Can Obama erase ‘Bush nostalgia’ in the Middle East?

Shadi Hamid writes:

While President Obama’s domestic position has been strengthened considerably by the passage of health-care reform, there is nothing – yet – to suggest global support for American foreign policy will follow suit. Outside the US, there is a sense of “Bush nostalgia,” including in a rather unlikely place – the Middle East.

This is particularly the case for Arab reformers who, while disliking the Bush administration in almost every way, were fully aware that Bush’s “freedom agenda” helped usher in a promising moment for Arab reform.

On the Obama administration’s relative lack of pressure, Esam al-Erian, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, sounded almost wistful of political openings that came about under Bush: “[Now President Mubarak] can do whatever he wants internally…. It feels like we’ve gone backward a little bit,” he said.

Indeed, the excitement Arabs felt after Mr. Obama’s historic Cairo speech became the backdrop for the mounting disappointment of the last nine months. Instead of making a clean break with past US policies, the current administration has reverted to the neorealism of President Clinton and the first President Bush, with its emphasis on competence and pragmatism.

Now as then, US policy continues to be anchored by a cynical bargain with Arab autocrats: If they faithfully support US regional objectives, the US turns a blind eye to their suppression of domestic dissent. It’s business as usual.

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1 thought on “Can Obama erase ‘Bush nostalgia’ in the Middle East?

  1. eatbees

    From the article:

    After Islamist groups registered electoral victories across the region, the Bush administration quickly reversed course and buried its “freedom agenda.”

    That’s the heart of the problem, I think. Lack of follow-through when results didn’t go as they would have liked revealed the underlying insincerity, causing a reversion to cynicism and apathy that persists to this day.

    A sensible Middle East policy, however, is different from a great one.

    Perhaps being sensible is a foundation for bolder steps. In the optimistic reading of Obama, this can be said about his agenda across the board. Granted, that Obama has a bold vision waiting behind the curtain, is at this point a matter of speculation and faith.

    A point to be made is that Arab reformers should stop waiting for clues from America, and make it happen! If Obama stands in their way, then we’ll have something to complain about.

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