At this point, the reviews are already in regarding Obama’s speech to the Muslim world and there’s little I can say that wouldn’t sound redundant. Was his tone different from that of his predecessor – also known as ‘he whose name must never be spoken”? An overwhelming yes is the only answer to that question.
However, as most have pointed out already in this region, words come cheap. Words are as abundant as sand and actions are as rare as water – and at this point, this region is in need of the latter (including the metaphor if possible). The words emerging from the corridors of the White House over the past eight years were laced with hostility towards the people of this region. The actions that complemented those words were downright villianous and their aftermath continues to resonate to this day. So an American President going to Cairo a few months in to his term, and calling for a “new beginning” is a radical step in the opposite direction.
All that is left are the actions. We continue to wait to see how Obama will put his money where his mouth is.
At the same time, taking a closer look at his words is something worth considering. Obama has positioned any change in the region as being manifested in a two-state solution. And those of us closest to this conflict, Jordanians included, are slowly beginning to realize that this solution is becoming increasingly difficult to implement. Actually, difficult may be an understatement when we consider the amount of checkpoints, walls, land confiscations, and illegal settlements Israel would be required to dismantle if such a solution were to take shape. Impossible may be a more accurate description of such an undertaking, one that Israel is likely to refuse, especially with its current right-wing government. Which of course takes us to the next point: if a two-state solution were indeed a viable option, and if indeed the current American administration is willing to put the appropriate pressure where it’s needed, who’s going to deliver? The current Palestinian government is, at its best, weakened by constant Israeli and foreign interferences, and at its worst, engulfed in its own infighting. The current Israeli government is lead by right wingers who are more likely to cut off their own ear just to spite their faces, especially if they’re required to implement all the aforementioned conditions of creating a Palestinian state.
It’s getting harder and harder for a two-state solution to come about, and Israel will never accept a one-state solution if it means an inevitable erosion of its Jewishness. Which leaves them with one option: continued occupation.
Is the new Obama administration aware of these realities? Probably. If not, then they are waddling in to a conflict in a region they know little about, and that’s something that’s never worked to America’s benefit.
However, I do give him credit for attempting to tackle this mess of an issue so early on in his presidency. Most American presidents tend to avoid it, or shelf it until it’s time to go legacy-hunting in their second term. It is an issue that only manages to piss everyone off, including congress, which makes the ability to pass any form of legislation on a president’s agenda even more difficult – and the result tends to be making matters even worse as if that were even possible. So I’m forced to give him credit for even addressing an issue that has been shelved for the better part of a decade.
As for the democratic ideals entwined within Obama’s speech: the poetry was fantastic but the delivery is another stretch away from the historic realities of this region. Obama and any other American president for that matter can preach all they want about wanting true democracy in the region, but every time they do it comes out in the form of chastising a population that has no control over those democratic values the US constantly speaks of. There is only one historic reality at the helm of this ship and that is the simple fact that the US has always, and will likely continue to financially, economically, and politically support all Arab regimes that fall in line with its policies. Those same regimes that suppress the freedoms Obama is so keen on promoting are supported if not entirely reliant on US support in order to exist and continue to suppress those very freedoms.
These two issues: the Arab-Israeli conflict and democracy seem to be the focal point of regional issues. Iraq has all but been forgotten, if not abandoned to its own subservient realities. But what ties all these issues together is one common denominator that has the ability to make words feel a little more tangible: economics.
Limiting funding to Israel and even Arab governments that refuse to undergo proper, transparent democratic reforms, is probably the easiest thing a president can do. If Obama truly wants to offer actions over words, and truly wants to make history, that, in my opinion, should be the first foreign policy move to consider.