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Al-Ahram, Egypt

Challenges Facing Obama
in His Second Term

By Dr. Elsayyid Amin Shalaby

Translated By Ahmad Abdel-Rahamn

21 January 2013

Edited by Kath­leen Weinberger


Egypt - Al-Ahram - Original Article (Arabic)

On Dec. 10, 2009, months after the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, the Nobel Peace Committee awarded him its annual prize. In his speech at the award ceremony, Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the committee, explained that the motives and considerations of award the prize were for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

The committee gave special importance to Obama's vision and work for a world free of nuclear weapons. Being aware of what might arise if it became apparent that Obama had not yet achieved specific accomplishments, Jagland said that the prize was not only used to honor specific achievements, but also to give momentum to a set of issues. Consequently, the award calls for action, especially in a world where great tension is prevalent, several wars and conflicts still unresolved, and confrontations are escalating on several fronts around the world. There is also the imminent danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, the degradation of the environment, carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Time magazine recently said that we are moving toward an end that is the worst since the end of World War II. The chairman of the committee quoted Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Prize laureate, saying that Obama reduced the temperature of the world.

In fact, granting Obama the Nobel Peace Prize has made experts and analysts recall Alfred Novel’s commandment regarding the person who deserves the prize: it is a prize specifically for the person who has done the best work for achieving fraternity among nations and eliminating or reducing armies, as well as holding and promoting peace conferences. Has Obama achieved eligibility according to Alfred Nobel's criteria?

We remember that broad discussions were held about this question among those who accepted the committee’s explanation for granting the prize. One of them was Kofi Annan, who considered that in a world of increasing challenges and fluctuations, Obama has given a sense of hope and optimism to millions around the world and showed that the only way forward is through genuine cooperation with others. For his part, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari considered that it was clear that the Nobel Committee wanted to encourage Obama regarding the questions discussed on the world stage. Critics ranged from mild to harsh; the former considered that the timing of awarding the prize was inappropriate, while the latter argued that Obama did not provide any additional achievements to justify the award.

In its issue dated Oct. 9, 2009, the British magazine The Economist considered Obama to still be a war president. He clearly stated his militant policy by rushing into Afghanistan, as well as through his decision to keep occupying Iraq, an act that depends on huge troops deployed in many U.S. military bases throughout the country. This war-oriented policy was also obvious even after the departure of some U.S. forces, as part of the agreement that was held during the Bush administration, and also through his support of deadly strikes against terrorism in Somalia, resulting in countless deaths every day. In addition, Obama failed to achieve a settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those who criticize granting Obama the award also denounce the questionable argument that Obama is an inspiration for a world free of nuclear weapons, saying that while Obama is trying to stop Iran's nuclear program, he allows Israel to possess these nuclear weapons. They also indicated that Obama aborted the international conference, called for by the United Nations, to make the Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

In discussing these observations as Obama assumes his second term, two possibilities emerge: The first is that Obama will restore the vision with which he began his first term — an independent Palestinian state and a halt to the building of settlements. In particular, Obama would make a pledge to no longer be constrained by electoral considerations and lobbying groups. The second possibility is that Obama will keep remembering the frustration that occurred during his first attempt: the challenge of Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama's surrender to this challenge. Moreover, Netanyahu will not return to the premiership of the government. With the rising of the national religious current represented by the "Bait Yehudi" party and its leader, the rising political star Naphtali Bennett, the first item in the agenda of U.S.-Israeli relations will be Iran and its nuclear program, as well as the complexities of the Palestinian situation and its divisions.

Experts of international relations and American affairs expect that American foreign policy during Obama’s second term will not witness a change if compared to his first term. They added that the Obama administration will be keen to avoid getting involved in regional disputes, and it will also be burdened with domestic issues such as the economy, restricting the use of weapons, immigration and energy. Does this mean that the next four years will witness an achievement for Obama besides adding his name to the list of former U.S. presidents? Among those presidents, many have earned lasting achievements: Theodore Roosevelt for his role in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905; Woodrow Wilson for his role in founding the League of Nations in 1919; and Al Gore for his efforts in putting the issue of climate change on the agenda of international politics in 2007. Or will Obama, instead, be keen to see how history will judge him and prove that the hopes placed in him by the Nobel Prize have been achieved? Should this be the case, he will try to achieve something on the issues that threaten international stability, such as Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear program, Korea's nuclear program and further reduction of strategic arms with Russia, which still, together with the United States, possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.



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