USA Foreign Politics, Obama and the Middle East: Change?

Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States marks the end of the Bush era, and represents a major evolution in terms of sociological impact in the American society. His campaign was based on the key word of “Change” and his victory brings up a lot of expectations for numerous American citizens, especially the Afro American community, and also outside of America, around the world. Fifty years after the right to vote obtained by the Afro American community in the United States, Barack Obama has been elected President of this country. In the Middle East, the Presidential election was followed carefully by everyone, and Barack Hussein Obama’s victory was welcomed in each country, even Hezbollah and Hamas, the two worst American enemies in the region, congratulated the candidate for his victory. The change promised with the arrival of Obama to power will certainly be meaningful on different sectors of the American society, but will it be the case in United States foreign politics towards the Middle East? The new American administration nominated by Obama is unfortunately in contradiction with his watchword “Change”, as we can observe with the nomination of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the maintaining of Robert Gates as Defense Secretary of State, two personalities who voted for the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton is well known for her constant support to the State of Israel since her husband mandate, declaring in May 2005 at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, the strongest Israeli lobby in the United States, that America’s future is intertwined with the future of Israel and the Middle East[1]. During a visit to Israel in 2005, the new Secretary of Foreign Affairs defended Ariel Sharon project of « Wall of separation » in saying that it was not made against the Palestinians, but the terrorists, and she added that the Palestinians should change their attitude, in doing more to prevent terrorism[2]. She also manifested her support to Israel during the war on Lebanon in 2006. Robert Gates on the other side is the architect of the reinforcement strategy in Iraq. The strategic position of General Secretary of the White House has been given to Emmanuel Rahm, this latter has worked as a political advisor for Bill Clinton between 1993 to 1998 and is famous for his pro Israeli stance. Emmanuel Rahm has before the Golf war of 1991 volunteered as an engineer for the Israeli army and repaired combat vehicles near the Lebanese borders. During the first Golf war with Iraq in 1991, he came back to Israel to volunteer again for Tsahal. He is the son of a veteran of the Irgoun militia founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky, based on extreme right wing ideology and his leader is known to be an admirer of Hitler intelligence. The Israelis press welcomed his nomination in the American administration, for example the Maariv newspaper wrote «our man at the White House” in relation to Emmanuel Rahm. Susan Rice, the new ambassador to the United Nation, also a member of the Clinton administration, backed the war in Iraq and declared that the massive use of force is the only way to confront Saddam Hussein possession of nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has marked the comeback of the Clinton team to power, and notably in the Foreign Affairs department, which will definitely stop Bush administration practice to invade or start a new war to implement their policy and unilateral policy on world affairs; this is of course a matter of change in America’s foreign politics which we should all welcome. The team of Obama as we have seen is definitely not a move toward change in relation to the Middle East or Israel, but what about the new President? Barack Obama was in the beginning of his political career in 2000 an ardent critic of American Foreign policy in the region, calling for a more balance approach of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and used to regularly come to Arab-American or Palestinians community demonstrations in Chicago[3]. However, Obama started gradually to get closer to the AIPAC around 2002, when his ambition was to leave the modest political milieu of Illinois for the national scene. In 2003, for example he sponsored an amendment of the Illinois Pension Law allowing this State to lend money to the Israeli government[4]. His link with the AIPAC and the Israeli lobby will therefore not cease to increase. On the Palestinian file, he has shown constant support to Israel policy and strong opposition to Hamas. He opposed actually the 2006 Palestinians elections because Hamas was included in them. Obama supports a prolonged isolation of Hamas as long as they do not accept the conditions imposed by Israel and the Quartet. He declared that Jerusalem will remain the Capital of Israel and should be kept indivisible, while negating the Palestinian refugees Right of Return. In the opinion of Obama, any agreement between the two parties should guarantee Israel identity as a Jewish State. He supported Israeli bombings during the war on Lebanon in 2006, as well as those on Gaza numerous times, as being Israel legitimate right for self defense. He backed Israel attack on an unproven « nuclear site » in Syria in September 2007. Obama considers the continuation of supposed Iran wills for nuclear arms as unacceptable, encourages harsh sanctions and disinvestment, and does not leave out the possibility to use military force against Iran. He agreed on Bush administration approach to gather a coalition of the « moderates » including Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on one side, against the threat imposed by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Finally the future President has declared recently his determination to maintain American military supremacy in the world, in pursuing the project of Bush administration to increase the military staff of 100 000 men in the next ten years.
In conclusion, Obama’s election to the Presidency of the United States in relation to the Middle East should not be taken as representing a change in American Foreign Policy, quite on the opposite as a continuation. To illustrate this view, we will show you a part from his speech at the AIPAC Conference in June: « I was proud to be part of a bipartisan consensus supporting Israel against any threats … the support to Israel in this county is above any political parties ». American Foreign policy in the Middle East will continue to be guided by this priority: the protection of Israel’s interest and as point out by Rashid Khalidi, University teacher in Columbia of Arab studies and eminent historian, who has met the new President several times declares: “A lot of people think Obama is an angel, it’s not the case, he is a politician first of all”.

[1] January 23, 2007, Hillary Clinton andthe Israel Lobby,by Joshua Frank
[2] January 23, 2007, Hillary Clinton andthe Israel Lobby,by Joshua Frank
[3] Ali Abunimah , One Country : A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
[4] Ali Abunimah , One Country : A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

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