Well, the US election is over and Senator Barack Obama has prevailed. Many people all over the world have let out a deep sigh of relief that the man who sang the words ‘bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ when asked about how to deal with the putative “nuclear standoff” with Iran is not going to the White House. What more, Sarah Palin will not be in Washington either, which while an equally huge relief, will not please Alaska’s long suffering Moose population.
Anyway, since this is a Middle East blog, I will set aside my other thoughts on Barak Obama and focus the point of this brief post on exploring the question of what Obama’s election might mean for the Middle East. The commentary regarding US foreign policy toward the Middle East will take shape over the next few days but here a few pieces to get things started. Colin Hallinan, “Terminating the National Security State: A New Foreign Policy” in CounterPunch provides a useful list of suggestions of how to shift US foreign policy in the Middle East towards a more constructive relationship. Hallinan speaks to Obama in the hope that an Obama administration will be open to change. Hallinan’s optimism in Obama might come mainly from the fact that Obama is not Bush or McCain but there is very little Obama has said on the Middle East that would suggest a shift in US attitude. This is why Steven Zunes in “Barack in the Middle East” is more circumspect that Hallinan, expecting that the contours of US policy toward the Middle East will not change, but does expect that Obama will move beyond the crude militarism of the Bush “regime”.
Zunes considers Obama just as Hawkish in regards to Israel-Palestine and that the unqualified, uncritical, unreserved support of Israel’s Middle East policy will probably remain a part of Obama’s platform on the Middle East. Obama explained during a speech he gave on race relations earlier this year that it was wrong for Rev. Jeremiah Wright to have a view that “sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”. Criticism of Israel, or US support for Israel, remains a taboo subject in US politics.
This election campaign has clearly shown once more that in the US questioning Israel and US support for Israel is perceived by candidates as political suicide, and no-one ever willingly commits political suicide . A Washington Post editorial from June 7, 2008 makes the point that in terms of the Middle East Barack Obama is clearly, in policy terms, far from radical. Obama’s policies on the Middle East as put forward by the Washington Post, especially on key issues such as Israel-Palestine and Iran could have been written by Benjamin Netanyanu. Overall, it seems that there is a belief that Obama is a man of change and that his hard-line position on Israel and Iran issues was just political strategy and not long held conviction. Certainly, the Zionist lobby in the US have expressed this fear as demonstrated in their solid support and campaigning for John McCain, fears that are expressed in pieces such as “Barack Obama and Israel” by Ed Lansky of American Thinker.
Over the next few days we will be able to gauge the sentiment from the Middle East, especially from Israel and Iran which will give us a clearer picture of how the press and people of the Middle East see the election of Obama as US president. The concern now is that the Bush administration realising time is up and that the Democrats will take over soon decide to launch a strike against Iran, an option John Bolton predicted might be on the Bush agenda if Obama defeats McCain. If sanity prevails and Bush just bides his time, maybe, just maybe, Obama can demonstrate what constructive dialogue and negotiation can achieve. Its been a long time since we have be able to use the phrase constructive dialogue (and sanity) in the same sentence as US foreign policy to the Middle East, but maybe this is the beginning of a shift in this direction. Even if there is no transformation in US foreign policy during a Obama presidency, we can still believe in and speculate on change, at least for a little while.