Smooth Sailing for Obama Ahead?

By George S. Hishmeh
 
The extended honeymoon that Barack Obama had enjoyed on assuming office at the White House last January is now over. The American president is expected to unveil several important decisions next month on various domestic and international issues that will put  a label on his presidency that may determine the length of his stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, four or eight years.

The extended honeymoon that Barack Obama had enjoyed on assuming office at the White House last January is now over. The American president is expected to unveil several important decisions next month on various domestic and international issues that will put a label on his presidency that may determine the length of his stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, four or eight years.

There is no doubt that he will have to tread softly, but decisively, in these coming weeks, be they on such crucial issues as dealing with health-care insurance or foreign policy, particularly the Middle  East. The fact, as reported by the Zogby Interactive poll, that President  Obama’s “job approval rating has sunk to a record low of just 45 percent” may diminish his wielding power, especially in Congress despite the fact that his  Democratic Party controls both houses. More striking, 51 percent of likely voters now say they disapprove of his job performance.

No doubt the severe economic downturn and the growing American unpopularity in foreign lands, two issues that he unfortunately inherited from the Bush administration, may tie his hands in implementing his seemingly exciting policies.

Nevertheless, Obama, whose father was a Muslim from Kenya, does not seem to be intimidated by this turnabout. This was evident in his message to the Muslim world on the occasion of Ramadan, the month of fasting during which Muslims believe that the Holy Koran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed. Obama declared:
 
“Beyond America’s borders, we are … committed to keeping our responsibility to build a world that is more peaceful and secure. That is why we are responsibly ending the war in Iraq. That is why we are isolating violent extremists while empowering the people in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we are unyielding in our support for a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. And that is why America will always stand for the universal rights of all people to speak their mind, practice their religion, contribute fully to society and have confidence in the rule of law.
 
“All these efforts are a part of America’s commitment to engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interest and mutual  respect. And at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.”
 
Obama’s empathetic message, however, ought to be followed by a much-needed international attempt to combat the rising tide of sectarianism or fundamentalism, as John L. Esposito, professor of religion at Georgetown University, noted in a recent article that the “eight years of George W. Bush policies (have) alienated Muslims globally.” Moreover, policymakers in many countries have failed to recognize the overwhelming challenge of religious extremism in both Muslim and Christian countries as well as Israel, and the urgent need for educating people about the three religions.
 
During a visit to Israel last week, U.S. presidential contender Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher but sounding like an  ignoramus, said there should be no Palestinian state in the West Bank and went  on to endorse Israeli settlements there. Speaking to a far-right Israeli group of religious nationalists, he unbelievably praised Israel for giving Muslims access to Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third holiest site which is located in Israeli-occupied Arab East Jerusalem. 
 
A recent three-day conference in Washington of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), led by the founder of the group Pastor John Hagee, mobilized supporters, who are believed to number millions of Americans “to push  back against what they see as unfair and uneven demands being imposed (by Obama) on Israel.”
 
The American president’s plate is full for the month of September. Besides passage of his all-important health-care reform plan, he is expected to outline at the U.N. General Assembly his ideas for an Arab-Israeli settlement and at the same time launch the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.  Simultaneously, the month serves as the deadline for a clear Iranian response to the Obama administration’s offer of engagement over  its nuclear ambitions  – a development that could again mar U.S. relations with Israel which is believed to be eager to send its air force there to wipe  out the nuclear facilities there just as it several decades ago did when Iraq was building its nuclear reactor.

How tough can Obama be in these coming weeks is anybody’s guess. Should he succeed it will be smooth sailing thereafter for this first African-American president.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: hishmehg@aol.com.

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