Obama’s Audacity of Hope

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai
I don’t know about others but I am really beginning to miss George W Bush. Seriously! The more you see of President Barack Obama, the more you miss the shenanigans of his inimitable predecessor. In fact, I feel eternally indebted to the with-us-or-against-us crusader because without suffering him, we wouldn’t have known the true value of his successor and the phenomenal change he embodies. And I am not talking about his color or his impossible middle name.

After eight years of Oedipal wars, incompetence, deceit, terror tactics and casual contempt for everything that the world holds in esteem, it’s so refreshing to finally see someone who knows what he’s talking about and believes in what he’s doing.

That historic day, on Jan. 20, I made it a point to watch Obama’s inauguration with my kids and joined them in cheering for the man who is not just the first black president of America but perhaps the first people’s president of the global community. I am sure my kids will remember the day long enough to share it with their children.

What an amazing change has it been! Words fail to capture and translate the groundbreaking nature of this revolution. Perhaps it’s possible only in America or a country like India!

What is more heartening than the rise of the son of a Kenyan Muslim to the highest office in the world is the fact that Obama has already begun proving that the Americans were not wrong in picking him up over an all-white, all-American war hero.

Look at the alacrity and determination with which Obama has moved to clear the mess his predecessor left behind. Within minutes and hours of moving into the White House, he started taking steps to undo the damage done to the US’ standing around the world. He wasted little time celebrating his historic success. As promised, he indeed hit the ground running.

And again as promised, the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and end of America’s absurd war on the rule of law and just about everything else are among the first orders the new president has signed.

It’s amazing how one individual could change the world, especially if it happens to be an American president. One man could make that critical difference between war and peace, between justice and injustice and between sweet reason and sheer madness.

I do not think anyone, not even the new supercool US president, could ever really undo what Bush and his cronies inflicted on the world, especially on the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims are not likely to forget as long as they live what they had to suffer at the hands of the born-again lunatics.

But Obama could win back their confidence and bridge this frightening gulf between the West and the Muslim world if he sets about undoing the historical injustices repeatedly visited on the Middle East.

With the deepening financial crisis, Obama will have his hands full at home over the next four years. However, he cannot afford to ignore the Middle East either. Because it remains the world’s biggest crisis, even bigger than the global meltdown. Everything starts and ends here.

Even the seeds of the current economic catastrophe were sowed in the region. It’s Bush’s wars in the Middle East financed by the trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that set the Wall Street ablaze and blew up the world economy. Besides, the Palestine conflict has had a direct link to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama seems to know this. He already has a plan and his troubleshooter George Mitchell, widely respected as the architect of the Northern Ireland peace accord, is already in the region. The appointment of Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as his special envoys for the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan was again one of the first major policy decisions Obama made in the Oval Office.

But the Middle East has had more than its fair share of peacemakers and envoys. No wonder they’re seldom taken seriously. Besides, merely designating someone a peacemaker doesn’t make him one. Look at Tony Blair. What has the Quartet’s special envoy done to promote peace, except live in style with the handsome paycheck he gets every month?

I hope to God Obama’s envoys will be different. In his first interview with a Middle East media outlet, Obama told Al Arabiya TV this week that time was ripe for the Palestinian-Israel breakthrough.

But we’ve been here before. Obama is not the first US president to hold out the hope of a Middle East peace. In fact, every US president comes to White House with great promise and ambitions of ending this conflict. But they all fall by the wayside – or rather end up on Israel’s side, quickly giving in to the pulls and pressures of the all-powerful Israeli lobby.

A very dear Palestinian American friend of mine, who remains skeptical of Obama’s ability to change the US or Middle East, poured cold water over my soaring hopes this week saying: "I agree Obama won’t be as bad as Bush. But I think this is more about a massive institution called the (Israeli) Lobby that controls every facet of life in this country of any relations to Palestine/Israel. Any serious change would have to overhaul the institution that runs, influences and shapes US policies. We’ve seen no signs that this is happening. I hope I am wrong!"

I hope so too. Because no US leader had been as uniquely placed as Obama today is to defy his country’s history and change the Middle East, and the world, for the better. His unusual background and the extraordinary global goodwill he enjoys make Obama an ideal peacemaker.

I think Obama knows this too. He has been sending all the right signals and saying all the right things to demonstrate the Middle East peace tops his agenda.

Asking his envoy to spend time in the region and listen to what it has to say, Obama told Al Alarabiya: "All too often the US starts by dictating and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He (Mitchell) is going to be speaking to all the parties involved."

Earlier announcing Mitchell’s appointment, he had said: "The cause of peace in the Middle East is important to the US and our national interests. It’s important to me personally!"

These are promising words – uttered by someone who understands what promising words mean to a people long dispossessed and wronged.

Which is why I dare to hope that Obama could indeed break this endless cycle of violence in the Holy Land that has claimed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and turned the entire Muslim world into a huge ball of fire and brimstone.

If anyone could untangle this impossible knot, I believe it’s him. Like my Palestinian friend, I am conscious of the long arm of the Israeli lobby. I know how it has plotted for decades to defeat all sincere attempts to end this conflict.

But I also know that someone who has had the "audacity of hope" to take on the US establishment and break an ancient taboo to become the first black man in the White House, could do anything – even bring peace to Middle East. If anyone could give the Palestinians their due, it’s our man in Washington. Let’s dare to hope!

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com.

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