Are we seeing a new Obama?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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President Obama didn’t describe what happened in Egypt as a coup and he did not give up on overthrowing Assad’s regime in Syria. He did not stay silent over the expansion of Russia in the Middle East and he didn’t say he would abide by the Security Council resolutions. Barack Obama's speech at the U.N. General Assembly presented a different image of the president, who was praising the withdrawals, devoting himself to internal American affairs.

Regarding governance in Egypt, we heard a new stance from the U.S. president. Obama said that deposed President Mohammad Mursi actually won power democratically through the ballot box, but he did not govern according to democratic rules. And thus he has disregarded the legal immunity, which the U.S. government was invoking ever since Mursi was isolated, to reject the current transitional government.

I don’t know if his speech was the manifesto of a new U.S. policy. What we heard was different from what we have been hearing ever since Obama was elected president. He appeared to distinguish himself from his predecessors.

Pinpointing U.S. policies

The speech at the General Assembly is an important annual event for all governments of the world to outline their policies and positions. In his speech, Obama suggested that the United States policy will not abandon its interests against Russia and other countries, in response to many political commentators who said that Obama decided to withdraw from the Middle East and refrain from intervening in the region’s conflicts after the U.S. lessened its dependence on the region’s oil.

I don’t know if his speech was the manifesto of a new U.S. policy. What we heard was different from what we have been hearing ever since Obama was elected president.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

During the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly, we heard Obama for the first time saying that he would not refrain from protecting his country's interests in the region and even if U.S. oil imports from the Middle East decreased, this will not diminish the impact of the region on global oil prices and the U.S. market.

Obama also reiterated his will to fight terrorism. He did not only state his determination to protect the vital interests of his country, but in an unexpected announcement, he reminded us of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and refused to abide by the limits of the Security Council regarding the intervention in international conflicts. He said that what Assad’s regime has done to the Syrian people cannot be tolerated, regardless of the position of the Security Council. This new policy seems to arise from Obama’s frustration due to the Russian position that abused the Security Council to protect one of the biggest war criminals in modern history. Obama has finally discovered that trusting international law requires the imposition of the law. The Russians abused the Security Council when they discovered that Obama chose not to intervene, whatever the reasons were.

Obama on Iran

What was really worrying in Obama’s speech and policy, is his position regarding Iran. Obama is drawn to the messages of the new Iranian president Rowhani, who turned into a peace-loving person, ready to give Obama the political deal of the century!

For over a decade and a half Iranians have always played the card of time. Iranians only need to succeed in producing a nuclear weapon and then the game would be over. But the question is: how much time do they still need before acquiring this capability? One, two or three years? Rowhani said that he needs a year to find a solution for Iran’s nuclear project, why would he need all this time? If the Iranians were really serious about that, they would have submitted an offer that can be settled within weeks, but they are playing the game of time. They want to reach the moment when they will be able to declare that they have become a military nuclear country; then it will be impossible for anyone to attack their facilities, or wage any form of war against their regime no matter how many wars they wage or how much they threaten their neighbors or the world.

Iran is not India or Pakistan, or even Israel. We believe that Iran knows pretty well the limits of political games. It is ruled by an extreme ideological regime that has been clearly expressing for the past 30 years its ambitions to expand and dominate its neighbors and the world. Obama would be committing an irreparable error if he lets Iranians fool him with Rowhani's smiles and sweet words, in order to buy time, or by giving him a fake, cheap promise that they will not use their nuclear weapon.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 28, 2013.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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