In an unprecedented move for a new President, Obama chose to give his first interview to a Saudi channel. The speed which he did this even surprised Arab officials. Obama’s reiteration of open but firm themes from his inaugural speech to a new Muslim audience is hugely positive and decisive. It also sends out a message that he will act right away on his inaugural words and will not just concentrate on his domestic problems.
The Financial Times editorial on 28 January believes the interview was all about tone, with the word ‘respect’ or ‘respectfully’ being repeated over and over again. Obama highlighted the peace plan put forward by King Abdullah of full Arab recognition of Israel if Israel withdraws and allows an independent Palestinian state. Whether this has any realistic chance of getting off the ground in the current climate of anger is another matter, but looking to an Arab solution is perhaps the only way. The editorial concludes by suggesting there is some hope because Obama is not only a statesman but also a salesman with the persuasive skills to achieve the impossible.
The name Obama is just a name. But, any proposal backed by Barack Hussein Obama has much more chance of finding a solution than one backed by Bill or Ted (sorry I meant George). The Middle East may seem like a totally intractable problem, but you have only to see the film Hunger to remember the total hatred and complete lack of dialogue in Northern Ireland thirty years ago. That was a problem that had existed for four hundred years and many of the best politicians had lost their reputation failing to solve it. What is needed to solve a conflict is a set of circumstances and fresh personalities – preferably ones with the energy and mandate of a first term. Sometimes actually a solution can be found when the situation seems to have become so bad there is no escape route. At that moment, the skilled salesman can step in.