Can Obama erode built up hostility in the Middle East?
The last time I stayed up all night was in Baghdad when U.S. warplanes bombed the city in an overnight raid that announced the start of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Last night I was up all night by choice. I wasn’t covering the U.S. presidential elections but I joined the millions of people across the world who were anxious to know who will be taking charge of America — and whether they really would presage change. For anyone from and involved in the Middle East this is no small question.
The Americans have cast their vote for change all right; they have voted clearly for a new America, for a change of direction. People across the Middle East have been eager to see change in America, not just a change of personality but a real change of policy and vision.
Many countries, particularly emerging countries, have many misgivings about the United States. They have been longing for a new U.S. administration that reaches out to them through dialogue and engagement, understanding and the pursuit of common interests rather than the exercise of supremacy and hegemony.
The policies of outgoing President George W. Bush had a depressing and often violent impact on the Middle East, especially in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, where antagonism toward Washington is widespread and deeply felt.
People across the region are particularly hopeful that the new administration will deliver on peace and democracy rather than courting dictators and authoritarian regimes that suppress any opposing voice or opinion.
Will Obama deliver? The list of issues that awaits him is long and old — from pulling out troops from Iraq, to engaging Iran on its nuclear ambitions and security concerns, to finding a peaceful settlement to the 60-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict.
And all that without mentioning what will surely be his first priority — the global financial crisis.
He might not have any magic wand but a new approach, a new policy and a new language is not a bad start. Tone is a very important part of foreign policy.
Could a new U.S. approach erode a built up hostility?