Obama’s Expressive Silence

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kaveh Shojaei

The new Christian year began with the familiar but tragic voice of another war in the Middle East which was, of course, coupled by the silence of the US President-elect Barack Obama.

Do not frown please! We all need to know that the US president-elect is familiar with the diplomatic etiquette and is a staunch supporter of diplomacy. Obama’s spokesman patiently reminds pushy reporters every day that “there is one president at a time” – and that president is now George Bush who will be the guest of the White House till January 20th.

Nonetheless, we must admit that Obama’s silence is meaningful!

According to Gerard Baker, an analyst with the Times of London, the world is impatiently waiting for Obama to fulfill his promise: beginning of change in America. One of the important issues that separated the United States from the rest of the world was Bush’s Israel policy. At those times, the Europeans and the Arabs could not really believe their eyes. As of 2001, the Washington began to adopt an extremely bullying policy in support of Israel and voiced full support for all the decisions made in Tel Aviv – from expansion of settlements and building of a Separation Wall to the war against Lebanese Hizbollah in 2006 and its siege and invasion of Gaza now.

The victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential elections gave the glad tiding in Europe and different parts of the Middle East that the next US government would balance its Middle East policies. No one, except for some wishful thinkers and analysts really hopes that Obama would adopt a tough stance vis-à-vis Israel. Many also believe that a change of approach by the American administration towards the Middle East is possible. In their point of view, it would be impossible for the new Democratic administration to adopt the same policy that the Republican Bush and Dick Cheney had adopted. However, Obama’s refusal to take a stance on the Israeli attack on Gaza has confused analysts and the media regarding the Middle East policies of the new American government.

What is this `balanced’ approach of Obama in the Middle East analysts have been talking about in recent months? In their opinion, Obama would adopt this policy not merely to meet the people’s demand but out of his own world view. But what does this balance really mean?

We don’t know! Critics of Israel in the US and Europe maintain that Obama must disapprove of Israel for its settlement policy or military interventions. Of course, there are also dreamers who say if criticism fails, Obama must impose sanctions against Tel Aviv?!

In Obama’s position-takings so far, we cannot find anything called criticism against Israel. In this domain, Obama is not much different from Bush so far. In one of his most important election speeches at the American Zionist lobby (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), Obama adopted a strongly pro-Israeli stance. If you are not convinced and believe that he had been forced to utter those words in his election campaign, please take a few minutes to surf the net and search about Obama’s summer visit to the Middle East.

In remarks very similar to justifications of Israel about its attacks on Gaza today, Obama spoke of his strong solidarity with the people of Israel who he said were under rocket attacks by Hamas. Moreover, Obama’s record at the US Senate shows nothing but strong support for the Israeli regime. Then, why some think – or used to think – that Obama would criticize the Israelis and promote peace in the Middle East by supporting the Palestinians?

Undoubtedly, there are still some people who believe that Obama is in fact a Muslim and that he would demonstrate his real beliefs after he takes over as the president. Putting aside these wishful analyses, there are still reasons showing why some still pin hope in Obama. Some of Obama’s foreign policy advisors – particularly on the question of Israel and Palestine – are very anti-Israeli (of course within the American scale). One of them, for instance, is Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor under Jimmy Carter. Over the past two decades, Brzezinski has been one of the firm critics of the policies of the Israeli regime. Another is Robert Mulley, member of Bill Clinton’s national security team and a staunch opponent of the Israeli actions in the course of the 1990s peace talks.

Although these critics of the Israeli policy are now offering consultations to Obama but there is little evidence to prove that they would be able to leave a significant impact on the policies of his administration. The president-elect has picked up the key persons in his foreign policy and national security teams from among people who think extremely American about the Middle East. Although Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state made a mistake by hugging the wife of Yasser Arafat once at the beginning of her presence at the White House, but ever since she stepped into the Senate, she has been a staunch supporter of Israel to the extent that during her election campaign last year she made some war-mongering remarks by saying if Iran attacks Israel the United States would eliminate Tehran!

General James Jones, who has been picked as national security advisor, has spent the past couple of years in the Middle East assisting the outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It is also unlikely for Jones to make a sudden shift and become pro-Palestinian after joining the Obama team.

In any event, the US administration does not intend to introduce significant changes to Washington’s policies vis-à-vis the Middle East peace. The most important challenges ahead of Obama are to save the US economy from the current recession and win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama is also faced with the question of Iran and is unlikely to have much time to bring peace to the Middle East.

Of course, it would be reasonable to think that Obama’s Mideast policies would not be identical to those of George Bush. If things could be fixed by words one can say with confidence that Obama would be able to cope with the situation. But if there are still some who think Obama would restore the United States to the era before Bush they are mistaken. Obama has recruited a number of experienced diplomats from the Clinton era – an era which reminds the Americans of a big failure: The White House did all it could to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians but it failed. Taking into account the terrible economic situation now, Obama would not take the course Clinton took.


طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم