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

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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
8,000 white-clawed crayfish are forecast to perish in the River Allen as a result of the plague  

Errors and Omissions: Plagued by an inappropriate use of a metaphor

Guy Keleny
The main entrance to Tilbury Docks in Essex  

Grant asylum to migrants who arrive close to death – but don’t be surprised if it inspires more tragedies

Mary Dejevsky
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape