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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/29/09

Obama's Middle East Moment

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Message Brent Budowsky
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It was profound that an American President gave his first major television interview to Middle Eastern media, as President Obama did this week with al-Arabiya.   It is profound and even astonishing that within hours and days of become President Obama named the high powered former Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, as Middle East envoy while moving to close Guantanamo, end torture, begin a possible opening with Iran, and reach out to Christians, Jews and Muslims throughout the Middle East.

While most of our media remains fixated on trivial trials in Illinois and similar mundane matters, the President of the United States is making one of the great U-Turns in diplomatic history and making a sincere and credible attempt to bring a historic transformation to the bloodstained carnage and crises that far too often engulfs the troubled lands of the Middle East.

This is huge.

This is historic.

This is the ultimate change from what came before him, the failures of the presidency
of George W. Bush.

Make no mistake, this will be hard, very hard indeed.  Old ways die hard and the carnage that plagues the Middle East continues for reasons that will be hard to change.  But real change, profound change, and historic change begins with the first step of an American President daring to dream and courageous enough to "put his money where his mouth is".

Lets review the bold moves Obama has made in rapid succession in the first days of his new presidency:

1.  Moving immediately to end torture and take steps to close Guantanamo restores America to our basic ideals, unites our allies around the world with our new policy, and sends a huge message throughout the Middle East that a great and historic U-Turn has begun.

2.  Naming George Mitchell as Middle East envoy was an immense, enormous and transforming move.  Mitchell has huge clout in the Congress and with the President and Secretary of State.  Mitchell has a history of achieving diplomatic breakthroughs, especially in Ireland, where his role ending the carnage was a brilliant achievement of hands on diplomacy.  In Ireland and in his report about Israel and Palestine, Mitchell has honored the great truth of the best diplomats throughout history which is that an effective envoy must have the clarity and courage to seek major compromise from ALL of the warring parties.

The immediate naming of Mitchell, the fast sending of Mitchell to the Middle East, and the commitment of the President and Secretary of State to give him support is a sea change from the past and very probably the most important moment in American Middle East policy since Camp David under President Carter.

3.  The decision to address the people of the Middle East by giving his first major television interview to al-Arabiya is momentous.  The American media can only begin to understand the significance of this but the significance of this is well understood in Middle East capitals and on Middle East Streets.

This interview was a signal of sincerity and respect and a genuine and profound reaching out for new hopes and a search for true and lasting peace.  As Obama said in the interview, he has lived in Muslim countries and cultures and understands both the pitfalls and the possiblities.  This is a statement no American President has ever made and a reaching out of immense importance.

4.  The beginning of a careful reaching out for diplomacy with Iran is similary unthinkable from the George W. Bush administration.  This will be a particularly hard slog, as will the attempts to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian divide, but again, the long road begins with the first step, and this is an important step.

5.  The appeal of Obama to young people in America offers the opportunity for a more world-wide appeal to the young.  Obama speaks of the Middle East in broader terms of addressing the poverty, despair, disease and futility that plague the Middle East and crush the hopes of young people who will inherit the world.  There is risk in raising hopes, but no solution is possible without first raising hopes and then living up to them.

There will be skeptics in the U.S., and there should be.  This is a hard and challenging mission.  There are skeptics in the Middle East, and should be, as well.  It will take hard and courageous diplomacy and bold decisions by the new president on terrain that is a minefield of political and human peril on all sides.  The odds of success are long and the danger of failure is real.

I do not predict success for this historic and momentous mission.  It will be a long climb to the summit of the mountaintop of Middle East peace.  But we now have a president with world-wide appeal ready to undertake the climb and words cannot fully express how profound this is, and how momentous this could be, for an effort that is long overdue and well worth making.
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Brent Budowsky is a regular columnist on thehill.com. He served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served (more...)

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