Fi­nal Come­back!

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama faces numer­ous chal­lenges in South Asia in his sec­ond pres­i­den­tial stint. Will the slo­gans of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ do the job this time around?

Southasia - - Front page - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

Win­ning the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tions with a whop­ping 332 elec­toral col­lege votes over his Repub­li­can ri­val Mitt Rom­ney, Barack Obama faces enor­mous chal­lenges in his sec­ond term. Ex­clud­ing the domestic predica­ment, namely a dev­as­tated econ­omy and the ris­ing tide of cen­trifu­gal forces in some Amer­i­can states, the real chal­lenge lies within the realm of for­eign pol­icy.

How will the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­spond to the loom­ing cri­sis in Gaza, the threat of a show­down be­tween Iran and Is­rael on the nu­clear is­sue, the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan and deal­ing with the new Chi­nese lead­er­ship? Un­like Mitt Rom­ney who, dur­ing the elec­tion de­bates, pur­sued an ag­gres­sive and hawk­ish ap­proach vis-à-vis Pales­tine, Iran and China, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion demon­strated a greater de­gree of ma­tu­rity and po­lit­i­cal pru­dence by not ad­vo­cat­ing a bel­liger­ent stance. How­ever, with a hos­tile ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, it will be dif­fi­cult for Pres­i­dent Obama to pur­sue his domestic and for­eign pol­icy agenda dur­ing his sec­ond term.

Four ma­jor for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives re­quire an im­me­di­ate re­sponse from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. First is the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and the is­sue of peace and sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East. The re­cent escalation of the Gaza con­flict poses a se­ri­ous threat to peace in the re­gion. If the Is­lamist regime in Cairo tilts in fa­vor of Ha­mas, the Egyp­tian-Is­raeli peace treaty of 1979 me­di­ated by then U.S. pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter will be jeop­ar­dized. The fail­ure of sub­se­quent U.S ad­min­is­tra­tions to sal­vage the Oslo ac­cords of Septem­ber 1993 signed be­tween PLO chief Yasser Arafat and the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Rabin caused a se­ri­ous rift be­tween Is­rael and its Arab neigh­bors, wors­en­ing re­la­tions with Gaza. Fur­ther­more, armed con­flict in Syria, Ye­men and the fragility of proAmer­i­can regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jor­dan and Bahrain also raise se­ri­ous ques­tions about the surge of anti- Amer­i­can forces.

The “Arab Spring” of 2011 re­sulted in a rise of mil­i­tancy and rad­i­cal­iza­tion among the youths, which con­tin­ues to be a desta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor in the Mid­dle East. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion must not adopt an in­dif­fer­ent stance vis-avis the crit­i­cal is­sues in the Mid­dle East and its si­lence or rather ap­proval of Is­rael’s bla­tant acts of ag­gres­sion against the Pales­tini­ans in Gaza will vi­ti­ate U.S. im­age in the re­gion.

Sec­ond, the pos­si­ble escalation of the Iran-Is­rael con­flict over the nu­clear is­sue and the con­tin­ued sanc­tions on Iran by the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil will cer­tainly pose a ma­jor chal­lenge to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Pres­i­dent Obama is likely to re­sist the pres­sure from hard lin­ers in Washington and Is­rael to take mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran be­fore it ad­vances its nu­clear weapons pro­gram. For Is­rael, Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions and weapons are Is­rael cen­tric as is ev­i­dent from years of the anti-Is­raeli po­si­tion taken by the Ira­nian lead­er­ship. But, Iran’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram is also con­sid­ered a ma­jor se­cu­rity threat by some Arab coun­tries, in­clud­ing Saudi Arabia.

Third, the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan is fluid and will re­quire crit­i­cal pol­icy mea­sures be­fore for­eign forces leave in 2014. Repub­li­cans have ve­he­mently op­posed Obama’s with­drawal strat­egy and will ex­ploit the sit­u­a­tion should Afghanistan be­come vi­o­lent and un­con­trol­lable. In ad­di­tion to this, the pol­icy and process of “en­gag­ing Tal­iban” for peace in Afghanistan may be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive if Tal­iban re­sis­tance groups es­ca­late their at­tacks on U.S/NATO forces and at­tempt to seize power. On a num­ber of oc­ca­sions, Tal­iban lead­ers have an­nounced a de­sire to re­turn to the same pol­icy in Afghanistan, which they were ad­her­ing to when they were in power from 1996-2001. In such a sce­nario, Afghanistan will once again be­come a hub of global ter­ror­ism un­der Al-Qaeda.

Fi­nally, as far as Pak­istan is con­cerned, the re­la­tion­ship may be more of the same with a fluc­tu­a­tion in drone at­tacks on tribal ar­eas but no qualita- tive change in terms of re­view­ing its pol­icy vis-à-vis Is­lam­abad. Gen­eral elec­tions in Pak­istan are right around the cor­ner and will un­doubt­edly re­sult in tur­moil, po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion and schism. If drone at­tacks con­tinue with the same fre­quency or are es­ca­lated dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, it will def­i­nitely have a neg­a­tive im­pact on po­lit­i­cal forces that want to erad­i­cate ex­trem­ism, mil­i­tancy, rad­i­cal­iza­tion and ter­ror­ism. Anti-Amer­i­can­ism will be at an all-time high and a ma­jor fac­tor in the 2013 elec­tion cam­paign.

Four more years for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for the United States to cor­rect its im­age in­ter­na­tion­ally, par­tic­u­larly in the Mus­lim world. Sup­port for democ­racy, hu­man rights and so­cial jus­tice will cer­tainly en­hance its cred­i­bil­ity. The U.S. will con­tinue to en­cour­age en­gage­ment be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan for the man­age­ment and res­o­lu­tion of con­flicts. How­ever, the U.S. role in South Asia will be in­flu­enced by the de­vel­op­ing sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan as well as elec­tions in Pak­istan, In­dia and Bangladesh in 2013 and 2014. The role of other global stake­hold­ers, par­tic­u­larly China, will also play a strong role in the re­gion. Fur­ther po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion in China, the is­sue of Ti­bet and trade mat­ters with the U.S. will con­tinue to be a ma­jor source of con­cern for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. One thing is clear: while the Pres­i­dent may be able to adopt stronger poli­cies in his sec­ond term, with­out any fear of ral­ly­ing to se­cure an­other term, the coming four more years will present in­sur­mount­able chal­lenges. A Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, mea­ger ma­jor­ity of Democrats in the Se­nate and the per­ceived as­ser­tion of pro-in­de­pen­dence groups in dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can states will cer­tainly re­sult into a po­lit­i­cal stale­mate and the deep­en­ing of the for­eign pol­icy predica­ment.

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