What is it like to be American President?

SENATOR Barack Obama is not yet the president of the United States, still the reception he received during his recent tour of the Middle East and Europe was one usually reserved to a sitting president.

By Claude Salhani (View from Washington)

Published: Mon 28 Jul 2008, 10:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:12 AM

The Democratic presumptive candidate in the November presidential elections extended the usual campaign trail which takes the candidates back and forth and up and down most of the 48 of the 50 states of the union, to include Middle Eastern and European stops.

Obama took his campaign to the heart of Baghdad, to the centre of the Afghan capital, Kabul, to the Palestinian West Bank, to Jerusalem, to Berlin, to Paris and to London.

Along with the treatment typically accorded to a serving president, Senator Obama was also able to see for himself some of the problems plaguing the Middle East. Granted, few hours spent in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Palestinian territories may not be enough for anyone to fully grasp the complexity of the situation, still a few hours is better than nothing. A few hours spent in Iraq or Palestine ought to provide candidate Obama with a better understanding of what is going on, than had he never left the United States.

The young senator from Illinois promised the leaders of the Middle East that he would work from day one, if he becomes president, to solve the Arab-Israeli crisis.

Other presidents of the United States have made similar promises in the past, the latest one coming from the current president, George W. Bush, who told the Palestinians they would have an independent state by the time he left office.

Of course, that is highly unlikely to happen, short of a miracle.

So now, the relay in peacemaking in the Middle East is passed down to the next president of the United States, in all probability, Barack Obama.

As president, Obama, will have no shortage of crises as of his first day in the Oval Office. There will be the war in Iraq to take care of; there will be the war in Afghanistan to take care of; there will be the war on terror to take care of (although President Obama might choose to call it something else); there will be the situation relating to Iran's nuclear ambitions; there will also be the real estate crunch, inflation, unemployment, health care reform; and all the other headaches that go with the job of being president of the world's only remaining superpower. So it could be quite natural for Obama to forget, as many of his predecessors have, the question of Palestine and the promises he made on the campaign trail.

Or, should he not forget the question of Palestine altogether as the new president of the United States could well be tempted by other pressing needs to place the Palestinian-Israeli dossier on the back burner?

But that would be unwise. Why would it be unwise? Surely, an American president needs to pay more attention to the more pressing issues affecting the nation, such as the two wars currently being waged and to threats of terrorism. And so he should. However, Palestine must not be forgotten. Why? Simply because the Palestinian issue, while it may not be the most popular, or pressing matter, concerning the security of the United States or that of its allies, the unresolved question of Palestine continues to attract anti-American sentiments in much of the Arab and/or Muslim world.

There is no better recruiting poster for Osama bin Laden's cause than news of another Palestinian youth felled by Israeli bullets. Even though in reality Bin Laden could care less about the fate of the Palestinians, it serves his cause to promote the Palestinian's cause.

Additionally, tens of thousands of unemployed, undereducated youth idling away in sordid refugee camps scattered around the Arab world offers the extremist Islamist organisations such as Al Qaeda an ideal, and unlimited pool of potential recruits who can be easily enticed with promises of financial compensation for their families in return for their 'martyrdom'.

Al Qaeda may have lost its operating bases in Afghanistan when the United States invaded it in 2001. Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon such as Ain-El-Helweh in the south and Nahr-El-Bared in the north, have become havens for Islamist organisations affiliated to Al Qaeda.

Looking at the problem from this angle, it becomes quite clear that the question of Palestine transcends beyond the borders of Palestine and Israel. And all the walls, barriers, and all the ditches and concertina wire in the world will be unable to contain the rage and anger accumulating behind these walls, barriers, ditches. These are the reasons why a settlement of the Palestinian question remains of the utmost importance. Let's hope that Senator Obama's brief visits to the Middle East were more than just whistle stops on his campaign tour.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington, DC.

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