A different tack

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave while boarding Air Force One before leaving O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

In delivering a speech to celebrate his re-election victory U.S. President Barack Obama said he has never been more hopeful about his country’s future.

When Obama achieved his historic election to the White House in 2008 his watchword was hope and change. In fact, he has promised many things, but accomplished little of substance.

Nonetheless, Obama was lucky to receive a second chance Tuesday from the American people, and it’s now time for him to prove that he means business – or else appear as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” as the infamous Julian Assange put it.

His first task is a domestic one, namely forging political compromises in Washington so the U.S. can overcome momentous economic challenges. But he will quickly find himself focusing on foreign policy due to the interconnected nature of the global economy, and the repercussions for global security that come from several tense parts of the world.

In the Middle East, Obama’s re-election brought a sense of relief – not because he is a universally respected or liked figure, but because many considered him the lesser of two evils. This is one challenge, namely dispelling the notion that he is merely a slightly better option than Mitt Romney.

Obama should review his earlier promises that concern the Arab world, and the high-profile visits he made to countries such as Turkey and Egypt during his first term in office. He promised much when it came to the thorny issues of the Middle East, but ended up citing lofty goals much more than actually working to achieve change.

On the Palestine issue, there is hope that things can only improve due to the poor chemistry between Obama and Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu, and the fact that the U.S. president is now relieved of the pressure of a re-election campaign.

Iran is another major policy issue for the U.S. and its partners, as well as the international community. Obama is a believer in the sanctions approach, and multilateralism, but a viable Plan B must be in place in case these policies fail to achieve results.

The eruption of popular uprisings in Arab states is naturally the most significant development during Obama’s first term and the region is still waiting for Washington to produce a coherent, positive approach to this policy area.

The crisis in Syria is the most critical hot-spot in the region and up to now, Obama has largely limited his actions to repeating the mantra that President Bashar Assad’s days in power are numbered.

In fact, Obama’s days in office are also numbered: as in four times 365 days. An incumbent president does not have the excuse of assembling a transition team to delay formulating a policy – the region is awaiting a signal as to which policy the White House intends to pursue when it comes to Syria’s regime.

To gain the world’s respect, the U.S. under Obama must lead by example on a range of issues, and abandon the destructiveness that has characterized many of its policies in recent decades, whether this involves the environment, global peace or rights.

Translating rhetoric into tangible policies and results should begin immediately, or else the Middle East and the rest of the world will be in for another four years of hopeful rhetoric being far from the painful reality.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 08, 2012, on page 7.




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