Adrian Hamilton: Don't knock Obama before he's tried in the Middle East

There is an element of double think in the reactions to his Cairo speech

Share
Related Topics

It's not often that a foreign policy speech is so universally hyped, or as soundly dissed, as President Obama's address in Cairo today. The address is being greeted as the most important international affairs pronouncement of Obama's presidency. It is also being roundly dismissed in the Middle East as fated to be a disappointment even before the poor man has stood up to speak.

Well, let's keep a sense of proportion here. Obama has only been in office less than six months and the Middle East, as a long line of his predecessors will tell you, is the graveyard of American hopes of bringing any resolution to the world's most intractable conflict.

There is also a strong element of double-think in the reactions to the Cairo initiative. On the one hand people seem desperate for a new US President to take a fresh and more even-handed role in the region. On the other hand, they appear all too eager to its failures to deal with such issues as political oppression and corruption and to say that anything it does only makes things worse.

You can't have it both ways. You can't bash President Bush for interfering in the Middle East and throwing America's weight about in the wrong way and then demand of his successor that he imposes democracy and bashes around the region's rulers in a different way.

If it is an America you want – and this is what people do seem to wish for – that doesn't assume that it is always in the right, that doesn't impose its standards on everyone else and that treads carefully and even neutrally down the path towards peace, then you are going to have to accept a US President who is not going to fly to Riyadh and Cairo to tell his hosts that they are corrupt tyrants who must amend their ways or be replaced.

The most important thing that we should be asking of Obama is a more even-handed approach to the central issue of Palestine and a more open-handed approach to relations with the Islamic world in general and Iran in particular. And this what he is doing. Despite the pressure from the pro-Zionist lobby groups in Washington, the recent visit of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the new (and young) President has held firm to his public stance that the only way forward is a two-state solution, that Israel should cease all settlement expansion and that the US is ready for direct talks with Iran and Syria.

He wants the US to initiate a momentum towards peace, he has taken (surprisingly so) as his template the Saudi offer of general Muslim recognition of Israel in return for its withdrawal to the 1967 borders, but he wishes the Arabs to show in return some tangible signs of response to Israeli security concerns. What he hasn't done – and very deliberately so – is to say that he believes America can sort this one out on its own or that one speech will produce instant results.

Now it is easy enough to puncture the hopes that Obama's new approach may have aroused, to point to the election of a hard right government in Israel, the divisions within the Palestinian movement, the difficulty of negotiating with Iran, the poor (appalling indeed) state of the Islamic world where human rights, economic progress and religious extremism are concerned and desapir of any hope for peae in the region. The Arabs aren't ready for it and the Israelis don't see it in their interests to pursue it.

All this is true. But then Obama's aim seems to be not so much to force the pace with the individual players as to change the general climate into one where the players see it in their interest to start moving and fear that they stand to lose if they stand aside

His problem is not that he's too ambitious but the opposite. To really change the dynamic of the Middle East the UIS needs to promote a unity government of Fatah and Hamas for Palestine and a real breakthrough with Iran.

And yet Obama insists that Hamas recognise Israel and foregoes violence without any concessions in return. At the same time he continues to talk about the need for Iran to "set aside its ambitions for a nuclear weapon", although Iran denies it has any such ambition and it would surely be better to take them at their words as the intitial position in entering discusssions. You can make a new start in the Middle East but not with old prejudices.

One knows Obama's difficulties back home, and the pressure he's under. We should recognise that what he is up to is neither easy nor immediately rewarding. But if he's really to make things happen he's going to have to change the rules of the Middle East game. And that means taking a much bigger chance than he seems ready to do today.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own