(MENAFN - Arab News) The anger and demonstrations that swept the Islamic world because of the anti-Islam movie put foreign policy at the fore in the ongoing US presidential campaign and President Barack Obama's comments that he does not regard Egypt as an ally or an enemy point to the dilemma facing his administration on how to deal with the changes that have been engulfing the region.
US presidential elections are usually about economy. That was how George H. Bush lost to Bill Clinton despite the fact he managed a well-orchestrated political and military operation to evict the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. The success with which that battle had been conducted was seen as the country's most important victory since the Vietnam War that had left deep scars in the national conscious of the United States as well as its military and diplomacy.
But Clinton, being a shrewd politician, focused instead on the economic issues that were of more concern to the electorate than whatever glories diplomacy could achieve in far away and complicated issues around the globe.
Economy is also the focus of the Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who does not have foreign policy expertise anyway. So, if foreign policy issues force themselves on the campaign and the upcoming presidential debates, Barack Obama is expected to do better than his opponent in the tight race going on between the two so far.
But regardless of who will occupy the Oval Office, the issue of the relationship with the Islamic world is expected to be a major concern to US foreign policy. In fact that has been the case simply because of the strategic position of the Middle East, the heart of Islamic world, will always be an issue to Washington.
It could be easily recalled that when George W. Bush won the 2000 elections, he was adopting more isolationist approach even vowing to stay away from involving in nation-building issues. But, came Sept. 11 and the need to react, which was escalated into a war of choice he waged on Iraq and Afghanistan which ended up in the almost impossible mission of nation-building for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama's reference to the case of Egypt summarizes the dilemma in both form and substance. The term of "ally" he used reflects more a Cold War relic than a succinct description of a relationship between the two countries. In the age of communication revolution and shifts in socio, politico and economic structures worldwide, it is hard to imagine that there could be allies in that classic sense of seeing eye to eye and adopt same positions and policies on most if not all issues.
So the first step to take is to define various aspects of relationships with Middle Eastern countries in particular and the Muslim world in general. But given his reference to Egypt, and for that matter all the rest of Arab Spring countries, there is a need to take into consideration the aspirations of the people of these countries. It was clear how Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was at pain asking how come the city of Benghazi, which the Americans helped save, became the center of riots that took the lives of four Americans including the ambassador. That is not a job for a quick fix of meetings between officials from said countries or one-sided decisions. It is long and laborious process that may take years, but has to start on the right foot from the beginning.
But in the end it is not only an American responsibility to come up with solutions for the complex relationship. The popular uprising against various regimes in the Middle East, seen friendly to Washington, indicate the need for an internal overhaul of the systems that have been governing those countries. It is a domestic duty that can't be handled by outsiders regardless of their intentions.
One of the important issues to bear in mind is the need to dig below the surface as various countries have their own problems that need to be addressed before venturing into general ones related to the Muslim world as such vis--vis the United States or the West for that matter.
- This article is exclusive to Arab News.