaiden.”

The professor wondered sarcastically: “Whether it is permissible (in the US) to raise an eyebrow, criticise or pressure Israel”, adding that “it is obvious from the ongoing discourse that the concept of ‘no daylight’ has acquired, in the United States, the status of a moral imperative which totally precludes any such steps”.

He underlined that a policy of “no daylight” has very practical consequences for the US. “It not only enhances Israel’s sense of licence on the ground, but also of leverage, entitlement and purchase in Washington. More to the point, it inevitably reinforces the notion of American complicity with Israel in Arab and Muslim minds.”

Professor Khalidi then reminded his audience of George Washington’s memorable “Farewell Address” which reads, in part: “A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favourite nation, infusing into the one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

It will be a great idea if someone would place this quotation on a placard and mail it to President Obama, who may appreciate since he could recite it, time and again, to his Israeli visitors.

George S.Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com

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