November 04, 2008
Barack Hussein Obama MENA Open Thread
Looks like America's first Hawaiian-bred, Kenyan-derived, Indonesian-educated, 1960s-born, Muslim-middle-named President-elect is about to be. What does the success of Obama/Biden portend, if anything, for the Middle East North Africa region? Obama's foreign affairs team seems not wildly new, at least in terms of the conventional US spectrum. Some discussion has already started on the monthly open thread.
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Expecting improvements (=withdrawal) from Iraq, maybe some effort to stabilize Somalia (keyword is maybe), and probable involvement in Sudan (positive or negative will depend on his take on the question, which can be rational=stabilization oriented or emotional=punishment oriented).
For the rest, same old tunes. Or absence from radars.
On terror, and regarding more specifically AQIM, Obama would appear to be as tough as Bush, but more intelligent - Guantanamo will be formally closed, its detainees dispatched to other prisons, and torture will be officially banned. But he will undoubtedly be inclined to use increased force in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Repressive regimes in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan will certainly find solace in an administration keen to revert to reality mode and to steer away from the Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz democratization-through-invasion policies. Remember, these regimes fared very well under Clinton, under whom most of the Obama foreign policy team will have worked.
On Iran, he will also probably be as tough but more astute, the key consideration being here how far Tel Aviv will want to pursue this - Olmert and Livni have belatedly voiced, in closed circles, that Israel could live with a nuclear Iran, but Netanyahu and Barak (Ehud, not Obama) may differ on this.
On Palestine, one can envisage a return to the Clinton fallacy of being a honest broker - with Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross, not a serious prospect. Hamas and Fatah may however seize on this occasion to reach a compromise - not likely, Israel having no interest in Palestinians presenting a united front. Israel might just clinch some kind of bantustan agreement with Abou Mazen, rubber stamped by the USA, the EU and their Arab minions (Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia).
As for North Africa, it is really too marginal an area to be on an incoming administration's radar. On the Sahara issue, Morocco will probably be pleased to see the back of the John Bolton/Suzanne Scholte neo-con Polisario cabal, but will mourn the certain departure of its facilitator Elliot Abrams. The Obama administration's policies will probably be purely reactive, with Algeria and Morocco left to their own devices, unless the Obama staffer in charge of North Africa happens to lean very heavily either way. I can't think that they would care inordinately for democracy issues in Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria or Tunisia, unless overall stability would be affected. Departing from Bush policies may imply adherence to less bombastic and idealistic policy formulations, and thus a retunr to realpolitik as usual.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at November 6, 2008 06:32 PM