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10 Jun, 2009 12:37

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, June 10

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, June 10

This Wednesday ROAR presents two opinions on US President Barack Obama’s policies: one from Washington and one from Moscow.

ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA publishes an article by Russian-American academic Nikolay Zlobin of the Washington-based World Security Institute. Under the title “Islam, Russia and Obama” the academic writes that, in spite of the great personal efforts President Barack Obama is making to improve the image of America after it has suffered massive damage inflicted by the foreign policy of George W. Bush, it is still evident that even Obama, with his Islamic roots, is fighting an uphill battle.

The academic says there are two main reasons for the fact that even the boldest speech like the one delivered by the US president in Cairo cannot turn sentiment in the Islamic world in favor of America in one go.

First, the actual policies of the Bush administration, some now partly discontinued, others on the way to discontinuation, some even condemned, have left such an impact on the Islamic world that cannot be easily overcome and forgotten. The war in Iraq and thousands of Iraqi lives it cost, the secret prisons all around the world, torture of prisoners, tight control over Moslems crossing the US borders, recent (pre-Obama) American threats to some Moslem countries… all that created an impression that the US under Bush was at war with the Islamic world. Standing down from that war-like situation is going to take time, says the academic.

The second reason is the close relationship the US maintains with Israel. The US has been helping Israel from the beginning of its statehood, while in the Arab world the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine, as well as its right to exist, are, to say the least, shaky. The support America gives Israel is seen by many Middle East countries as going against their interests. Many speak not of an Arab-Israeli conflict but of an Arab-American confrontation. Israel, being the only true ally of the US in the region, says Zlobin, and having proven its right to exist long ago, is instrumental in the implementation of America’s policies in the Middle East.

However, he says, in America itself voices are heard louder and louder, criticizing the “blind” and uncritical support of Israel as a path leading to the US becoming “hostage” to Israeli policies. The number of people in Washington who want to make corrections in the US policy towards Israel, according to the needs of US national security and the situation in the world, has been growing steadily in the past years. Even the Bush administration started, at the end of its term, listening to the criticism and reacting to it: it was Bush who finally gave the creation of an Arab Palestinian state a practical angle and said that without a Palestinian state it is impossible to build lasting peace in the Middle East.

In spite of these words, says Zlobin, Bush has left to Obama an America at war – at least a Cold War with the Islamic world. An America that is fashionable and politically correct to criticize, to dislike, and to disrespect. An America whose foreign policy many wanted to oppose and to prevent the realization of that America’s interests. The image of the country and nation therefore has become a matter of national security and, for the Obama administration, an important matter politically and militarily.

The recent steps by the administration, including the speech in Cairo, are differently interpreted by different groups of people. Some, says Zlobin, support Obama and think that he has opened a new era in America’s relations with the Islamic world. Others say that Obama has betrayed the closest ally America ever had – Israel, and that would affect national security of the US in a bad way. Yet others say that nothing is going to change after the speech because there are thick barriers between the president’s words and the administration’s actions, which can slow down and finally stop and kill any initiative.

Anyway, says the academic, the next stop in the schedule of big presidential visits is Moscow, so let us hope that the Washington ‘new thinking’ is not limited to relations with the Islamic world.

NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA publishes an article by historian and political scientist Alexandr Yanov, who writes that the problem around the Guantanamo prison has become president Obama’s first defeat.

The writer says that there are many complications and undercurrents in American politics, and that most of them are tied up with various moral issues. For example: abortion rights, gay marriages, torture of the most evil terrorists, the closing of Guantanamo – all these problems are about a tough moral choice.

Barack Obama, who has been achieving one victory after another, seems now to be trapped by the issue of the Guantanamo jail, writes Yanov. Obama’s political opponents, the Republicans, defeated and retreating several months ago, are back in force, and even supported by some Democrats.

The writer says their comeback started from one of the last phrases spoken by Obama’s Republican rival, Senator John McCain, on the day of Obama’s victory. It was a question: if we close Guantanamo, what do we do with the prisoners?

Today there is a movement among congressmen, both Republican and Democrat, the slogan of which is “Not in my state!” No matter that in the US territory there are many high-security prisons for those who would be found guilty by civilian courts (or by Bushist military tribunals with defendant attorneys added to the concept – that has not been decided yet), the question is mainly about those who may be acquitted on technicalities or the lack of evidence (it is highly possible that quite a lot would be, taking into account the circumstances of their arrest), or even those who would be acquitted for the lack of a crime. They may not stop being enemies of America.

The writer says that the dilemma here is between settling these prisoners in America (no one wants them in their state or town neither as free men nor as prisoners) or sending them back home where they may be tortured to death instead of receiving a fair trial. Letting them stay may jeopardize US national security. Letting them go means no fair trial and probable death under torture.

This dilemma is a moral choice, and like many moral problems it doesn’t have a solution. Whatever course of action president Obama is going to choose in this matter, it would be a losing proposition, because his opponents would be free to mount either of the two high horses ready for them – either national security or civil rights and liberties. That is why, says the writer, this situation is already a defeat, the first one for Barack Obama.

Yanov says, Obama will still achieve many victories unthinkable for his predecessors, but this first defeat will be poisoning his every success.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT.