Much more than “good will” is needed to resolve the regional problems
According to the author, the success of Obama’s foreign policy depends on the resolution of difficult relations with Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq. For this, it will be necessary to put long-term interests over short term ones, which, in turn, will allow for a more efficient fight against terrorism.
(From Monterrey) THE ELECTION OF BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA as President of the United States of America on November 4, after two Republican governments characterized by war and, eventually, the crisis that destroyed the financial system of the premier world power, has aroused too much hope.
In foreign policy, the Bush period will be remembered for the pointless war in Iraq, which has in fact turned into the most costly war in history. Thus, Obama stands to inherit a complex, multi-faceted situation (militarily, economically, socially, etcetera) on both the domestic and foreign levels.
A NEW POLITICAL MODEL
Obama could become not just another President of the United States, but also an initiator of a new period for the country. “The new American president could reconfigure the American system in order to implement a model that transcends partisan differences” Teddy Roosevelt introduced an era of liberalism that only the crisis of ’29 could bring to an end, and as such allow the other Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, to create the Welfare State model. Both Republicans and Democrats followed this model up until the crisis during the 70s, which provided a push in the direction of a new leadership. Reagan’s electoral victory was not only a victory for Republicans, but also for a change of the political model. The triumphant neoliberalism of the 80s prevailed even during Clinton’s Democratic administration, and in Bush has had its greatest proponent, but also its last representative. Neoliberalism has caused the errors of the Republican administration’s leadership, run up a public debt that simply cannot be paid off and irresponsibly managed the finances of the private banking system. The billion dollar rescue of the American banking system is a clear and necessary public “Obama’s inexperience in international affairs could turn into a great obstacle for the recently elected president when it comes to resolving the most complex issues” intervention in the private sphere.
The new American president could reconfigure the American system in order to implement a model that transcends partisan differences and ushers in a new period, as the Roosevelts and Reagan managed to do. In the international arena, the White House’s future tenant will have to restore the image of the United States, reconsider Washington’s interests and above all act on a multilateral level to reinforce international bodies, which have taken a bad beating from the unilateralism of the outgoing administration.
However, Obama’s inexperience in international affairs could turn into a great obstacle for the recently elected president when it comes to resolving the most complex issues on the international agenda, and in particular the issues in the Middle East: relations with Iran as well as the Palestinian-Israeli problem and the war in Iraq.
MUCH MORE THAN GOOD WILL
When John F. Kennedy was elected, his youth and his discourse of political change aroused a lot of expectations within the United States, but much more so outside of the country’s borders. “The Mexican president of change ended up with one of the lowest popularity levels in the country’s history” His inexperience in international affairs led the new American leader, having just moved into the White House, to approve the invasion of Cuba organized during Eisenhower’s presidency, which resulted in the failure at the Bay of Pigs. Two years later, Kennedy backed General Diem’s coup d’état in Vietnam, opening the doors to American interventionism, which would last for ten years, and result in more than a million Vietnamese deaths and 55,000 fallen American soldiers. In spite of his image, Kennedy was not able to make his model transcend his own administration.
Forty years later, in Mexico, Vicente Fox managed to expel the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) from the presidency and move into Los Pinos (Mexico’s official presidential residence) without any experience in foreign policy. The leitmotif that he employed in order to reach the presidency revolved around two slogans: him being the candidate of change and yes we can. “Foreign policy requires much more than good will: it requires wisdom, and tact when dealing with the hot topics, in order to avoid slip-ups” In other words, his discourse was identical to Obama’s. His six years in office would result in an erratic foreign policy marked by isolation from the Southern Cone countries and a conflict with Cuba that froze Mexican diplomatic relations with the island. The chancellor Luis Ernesto Derbez failed in his attempts to be appointed Secretary General of the Organization of American States, losing to José Miguel Insulza of Chile, who managed to bring together the support of the continent’s most important countries. Felipe Calderón, upon assuming the presidency of the country, declared that his first task would be to reconstruct Mexican foreign policy. The president of change ended up with one of the lowest popularity levels in the country’s history.
These examples demonstrate that foreign policy requires much more than good will: it requires wisdom, and tact when dealing with the hot topics, in order to avoid slip-ups.
A GLOBAL FOREIGN POLICY
The Middle East is perhaps Obama’s most urgent foreign policy issue. “Ever Annapolis the two parties’ positions have been very far apart regarding the principal issues, such as Jerusalem, the refugee question and the definitive borders between the two States” As for Iraq, it is very clear that Washington must find a way out. However, a quick withdrawal of American troops, which seems to be the new president’s approach, would create a power vacuum which would detonate a regional conflict of greater magnitude, due to Iran’s interest in supporting the Shiite majority and the Saudi position of not allowing a government that could exclude the Sunnis from power. Only with a regional agreement, including the interests of Riyadh and Tehran, will a withdrawal of troops that doesn’t spark a multinational uprising be achieved.
The Palestinian-Israeli question is also a very delicate situation. The conference held on Sunday, last November 9, between the Near East quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia) and Palestinians and Israelis in the Egyptian seaside town of Sharm el-Sheik – which was held in order to get the stagnant peace process going again – ended up being, once more, a meeting in order to be able to keep holding meetings. “Obama’s declaration that Jerusalem cannot be divided again – made in the presence of the AIPAC – was not a very appropriate position to take, and it shows the lack of tact of the White House’s next tenant” The representatives of Israel and Palestine limited themselves to reaffirming their commitment to continue holding dialog, while it was taken for granted that there will be no agreement before the end of the current year.
Ever since the reunion in Annapolis (Maryland) a year ago, the two parties’ positions have been very far apart regarding the principal issues, such as Jerusalem, the refugee question and the definitive borders between the two States. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni limited themselves to stating: Several agreements have been achieved, including the necessity to maintain ongoing, direct and bilateral negotiations.
While President Mahmoud Abbas’ term ends next January, President Bush will retire on January 20 and the anticipated elections will be held in Israel in February, the Israeli government is expanding settlements and colonizing new lands, creating an even more explosive situation for both the outgoing Palestinian president and the White House’s new tenant.
Besides, in spite of his message of bridge-building with Islam, Barack Obama is not going to begin his term with an image of a mediator. His declaration that Jerusalem cannot be divided again – made in the presence of the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as the Israeli lobby in Washington) on the very day that he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination – was not a very appropriate position to take, and it shows the lack of tact of the White House’s next tenant. No American president, not even those most in favor of Israel, has openly proposed the annexation of East Jerusalem. With this declaration, Obama has ruled out the possibility of him being an unbiased mediator, and it could possibly cause the Israelis to take up a harsher position in its negotiations with the Palestinian National Authority, as well as a greater rejection of American mediation by the Arab countries.
The success of Obama’s foreign policy depends on the resolution of the complex situation in the Middle East. In order to achieve this, short-term interests must be sacrificed for the sake of a long-term vision that, at the same time, would allow for a more efficient fight against terrorism.