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Alkhaleej, UAE

Obama Will Change When
the Arab Silence Changes

By Atef Algamari

When it comes to the issues of the region, he [the president] usually finds himself in perpetual diplomatic negotiations with Israel, which puts pressure on the United States and in turn creates the so-called 'Arab silence.'

Translated By Joseph McBirnie

21 November 2012

Edited by Hana Livingston

UAE - Alkhaleej - Original Article (Arabic)

During an interview I conducted in Washington in the ‘90s with the assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, I asked him what I said was a theoretical question: “Do you recognize the outright bias for ‘Israel’ and how tremendously it works against your interests in our Arab countries?”

He answered that from the moment any American president takes office, he is presented with a map showing the influential actors in American interests. When it comes to the issues of the region, he usually finds himself in perpetual diplomatic negotiations with Israel, which puts pressure on the United States and in turn creates the so-called “Arab silence.”

So long as this silence persists and does not provoke any significant reaction by the United States and its interests, why would Obama change U.S. policy?

I remembered this incident, and we received a lot of analyses and questions as to whether Obama would change his policies and what would become of the situation with Arabs, Israel and the Palestinian cause.

The U.S. president does not decide foreign policy alone. It is true that many presidents take different approaches at the beginning of their term. George H.W. Bush wanted to take a step toward a final solution to the Palestinian problem and limit an all-out bias for “Israel” by attending the Madrid Conference in 1991. Clinton’s first term included hindering Zionist forces and bolstering his own personal relations. Obama came to Cairo in 2009 and delivered a speech full of good intentions, including wanting to solve the Palestinian issue. Before that, in 1975 Gerald Ford famously called for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy in the Middle East in response to the efforts of “Israel.” He later repudiated his commitments in what became the Sinai Interim Agreement, in which America once again became a partner in the negotiations and forced “Israel” to back down and accept what America wanted at that time.

But, as I pointed out, the American president is doomed to follow the map determined by the American political system, which controls his moves and manipulates the outcome of foreign policy decisions.

A senior officer in Washington previously told me, “We are under pressure.” This is evident in the way they permit the influential and instrumental so-called “forces of pressure” that frame the president in his calculations. According to the assessments of many foreign policy experts with whom I spoke during my years as director of the Washington offices of al-Ahram, the president’s political environment decides foreign policy and works like a balance. If the parties are different, the balance must incline toward one side, with the stronger party most likely to restrict the president. The restraints imposed by Israel are paramount while the Arab side is devoid of any weight or pressure.

Those who work in the American political world well know that there are seven recognized forces that influence foreign policy decisions: the president, Congress, interest groups, political research centers, the media and public opinion.

At the heart of foreign policy decision-making, the balance of power fundamentally controls the process. If a party has a strategy for foreign policy, a clear and specific goal and the ability to mobilize its potential and demonstrate the benefits for the United States, that party is taken into account in foreign policy negotiations and flexibly changes directions when necessary.

In regard to Obama’s current situation, one should question whether he will change his policy toward the Arab region in his second term. It is not a matter of what Obama wants so much as it is the way the American political system works.

Here we return to the speech at Cairo University in June 2009. Unlike the warm discourse about Islam and tolerance, Obama’s compassion for the Muslim world, his faith in the righteousness of the Palestinian cause and his sympathy with the suffering of the Palestinian people who for more than 60 years have struggled to achieve a homeland, Obama addressed the principles of foreign policy.

These principles are the main thrust of his argument. Over a paragraph of the Cairo University speech emphasizes the need to work together. He states that we all share this world and that Arab states must participate in negotiations to resolve the Arab-“Israeli” problem. This is the essence of his foreign policy doctrine, which he explained thereafter on several occasions and which I and many political research centers have talked about in detail: the principle of “partnership” and our intentions to be a second party stakeholder, a moving actor, and not a dormant party waiting for others to solve the problem. This same principle is inseparable from the way foreign policy is decided in America. An Arab side must actively place pressure on the U.S. because that is the nature of the political system of the United States.



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