Mr. Obama and Expectations of the Muslim World

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ali Khorram

Mr. Barrack Hussein Obama finally entered the White House in order to meet the expectations of the entire world who have pinned hope on his slogans; slogans which could portray a world different from the world of Mr. George W. Bush and the neo conservatives; the same world in which the people look for peace and tranquility rather than hostility and confrontation; seek economic growth and prosperity rather than financial crisis and economic recession. Mr. Obama can certainly not do miracles and would not be able to quickly resolve, control and repair the damage caused by eight years of destruction and ambitious disorders under George Bush and his team. It seems that Mr. Obama himself is well aware of this and instead of making executive pledges he has been using a calm and effective tone instead of intimidation and bullying.

Under these critical conditions, Mr. Obama’s inaugural speech is regarded to be very decisive and significant. After eight years of imposed ideas, unilateralism and bullying by the United States against other countries, particularly in the Middle East, now the new American president is speaking of “mutual interest” and “mutual respect”. He clearly separates his way from the past and instead of clinched fists he extends hands of friendship. He said in his inauguration address: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

These words remind us of the remarks made by Woodrow Wilson, the president of the United States in 1918 who announced his points at the Paris Conference at the Verssailes Palace by clearing the human world of four fears and founded the League of Nations.

Mr. Obama announced that the time for false promises and decisions had come to an end and this alone is good news to the international community for the United States to realize the limits of its power and authority and intend to fix the destructions made by the neo conservatives throughout the world. He tells the Islamic world: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” So far, Mr. Obama has stated all the necessary and logical tools for reconstruction of relations with the world, particularly the Muslim world. Now we must wait for these thoughts to be implemented.

The way these statements were covered in Iran and the position taken by Iranian officials seem very rational because hasty prejudgments were avoided and the Islamic Republic of Iran announced that it will wait for the executive and practical steps of Mr. Obama’s team. The IRI president took one further step by adopting a realistic stand and saying that Mr. Obama could improve Iran-US relations. It seems there is substantial similarity between the language used by Mr. Obama and that of the IRI, particularly because the new American president has highlighted the Islamic world and clarifies the mechanism of interaction with it.

The Islamic Republic of Iran on the one hand wants to know how the US would cope with the global issues, particularly in the Middle East, such as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon; and on the other hand it is eager to find out Mr. Obama’s new approach towards Tehran. One may hardly find an American president over the past 50 years not to have mentioned support for Israel in his inauguration address. Therefore, it is the first time over several decades for an American president not to mention Israel or voice full support for Tel Aviv in his inaugural ceremony.

Instead, Obama mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan. Former American presidents all owed their election to Israel and the pro-Israel Jewish lobby (AIPAC) but Mr. Obama came to power without the vote of this group. For the same reason, Israel tried to persuade Mr. Obama that he must support the security of Israel and that is why it launched its military attack on Gaza. Israel thought that by eliminating Hamas, it would show Obama a winning card reminding him that he should not think about tilting towards the Palestinians. But incidentally, the heroic resistance of the people of Gaza foiled this scheme and Obama was further convinced that “For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

However, we should not overlook Israel’s persistence and pursuance as well as its diplomacy and lobbying. In return, Obama’s mind should be fed with appropriate lobbying and diplomacy based on a realistic interpretation of the developments and expectations in the Middle East, including Gaza. If negotiations are to take place between Iran and the United States any soon, the opportunity must be used in line with this goal.

Nonetheless, the most immediate issue in front of Obama as a test is certainly the question of Gaza. What would be Obama’s choice out of these two options? That America is committed to support Israel’s security is not an answer to Gaza but rather a psychological support for Tel Aviv. In that case, Obama must have a fair plan for Gaza against Israel’s excessive demands; because, the Islamic world is watching to see the outcome of the first test in front of Obama. Based on what Obama has said in his telephone talks with head of certain Middle Eastern states, he will try to consolidate the truce and extend some assistance for reconstruction of Gaza under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority.

Consolidation of any ceasefire would mean to check more Israeli aggressions, which would be a victory for Hamas as the winner of the war. Helping reconstruction of Gaza too, under any designation could ease the pains of the people of Gaza and help eliminate traces of Israeli aggression. In any event, Obama believes: “We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.”

Although Obama on Thursday issued orders for preparation of withdrawal of 180,000 American troops from Iraq and Robert Gates immediately called it a plan, yet this demonstrates Obama’s resolve to fulfill his promises. Likewise, he ordered closure of the Guantanamo prison as well as other CIA prisons throughout the world; he ordered a ban on torture of prisoners kidnapped from other countries; and generally abrogated an order by George Bush under the Military Commission Act which authorized kidnapping and torture of prisoners from other countries at Guantanamo prison and other secret detention houses. In his very first week Obama took some practical steps which could perhaps be the beginning of other convincing developments. Yet, the Islamic Republic of Iran is thinking about its own issues with America; about the question of national security, about its national interests including its vital interests in the region, about the nuclear issue and the sanctions, and to international challenges it is facing. Obama too, is thinking about America’s national security and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and Palestine, and about the Iranian nuclear issue. Incidentally, from the perspective of Obama’s thinking room, all the demands of Washington lead to one issue, namely Iran. Therefore, in this positive climate that has begun with soft words on behalf of Obama and welcomed by the IRI, an opportunity has come up for dialogue and negotiations which could hopefully result in correction of the US policies in the region. Iran should not lose its special place in persuading Obama.


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