LAKHANPAL: A Discontinued Dialogue
Cutter, Kuh-Tawr, Qatar
Published: Monday, February 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 11:02
If the population of the Arab world were offered ballots for the 2012 U.S. presidential election, I'm pretty sure they would choose not to vote.
In such a situation, the losers would be the Arab nations themselves.
The problem with U.S. policy in regards to Middle Eastern affairs is its stagnancy. It hasn't changed, it isn't changing and it won't change for a while. In recent electoral history, only one man seemed to provide a flicker of hope for progress: Barack Obama.
This posed another problem, however: Not long after his inauguration, the United States and the rest of the world, including Arab nations like Qatar, chose to focus on the "man" who is Barack Obama, not the president. The man was going to deliver on vast promises, emancipate the world from worry and maybe even go so far as to reach out and write my philosophy paper. Okay, maybe not that far, but people had high hopes for what he could accomplish.
Now, however, the view is different. We see him as the president who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. Some might make the argument that President Obama has done his best to boost the economy, attempt healthcare reform and unite political parties.
Unfortunately, trying doesn't mean much, especially in the Arab world. Results are what matter. The man is still solid, but the president is a disappointment. Here, Arab citizens expected the same change that Americans anticipated. And it has not been delivered to either of us.
I understand the Arab frustration. In 2009, Obama was in Cairo when he said the following: "The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own."
Obama said he would oppose the expansion of Israeli settlements at the beginning of his presidency, but the United States voted against a United Nations Security Council resolution in February 2011 that would have condemned any such Israeli action. The transformation from inspiring man to disappointing president took place over the two-year period following his inauguration.
Even though the president has other priorities, he never capitalized on any of his promises to the Arab and Islamic world in his first term. Before his Cairo speech, Obama was said to be outlining an extensive and detailed plan that would revolutionize policy in the Middle East. After the speech, politicians from the region, including both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, had extraordinarily optimistic reactions. Many called it a new beginning for America's relations with the Arab world.
Nothing really changed, though, even in the months following his speech. Relations improved, but only briefly. The maintenance of a positive relationship with the Arab world became a governmental priority. Despite relatively postive governmental interactions, friction still existed between Americans and Arabs. It was because they didn't like the U.S. government, and when analyzing the situation from their perspective, it would seem rightfully so.
Election 2012 is coming up, and as an American voting in his first election, I will be extremely excited to cast my ballot. Issues will be debated, the political brush will be aflame and we'll try to give change, hope and promise another go. It's just a shame that no matter which candidate comes out on top, stagnancy is still going to keep Middle East policy from changing.
Now, the Arab Spring is in full swing. This is the time for sweeping transformations to occur in the region. So why can't it happen in ours? Maybe in Obama's second term, he'll decide that he wants to do what he promised for our Arab friends. Maybe Romney or Gingrich will realize that we need to establish better relations with the peoples of the Middle East.
Optimism in the region, however, is low.
I asked an Arab friend what Obama's greatest achievement has been so far. He paused and sighed, "At least he isn't George W. Bush."
Nikhil Lakhanpal is a freshman at the School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus. CUTTER, KUH-TAWR, QATAR appears every other Tuesday.