By George S. Hishmeh – Washington
These are the worst of times for Barack Obama as he is about to mark his first year in the White House. The inspirational African-American leader had deservedly attracted world attention, sympathy and support as he introduced himself at various forums in the US and in key international locations such as Istanbul, Cairo and Berlin. A new era seemed to be beginning, much to the satisfaction and joy of many Americans who were eager to forget the dark days of George W. Bush’s time at the helm of the American leadership.
The recession that saw a rise in unemployment and bankruptcies in the US was overwhelming. Although the Obama administration has been able to face these difficulties, it has not been able to ease the malaise that is rocking the country. Even though they have achieved some successes in pushing a new health-care programme, the two versions approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate have yet to be reconciled and this will prove a very difficult hurdle.
In foreign affairs, the year-old Obama administration has not had much success. It has yet to bring the US troops home from Iraq, where they have served longer than their forefathers did during the Second World War. Attempt at settling various international problems, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict that contributes to the state of insecurity and terror in many countries, including the United States, have been unsuccessful.
"President Obama’s freshman-year foreign policy was the worst in living memory," editorialised The Washington Times, a right-wing pro-Republican newspaper. "At the dawn of 2010, the United States finds itself noticeably weaker in international affairs than it was when Mr Obama took office, and there are no signs of improvement in the year ahead."
The paper acknowledged that Bush "was not loved, but he was feared, which Machiavelli advises is a more durable position," while saying Obama "has sought only to be loved … " His performance at the beginning of 2009 was strongly approved by 43 per cent of Americans, but at the end of the year this had dropped to only 26 per cent.
"In foreign policy," wrote Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, "Obama has sorely disappointed his fans on the left for escalating the war in Afghanistan and on the right for not escalating it enough. Guantanamo, which he vowed to close, is still open."
Republican criticisms have begun to stick, according to Cohen, a liberal columnist, because "Obama can be made into anything his critics want." He elaborated, saying that Obama is "a lean man of ideological clay who has let others mould his image. His bottom line is forever on the move. It’s not that he’s not good or smart, it’s rather that in a political universe ruled by political yellers, he lacks both an ideology and the pipes." The president’s "misfortune is to be a leader without a cause."
What the American body politic fails to realise is that if Obama, or any American president, were, for example, to champion a fair settlement between Israel and the Palestinians (and Syria and Lebanon), the work of terrorist recruiters would become much more difficult. Incidents such as the one in which a Nigerian passenger bound for Detroit tried to blow up his plane on Christmas Day would then become much more rare. Regrettably, this incident has unfortunately led the Obama administration to revive racial profiling, whereby anyone travelling from or through nations regarded as state sponsors of terrorism as well as "other countries of interest" would be subjected to enhanced screening. The majority of these states are Arab and Muslim.
There is, for example, no explanation in the media or Congress of why the US allows Israel to get away with murder. Take the case of its invasion of the Gaza Strip a year ago when more than 1,400 Palestinians, many of them women and children, were killed. The densely populated region, an area totalling 360 square kilometres with a population of about 1.3 million, remains under siege. Unbelievably, this is achieved with the assistance of Egypt, which controls Gaza’s southern border, denying inhabitants much needed food and medical supplies which were previously smuggled through tunnels. Egypt is now planning to seal the border with an underground wall.
In the meantime, American officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to make platitudinous remarks before the press, as she did when she met the visiting Qatari prime minister in Washington: "We both have a shared mutual interest in moving toward a comprehensive peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We both share the goal of an independent and viable Palestinian state, and we are committed to doing what we can to help re-launch peace negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution. We believe that [Palestinian National Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas is a partner for peace and can help deliver that to the Palestinian people."
What is needed here is more action by the Obama administration and fewer words.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.