The world is in for a shock. After eight years of a straight talking US President who speaks his mind, we are facing the prospect of one whose fine oratorical style may or may not reflect his personal opinion.
Today, America is in a dire condition. Its popularity, not just in the Middle East but around the world, is waning. This is due to several factors including the botched US campaign in Iraq, the failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol, the scandals that are Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the schizophrenic policy of containing one communist country (Cuba) and engaging others (Vietnam, North Korea, even China).
George W Bush has become the man that everyone loves to hate, a coat hanger for the world’s problems regardless of the facts. Commentators argue that high oil prices are due directly to his actions in Iraq, conveniently neglecting to mention the economic prosperity of certain Asian countries whose appetite for energy appears to be infinite.
It was interesting, for example, that Mr Bush was blamed by many Americans for negligence prior to the September 11 tragedy. Some American citizens refer to the infamous television footage of him reading a children’s book to a primary school class during the attacks. Michael’s Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9-11 jokes about the time it took him to react to the news while being filmed live on camera.
There is, of course, no saying how anyone would react when being told that his or her country has just been attacked. Additionally, the American intelligence agencies that were singled out for criticism along with Mr Bush were a legacy of the previous Democratic Party administration, just as today’s Homeland Security department – for better or for worse – will be a legacy to the next president of the Bush administration.
Al Qa’eda also blamed Mr Bush, although their own sick quarrel originated with the Democratic Party leadership for supporting Israel in the wake of the second Palestinian intifada and a host of other oversimplified justifications. Say what you want of Mr Bush – and I do all the time – but one thing that you cannot accuse him of is not meaning what he says.
Which brings me to Barack Obama; the stylish, sweet-talking Harvard graduate the world just loves to love. Mr Obama’s eclectic election campaign has been compared to that of Robert F Kennedy; his fancy legal credentials make him an educated candidate suitable for the highest office in the USA. And finally, something that encourages others to believe that America is ready to embrace change is the fact that he is partly of African descent.
Mr Obama’s speeches have some of the highest numbers of clicks on YouTube, with the next nine usually being a variety of music videos and the “Leave Britney Alone” chap; this may be an indication of the demographic base that he has been able to amass. Yet, it could be that his rhetoric, arguably the most appealing aspect of Mr Obama, will ultimately be his Achilles’ heel.
The Democratic Party contender’s promises appear to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other depending on the audience he is addressing. He had previously referred to the Cuban embargo as an utter failure and promised to end it; yet when he spoke last year to a Cuban-American audience he promised to maintain it because it is “an important inducement for change”.
The same has also occurred with regards to other issues such as immigration and the decriminalisation of marijuana. However, in the emotional Middle East, it was only when we heard him promise to keep Jerusalem united as capital of the state of Israel forever that we began to realise that he is not greater than the sum of his parts.
Mr Obama later spoke on CNN and backtracked on his unified Jerusalem comments as he once again adjusted his rhetoric to suit the audience he is targeting. Jewish voters have come to realise this about Mr Obama and that is one of the main reasons they are justifiably wary of voting for him.
We in the Middle East when conducting our endless Bush rants concerning the Iraq war fiasco conveniently neglect to mention that this is the first American President to visit a mosque – and just after the 9-11 attacks – as well as to reassure Americans, both Muslim and non-Muslim, about Islam.
He is the first President to utter the words “Palestinian state” (said during the height of the second intifada) rather than dance around the phrase for eight years like another sweet-talking Democrat did even though he was in power during the most peaceful of times in the Palestinian territories for decades.
Whatever we say of Mr Bush, being a flip-flop ain’t one of them.
Sultan Al Qassemi is a Sharjah-based businessman and graduate of the American University of Paris. He is founder of Barjeel Securities in Dubai and has just been elected as Chairman of the Young Arab Leaders in the UAE
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