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2008年11月21日 (金)


2008/11/20 --The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 19(IHT/Asahi: November 20,2008)

EDITORIAL: Obama's Mideast policy


During the George W. Bush administration, anti-American sentiment intensified in the war- and terror-ravaged Middle East. But now, President-elect Barack Obama is being hailed in the region with positive enthusiasm.


This turnaround owes to many interrelated factors. There is collective relief that the eight years of Bush are finally ending; Obama will be the first African-American to hold the office of the U.S. presidency; and Obama believes in politics of dialogue and cooperation.


But that is no guarantee, of course, that all will go well with Obama's Mideast policy. On the contrary, the challenges that lie ahead are most daunting.


First, there is Iraq. Public order has been restored somewhat, owing to the placating of former anti-American elements by providing them weapons and funding. Once U.S. troops leave the country, ethnic and sectarian strife will likely return in full force. In fact, grave worries are already being expressed about the provincial elections slated for January.


Obama pledged during his election campaign that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. But the United States cannot just leave Iraq in a mess. Obama will be faced with the truly formidable task of plotting an exit strategy, which is much more difficult than getting into a war.


Obama believes a troop surge is a must in Afghanistan, and his stated commitment to driving out the Taliban may well unsettle neighboring Pakistan. But instability in a nuclear nation such as Pakistan is a nightmare for the entire world.


Then, there is Iran, which is forging ahead with its uranium enrichment program in defiance of United Nations' sanctions. An airstrike against Iran from an agitated Israel could develop into a Mideast meltdown, affecting the whole world.


At the root of the regional instability is the Palestinian problem. Bush has been markedly pro-Israel throughout his presidency, the price of which is America's loss of credibility in the Middle East.


Earlier this year, Bush began playing arbitrator in earnest in hopes of leaving his footprint in the Middle East peace process. Unfortunately, the situation remains anything but optimistic.


Blaming the Bush administration for a failed Mideast policy, Obama is pushing for dialogue and international cooperation. Given that the region can never be controlled by military power alone, not to mention that the United States has lost much of its leadership, there is no question that Obama is taking the only way that can lead to stability in the Middle East.


But this is far easier said than done.


For example, Obama says he is prepared to sit down and talk with the Iranian leadership. But how will this help put Israel at ease?


The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen the influence of Iran, which has close ties with the ruling Shiites. This is bound to heighten tensions in the neighboring countries.


Russia's cooperation is indispensable to halting Iran's nuclear program, but relations between Moscow and Washington are currently strained.


The work that lies ahead for the Obama administration can be likened to an extremely intricate and delicate piece of glassware that must be handled with meticulous care.


Bringing peace to the Middle East is a challenge that will test the inspired optimism of the Obama campaign slogan of "Yes, we can." Obama is about to take upon himself a truly tough presidency.



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