Not a single American President was able to resist the idea of recording in history that he achieved peace in the Holy Land despite all warnings usually made by veteran experts that the mission is impossible and that pursuing the idea may lead the president to lose other political accounts. The reasons are known. Some of them are linked to the American Protestantism culture, some are linked to what is known in American circles as Israel’s security and some are linked to American interests in the Middle East, particularly interests related to petroleum.
Barack Obama was no exception from this general rule. He landed at the White House during his first presidential term thinking that he was one of the most competent presidents to achieve this historical mission. Thus came the announcement of assigning a special envoy for the peace process. His speeches in Riyadh, Istanbul and Cairo aimed to mellow the atmosphere between America and the Islamic world. After that, there were tours in Washington and Sharm al-Sheikh. The entire issue ended, as it is known, at Israeli settlements, Palestinian division and the renewal of clashes between the Palestinians and Israelis. There was nothing new in the story. The result was known since the beginning. Perhaps Obama was the fastest of presidents in attempting to lessen his losses by postponing the subject until after the presidential elections were held. The American president skillfully succeeded in avoiding the entire subject which was on the margin of the entire electoral campaign.
Meeting with historians
Obama is currently serving his second presidential term. This is the phase where history’s insistence begins. What will historians say about him? How will his name be mentioned in history books? For those who do not know, he who resides at the White House has developed a norm, I do not know if it is newly-developed or it existed before, stating that the president meets periodically with prominent historians who tell him about previous presidents’ experiences and how the latter dealt with difficult situations. What happened in these meetings regarding the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli struggle? We do not know. But it appears that the man is well aware that he is confronting two historic processes in that region of the world.
The first one is that deep changes are occurring in the political, social and cultural structure under the pretext of the “Arab Spring.” This spring, however, is subject to all possibilities including those that it may be one without flowers and with poisonous thorns and bitter fruits. The second one is that the Arab-Israeli struggle will form again like it has done before during major historic developments since the era of colonization and ending it, the period of the Cold War, globalization’s invasion of the world and until terrorism and the war against it which has kept the first decade of the 21st century busy. How will the struggle be with these new substantial changes? All possibilities are open. Therefore, uncertainty increases, suspicion prevails and all strategic estimations become mere guesses.
What the president will do to address this struggle is that he will begin by visiting Israel which he has not visited during his first term. The visit will come as a token of love to an Israeli premier whom friendliness has been lost with. The visit will also include four hours of meeting with Abu Mazen. Exploration may be the possible reason of this meeting but improving his position is required amid the Palestinian competition. The journey may end afterwards and experts will turn out to be right that the struggle will maintain its status quo. Perhaps parties are waiting for the result of the game of musical chairs happening in the region. Anyway, no one wants to interrupt the music which tones are loud and bloody too. But possibilities remain open. This is not why presidents were elected. Difficult missions are the basis and essence of the profession of presidency. What is possible here is that more than one friend may be called for help. Usually, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are among the first of those asked for help, but the American president realizes that there is a friend or an old enemy that cannot be left on the margin. This party is present in Moscow.
Obama’s dream of making history was almost aborted during his first term by the global economic crisis. Currently, the situation is not as bad as before but it is not rosy either. What he will do or attempt to do is work on an expanded front that he clarified during his State of the Union address. The first front is with Russia carried out through sealing a new wide-ranging agreement to decrease strategic weapons of both parties from 1700 nuclear warheads to 1000 which are more than enough to destroy the planet several times. But with keeping “deterrence,” the agreement makes Russia feel again that it is still a “superpower” at least in the field of annihilating mankind if it feels that it is incapable of competing in the fields of human life. He who knows the history of the last one third of the 20th century will know that talks to decrease strategic weapons beginning with the nuclear arms treaty SALT I until the nuclear arms treaty START were the introduction towards consensus between Russia and America and later between Russia and the West in general. In all cases, if Obama does not make Moscow a partner in managing the world, he will prevent its presence as an obstacle like the situation is in Syria where the end of crisis in it will determine many things in the Middle East and the world in general.
Since consensus with Russia often worries Europe, Obama has something to decrease this worry. Despite the continuity of interest in Asia, Europe is the historical and civilized partner of America. Somehow, the Atlantic banks are the wings of what is historically known as the West. Therefore, sealing a free commerce deal between the U.S. and the E.U. frames the relation between them on a new level and creates the biggest commercial and economic bloc history has ever known. The idea by the way is not new. There have been several attempts to do so in the past. But Obama wants this idea to be implemented during his era to be recorded in history. But the idea makes the Atlantic Ocean a western lake with a strategic privilege through the NATO, a commercial privilege through the free commerce zone and a civilized privilege through many indissoluble nexuses – some of which came from history and some of which came from the present’s challenges coming from China and the vicissitudes of Islamic countries. This is how Obama completes his package of policies to make history and achieve the interests of his country. But history has always taught us that it is possible to make the best plans but the path of the people, however, is always unexpected and rather closer to fantasy.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 20, 2013
Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.