Sabria S. Jawhar
THE prevailing wisdom among many Americans and most Arabs is that the best candidate to lift the United States out of the muddy hole it dug for itself in Iraq is Barack Obama.
John McCain, at least on this side of the world, doesn’t even run a distant second. Obama is holding the future of free world in his hands.As much as he is considered the new hope for war-weary Americans, his trip to the Middle East and Europe is far from impressive.
He is visiting Afghanistan and Iraq because American troops are there. He will visit Israel because America is an unconditional ally of that country. And he is visiting Germany because that is where his media moment will come. But more on Germany in a moment.
What Obama is not doing is visiting an Arab country that would demonstrate that Muslim opinion matters to him. Not just the Muslims who lost family members to American firepower, but to Muslims who are eager for normal relations with the United States.
Any of the GCC countries would do. And if Obama wanted to send a message that we are all in the fight against terrorism together, what better way than including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or even fun-loving Dubai on his itinerary.But what is more worrying than Obama’s snub of Muslims is his fence-straddling over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There has been much criticism of Obama lately for his changing positions on a number of domestic and foreign issues. Yet this is your run-of-the-mill political gamesmanship. He has all but secured the Democratic nomination for president, so he must now move away from his left-leaning rhetoric to the center to capture voters who are undecided.All understandable, but now he seems to embrace President Bush’s “surge” in Iraq since it is perceived in the West as a success and points toward an American victory.
So what does Obama want to do? He wants to move 10,000 American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to chase down and snuff out the Taleban.This is rather meaningless and simply illustrates that Obama is pandering to the American voter. Pull troops out of Iraq as he has always promised and send them to fight the real enemy that is hiding: Osama Bin Laden.
But moving troops from one combat zone to another is only symbolic and simply serves to escalate the war in Afghanistan, which has already seen 700 civilians die this year alone.It appears that Obama is not aware of the “cockroach factor.”
You spray one portion of the house with insecticide to get rid of the roaches only to have them scurry to another part of the house. Once that poison disappears, the cockroaches race back. It’s easy to overstate the success of the surge. Al-Qaeda is moving to Afghanistan to continue their fight, but once Iraq is left vulnerable with a weak army, guess what? They will scurry back and the US will be in the same position it was a year ago.
If Obama is showing off his foreign policy acumen, he is doing a poor job of it. But let’s be realistic here. Obama’s tour of the Middle East and Europe is not to demonstrate his expertise in foreign affairs. As much as I admire him he is a lightweight in this area. And he has smartly said that he is in the Middle East to listen not talk. So what this amounts to is a publicity campaign and photo op.
His feet firmly planted on Iraq and Afghanistan soil will give him certain measure of credibility in the eyes of the American voter.Which brings me to Germany.Perhaps more important to the Obama campaign than visits to Iraq and Afghanistan is his much anticipated appearance on Thursday at Tiergarten Park in Berlin.
His speech is expected to draw huge crowds in a country that is enthralled with all things Obama.Obama, who has fashioned himself as somewhat the 21st century version of President John F. Kennedy, is likely seeking his own “Ich bin ein Berliner” moment that cemented Kenney’s international credentials and won the hearts and minds of Europeans, especially those in 1963 Berlin who were cut off from their families living in Communist East Germany.
If Obama can draw the thousands of Germans expected Thursday and strike the right tone that echoes one of Kennedy’s most triumphant moments in his presidency, then Obama’s paper-thin solutions to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will matter less to Americans who continue to seek a leader they can believe in.