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Context of 'January 22, 2009: Obama: New Direction in US Middle East Policies'

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The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Leonard Doyle, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections

President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Barack Obama, Richard Holbrooke, Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview.President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Al Arabiya, Barack Obama, Ahmed Mahmoud, Charles Krauthammer, Jamil Nimri, Omar Youssef, Imtiaz Gul, Hisham Melhem, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Hamas, Fatah al-Islam, George Mitchell, Obama administration, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Mahmoud Abbas

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh, Hillary Clinton, Obama administration, Richard Holbrooke

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Larry Klayman, the founder of the conservative media watchdog organization Judicial Watch, writes a column for conservative news blog WorldNetDaily that alleges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working behind the scenes to “prove” that President Barack Obama is not a US citizen, thereby ruining his chances of running for re-election in 2012 and opening the door for her own run. Clinton ran a hard-fought primary campaign against Obama in 2008. Klayman resurrects long-disproven allegations that Clinton, during her time as First Lady, had White House staffer Vince Foster murdered to keep him from exposing the raft of “crimes” Klayman says were committed by Clinton, her husband, and others in the Clinton administration. According to Klayman, Obama has always “fear[ed]” having Clinton as a political rival. He did not name her vice president: she “would only have been a stone’s throw away from the Oval Office, and the ‘mullah in chief’ obviously did not want to encourage his own ‘unfortunate accident.’” Instead, Obama “co-opt[ed]” Clinton by fobbing her off to the State Department, where “she could take the blame for his planned foreign policy of anti-Americanism, appeasement, weakness, prevarication, and hostility toward Israel and nearly all things Jewish and Christian. This would serve the dual purpose of harming her political base should she ever decide to run for president against him in 2012.” Klayman notes that Clinton has said she would not return as secretary of state if Obama wins reelection in 2012. Klayman believes Clinton is angling for the presidency in 2012, and speculates “that she herself may again be working on the so-called ‘birther’ issue, which she first raised during her 2008 presidential campaign. For if Hillary can finally obtain proof positive that President Obama was born in Kenya, and not in Hawaii as he claims, then she will not have to send him on a day trip to Fort Marcy Park [the site of Foster’s suicide] to retire him as president. What could be cleaner?” [WorldNetDaily, 3/19/2011]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Vince Foster, Larry Klayman, Hillary Clinton

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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