Four years ago, I wrote an inauguration day open letter to then president-elect Barack Obama, congratulating him, the American people and all believers in liberty and freedom on his remarkable achievement.
At that time, President Obama’s “Yes, we can” campaign had managed to send a refreshing breeze of “hope we could believe in,” not just in the United States… but across the globe as well. His election as the nation’s first-ever African-American president – less than five decades after the Civil Rights Movement - restored faith in ‘Brand America’ once more.
Indeed, America was once again a nation to look up to, thanks to its new impeccably cultivated and highly sophisticated man-in-charge.
There was no question about it, President Obama knew what to say, when to say it and how. He gave his first ever interview as President of the United States to Al Arabiya News Channel and his legendary Cairo Speech sent immediate comforting signals that the Arab World is finally dealing with a U.S. President who “gets it.”
In my open letter at the time, I urged President Obama for a more balanced approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; based exclusively on the fact that Israel (a country which was established based on a U.N. resolution) leads the way in disobeying U.N. resolutions.
The truth must be said, President Obama gave it his all.
During his first term, he almost committed what in American terms might be considered as political suicide by challenging the incredibly powerful Israeli lobby and supporting the moderate Palestinian leadership. Aside from former President Bill Clinton, very few presidents chose to engage so closely with this issue.
Yet, President Obama faced an incredibly stubborn Israeli government; which insisted to continue occupying Palestinian lands and building new settlements in them, demolishing all efforts to orchestrate a final peace treaty as the Palestinian side refused to negotiate while Tel Aviv continued to expand its settlement activity.
Needless to say, in the world of politics; it doesn’t matter how hard you try or how noble your intentions are, as the bottom line will always be what you have actually achieved.
The question remains whether or not President Obama will give “mission impossible” another attempt and try to broker a deal that sticks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Arab Spring
In my Jan. 20, 2009 letter to President Obama, I spoke of how jealous I am of the American people on the day of his inauguration. I felt regretful that while they (Americans) are moving forward, us – Arabs- are moving in the other direction; mostly due to our own shortcomings.
Things have changed dramatically over the past years. If I were to write another open letter to President Obama this time around, I would speak of how proud I am to be an Arab.
During what has now become known as the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, people of my region has proven to ourselves and to the whole world that we too would rather “live free or die.”
Moving stories of courage, selflessness and standing-up for what is right moved us all as crowds of young Arabs took to the street demanding the fall of long-standing dictators. They succeeded in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
Looking back two years later, the world continues to hold its breath as it monitors what will become of the Egyptian revolution for example. Following the collapse of the Mubarak Regime, Egypt witnessed a democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood candidate by the name of Mohammad Mursi becoming the president.
However, all President Mursi has been doing throughout last year is consolidating his power, which leaves us wondering whether all what happened was that a secular authoritarianism was simply replaced with a religious one.
America’s obligation in Syria
In my 2009 letter to President Obama, I appealed to the sophisticated public-speaker, to the Nobel Peace Prize winner and to the man whose middle name is “Hussein” but still managed to become President of the United States of America. I pleaded that he uses his profile to eradicate any traces left of what the previous administration tried to portray as a “clash of civilizations,” and Mr. Obama did a fantastic job in restoring understanding and dialogue between America and the Muslim World.
However, the developments over the past four years made it inevitable that the Middle East today requires less great public speaking and more strategic “Commander-in-Chief”-ing.
The Middle East requires the same Commander-in-Chief which managed to rid the world of Al-Qaeda’s leadership.
It is well known that whilst uprising in the above mentioned countries were successful, the revolution in Syria turned into an ugly bloodbath as the Assad Regime sought to crush the aspirations (and bones) of all those who dreamt of a democratic nation.
The death toll stands at 60,000 lives with hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced between neighboring countries.
Yet, President Obama’s second inauguration speech doesn’t send comforting messages as to how he intends to move on the U.S. foreign policy front.
Some analysts say that due to bitter experiences not just with Israel but with Iran and North Korea among others; President Obama will be adopting a second term strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors: Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power,” an anonymous senior Obama national security advisor told the International Herald Tribune a few days ago.
However, what worked for President Eisenhower at his time, doesn’t work for President Obama or America at this time; certainly not after America’s last interference in the region which – intentionally or unintentionally – only empowered Iran due to the mess it left behind in Iraq.
More importantly, in my personal opinion, the United States of America has a moral obligation to stand up for the freedom-aspiring people of Syria. Turning its back to them would be the equivalent of the French turning their back to America when the later fought for its independence from Britain.
Furthermore, it is often said that the Iranian nuclear program is about to give birth, and if this happens President Obama’s declaration that “a decade of war is now ending” will soon be questionable. Recent events in Mali also show that the previous administration’s mismanagement of the war on terror has produced many new franchise terrorist organizations; which is again something President Obama must also deal with.
Undoubtedly, the Middle East and North Africa deserve a bit more…Obama-Care!
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.