Leading article: President Obama's ambitious realism

Related Topics

It is easy to list the potential pitfalls that might lie in wait for Barack Obama's Middle East strategy. The US President arrives in Saudi Arabia today for the first leg of his tour with the problems of the region looking as intractable as ever.

A right-wing government in Israel is thumbing its nose at the White House over the expansion of settlements. Voters in Lebanon on Sunday could deliver power to Hizbollah, whose militia fought a war with Israel only three years ago. And later this month elections in Iran could return the hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for another term. These look like unpromising conditions for a lasting settlement.

Yet there is a case for optimism. And that lies primarily in the fact that the US President is approaching these overlapping challenges in an eminently sensible manner. First, he is setting a conciliatory tone. He has stressed that he will not make the mistake of his predecessor in seeming to want to impose America's will on the Islamic world regardless of its own wishes.

Second, he is acting in a practical manner, refusing to hint at US support for any particular faction in the forthcoming Lebanese and Iranian elections. He knows that to do so would limit his room for manoeuvre down the line.

Finally, he is emphasising the need for patience. He knows any progress towards his objective of an all-encompassing regional deal on a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians will take time. It makes no sense to raise the alarm over every early setback. The US President has been criticised by left-wingers in his own country for failing to make a sufficiently clear break with the Bush administration on issues such as torture. But these domestic critics fail to give Mr Obama credit for what his foreign diplomacy has already achieved. As King Abdullah of Jordan remarked last month, President Obama enjoys rare credibility at the moment in the Middle East.

The conditions for progress in the region are better than they might at first appear. And the President's approach contains the right mix of ambition and realism. What he needs to signal this week is his determination to stick to the long and inevitably painful course ahead.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby  

Whether it’s in the City, the Army or at school, this ritual sadism has to stop

Chris Blackhurst
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back