Has Barak Obama concluded that the state of world is no more relevant to the State of the Union? This question came to my mind as I listened on Tuesday to President Obama concluding his State of the Union remarks without making one reference to the Middle East agenda he spelled out in his Cairo speech in 2009.
Obama came to office with a robust foreign policy agenda centered on reengaging Europe and the Middle East, and rectifying the mistakes of the previous Bush administration. On the top of his agenda was the improvement of the strained relations with Muslim-majority countries. As a pragmatist, and evidently a real-politics student, he ignored the democracy promotion agenda of his predecessor, and refocused US international policy on resuscitating the Middle East peace process.
Obamas who came to office on the winds of hopeful and forward looking vision soon suffered a series of disappointments that illustrated to him the enormity of the task he set himself to achieve. The rebuff of his approach to stimulate world economy through more spending, the serious setbacks in Afghanistan and the lack of clear and manageable policy objectives, and the inability of his administration to move forward on the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Despite the decidedly optimistic tone of his State of the Union message, Obama offered no new directions to justify this optimism. His proposal of reduced deficit by 400 billion dollars does not go far enough to address the staggering national debt that doubled in the last 10 years (from 7 to 14 trillions) and is now comparable to the total annual economic output of the United States.
Obama almost complete silence on US foreign policy disappointed many people, particularly those in Europe the Muslim world who expected him to be a bridge builder and peace makers. The high expectations of him were so exalted that he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the basis of his rhetoric and stated vision. Obama himself was surprised, even a bit embraced, at receiving a prestige award that is usually reserved to individuals with some substantial accomplishments in advancing peace.
Also absent of the State of the Union speech was an acknowledgement of the gap between the promise and the fulfillment. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied with remapping of his ideas and goals with fresh proposals, would have brought some understanding, and perhaps sympathy, by those who supported him and expected much of his presidency. It’s a general perception now by both his supporters and opponents that Obama's actions fell far short of his rhetoric, as his pragmatic side proved to be more resilient than his visionary one. While many people in the United States had no illusion that he could not do all the earthshaking ideas he promised in his campaign, his well-wishers were quite surprised to see how easily has he caved in to right wingers and given up crucial elements of domestic and international agenda.
As to his Middle East initiatives and his promise to advance the Middle East peace, it is safe to say that his presidency has been so far very disappointing. He lost a great deal of credibility with the people of the Middle East, given the extent to which he heightened the expectations, in a series of statements he made right after his election that culminated in the Cairo speech in June 2009, only to dash their hopes. It is therefore important for the Obama administration to stand firmly behind the popular movements currently struggle for democratic reform in the Middle East. Nurturing genuine democracy in the Arab world is the best guarantee against global terrorism, often fueled by the iron fist policies of Middle East dictators, and the best way to save the United States additional trillions of dollars pursuing an elusive enemy.
The Obama administration should take a firm stand with the forces of democracy in the Middle East and against the corrupt of dictators. By so doing, the United States does not only remain true to its values, but it will also invest in the refreshingly young future of the Middle East rather than its withering dictators.
Dr. Louay Safi writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam and the West, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. He is a strong advocate of human rights. His commentaries are available at http://louaysafi.com.