Barack Obama is back at the White House for four more years — a step that delighted many in a shockingly divided United States and elsewhere, despite the fact that the American president and his right-wing Republican opponent virtually split the popular vote — 50.4 per cent of the votes went to the African-American president and 48 per cent to Mitt Romney.
But it will not be a smooth ride for the second-term president, whose success many had thought would be unachievable, especially after his disastrous first debate with Romney where he seemed out of sync. There are built-in problems for a second-term president in the U.S., who is often described as a lame-duck leader. In fact, an analyst wrote for The New York Times: “Few if any expect him to seriously change Washington anymore; most voters just seemed to want him to make it function.”
The chances of any progress for a second-term American president are limited. His former chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, says that the “first 14 months are productive, the last 14 months are productive, and you sag in the middle”.
What will continue to tighten Obama’s handcuffs is the fact that the House of Representatives, which serves for two years, is still controlled by the Republican Party, which remains uninterested in accommodating Obama, as was the case in the past. The Democrats, in turn, increased their lead in the100-member Senate to 53; in other words, the two legislatures remain divided, as they have been for the last two years.
This being the case, the best way forward for the president henceforth is to proceed quickly, establishing command of the American system, revealing his agenda and avoiding any compromises, unlike his first term.
For example, Obama had raised high hopes in the first months of his first term when he proceeded to Cairo and Istanbul in the hope of assuring the Arab world of his good intentions vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and U.S. ties with the Muslim world. But as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”; Obama dropped his grandiose plans shortly after his return home, reportedly because the pro-Israel lobby and its supporters within the U.S. Congress refused to go along.
Consequently, Obama’s popularity in the Arab and Muslim world dropped precipitously, especially after he adopted Israel as an “ally” and gave support to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his conflict with Iran over its nuclear policy, which the Iranians maintain is peaceful.
To the disappointment of many nations, particularly in the Middle East, the American president had conveniently overlooked the continued failure of Israel, which reportedly has a huge nuclear arsenal, to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a landmark international agreement whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Speaking last month at the Middle East Institute in Washington, Professor Walid Khalidi, a noted Palestinian historian, scoffed at what he described as the “centrality of the discourse on the Middle East” in the U.S., namely “the concept of ‘no daylight between Tel Aviv and Washington’.”
The U.S.’ role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should rather be that of “an umpire, honest broker, outside observer, or as (former secretary of state Madeline) Albright coyly put it, a handmaiden”.
Khalidi wondered sarcastically “whether it is permissible (in the U.S.) to raise an eyebrow, criticize or, God forbid, pressure Israel”, adding that “it is obvious from the ongoing discourse that the concept of ‘no daylight’ has acquired, in the United States, the status of a moral imperative which totally precludes any such steps”.
He underlined that a policy of “no daylight” has very practical consequences for the United States.
“It not only enhances Israel’s sense of license on the ground but also of leverage, entitlement and purchase in Washington. More to the point, it inevitably reinforces the notion of American complicity with Israel in Arab and Muslim minds.”
Khalidi then reminded his audience of George Washington’s memorable “Farewell address”, which reads, in part: “A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, infusing into the one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
It would be a great idea to have this quotation placed on a placard, or mail it to Obama, who may appreciate it, since he could recite it, time and again, to his Israeli visitors.
(This article was published in The Jordan Times online on Nov. 8, 2012.)