George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
January 25, 2013 - 1:00am

To the disappointment of many, President Barack Obama seemed to downplay foreign affairs in his inaugural address, as compared to the otherwise attractive progressive plank he underlined on domestic issues during his second inaugural address on Monday.

This was a departure from his stance in his first inaugural address four years ago.

After promising that “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe”, his only reference to foreign concerns continued without any significant elaboration. He declared before hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans assembled in cold weather on the National Mall in Washington: “For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalised, and the victims of prejudice.”

In 2009, however, his inaugural address dealt with various foreign policy issues, as when he promised that US troops will leave Iraq “to its people and forge hard-earned peace in Afghanistan”.

The first African-American president declared then: “And … to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.”

He continued: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you on build, not what you destroy.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

What compelled Obama to take a step backward and overlook several serious international debacles, such as the consequences of the Arab Spring or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as Iran’s alleged nuclear arsenal, remains to be seen. In the latter case, the re-election of the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signals a disturbing shift to the right in the Israeli position, which could once again, as it did during Obama’s first term, cripple any American bid to pacify this strategic region.

Despite these ominous developments that may still rock the Obama administration, there is room for hope. Two of Obama’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state and a former senator, Chuck Hagel, slated to head the Pentagon, are scheduled to face confirmation hearings next month. What they will be revealing at these sessions may throw more light on the president’s thinking, which could rattle the Republican ranks since they still hold the majority in the House of Representatives, and many Republicans are staunch supporters of Israel.

Kerry was quoted last week as saying that the Palestinian-Israel issue will be on top of his agenda once he is confirmed in his position at the State Department. This is a position that will rankle the Israeli right, which has become more combative.

One way Obama can avoid a serious split among US legislators, suggested Israeli-American writer Bernard Avishai and Palestinian American business consultant Sam Bahour, who wrote a joint column in The New York Times last Tuesday, is the appointment of “a Middle East negotiator trusted by all sides — say, Bill Clinton or Colin Powell” — that could start the ball rolling.

They said: “Washington has crucial leverage, though this won’t last forever. When it weighs in, it becomes a preoccupying political fact for both sides. If it continues to stand back, hopelessness will win.”

In other words, Obama should not give up on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He needs to undertake this task immediately, or else, the two-state solution is out to consideration.


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