Did The World Get What It Wanted? RFE/RL Goes Back To The Experts
January 20, 2010
A year ago, RFE/RL correspondents throughout our coverage area spoke to politicians, pundits, and activists about their hopes for Barack Obama's presidency. A year on, we went back to the same people to see if and how their view on Obama has changed.
Wadir Safi, professor of law and political science at Kabul University
Then: It is obvious that a power like the United States, especially the Bush administration, and its allies did not achieve their desired goals in the war against terror.
This means that the people of Afghanistan expect Mr. Obama and the new American leadership to deliver a shift in military, economic, and political areas, as well as changes in the Afghan administration.
If serious changes do not occur in U.S. military operations, economic aid, and the Afghan administration, the United States will not achieve success, the international community will not benefit, and the Afghans will suffer more miseries. Security will not be established in this region unless serious changes occur.
Now: Obama has changed the strategy for solving the Afghan problem, but it hasn't been implemented. I think he'll be able to implement it with a good military and political diplomacy team. He will apply this change, and the change will bring a new phase for the future relations of America and this region of the world.
The steps he's taken in this first year are steps in the right direction -- the direction I commented on last year -- but it has yet to be implemented. The action plan isn't finished yet. Once it's finished and implemented, we'll look at the results. They're yet to be seen.
RFE/RL last year spoke to Hrant Markarian, the leader of the Dashnak Party. This year, Giro Manoyan, a leading member of the Dashnak, spoke about Obama on Markarian's behalf.
Unfortunately, Obama didn't fulfill his promise to the Armenian-American community [to recognize the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide] during his first term, even if he had the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement process as an excuse.
I think the Obama administration shouldn't sacrifice Armenia's interests in favor of U.S.-Turkey relations. It should be more balanced in its approach.
Ilqar Mammadov, political analyst and independent blogger
Then: I would expect the new U.S. administration to focus more on democracy issues in our region, not only in Azerbaijan but also in Armenia and Georgia -- in the entire South Caucasus -- because democracy is the only value that can change our region and bring peace and stability to our nations. For a long time, this value has been underestimated in U.S. policy toward Azerbaijan, and it was secondary.
I think with the new administration there is a good chance that democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, and all other modern values that brought prosperity to the United States will again be in the focus of the administration, and these values will bring peace, prosperity, and stability to our region as well.
Now: There's no clear sign that U.S. policy towards our region is changing along the lines that I suggested last year. In fact, what we've been seeing regarding our region is that the resolution of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is now overshadowed in U.S. foreign policy by the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. This approach isn't proving to be a workable one.
The Obama administration so far has not been able to propose or implement a policy that would strengthen democratic institutions in our regions and at the same time strengthen the U.S. role in the South Caucasus. Moreover, we can see how not only the United States, but the West in general -- including Europe -- are losing out to Russia and China in Central Asia.
Alyaksandr Milinkevich, opposition leader
Then: It is vitally important that the president of the United States coordinate as closely as possible his country's policy on Belarus with that of the European Union. It is imperative that the United States and EU speak with one voice on this issue. In recent years, that has not always been the case.
Change in our own country depends on us [Belarusians] alone. But in order to achieve desired change, it is important that we are in partnership with civilized, democratic nations.
That is why my first hope would be for the United States to support the dialogue that has already begun. Of course, this dialogue should continue only under certain conditions -- democratization, liberalization. But it is already apparent that this dialogue is reaping, if not concrete results, than at least a measure of hope. It is with similar hope that I welcome Obama into the White House.
Now: I like him a great deal, and that hasn't changed. He has enormous potential -- and therein lies his problem. So many expect so much from him, and it's not always easy to fulfill those expectations.
This is a nation that came together according to the principles of liberty, human rights, and democracy. It's trying to sort out the rest of the world while remaining true to these principles -- and that's a tough job. Hardest of all, probably, when dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, and international terrorism.
Has he been successful? I think he's done as much as could be expected. But these global problems must be solved, because they're not the problems of the United States alone.
As far as Belarus is concerned, one has to be frank and acknowledge that Belarus wasn't and isn't the focal point of American foreign policy. This is a huge nation with other concerns -- cooperation with China, Russia, India. Although we're on the margins of U.S. interests, America is nonetheless concerned with the questions of human rights and democracy. And thanks to America's principled position, we in Belarus have a much greater chance to improve our situation.
Mufid Memija, political commentator, Sarajevo TV
Then: According to a particular logic of history, the American president should be a global champion of freedom and social justice. If that were so, we could expect that Barack Obama would turn his back on the politics of double standards -- because it is a failed political course that has only led to unmitigated calamity for the U.S.
In that case we [in Bosnia] might hope that America would invest its enormous political strength and its enormous democratic authority in fostering a civil society in Bosnia, based on the highest standards of human rights. However, that will not happen because contemporary politics is not an arena for promoting truth and justice, but [national] interest. In that sense I'm sorry to say that I do not harbor great expectations, and I believe that Barack Obama will be no more than the 44th in a long line of U.S. presidents.
Now: The only change we've witnessed has been in the psychological sphere, in the way America is perceived. As opposed to his predecessor, Obama is accepted by the people as a moral and trustworthy person. In terms of his education, eloquence, prudence, and methodical nature, he truly appears to be the total opposite of George W. Bush.
But there's a lot in his policies that are left over from Bush. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he escalated the war in Afghanistan, a great historical risk. In the Middle East, he did nothing. He promised a responsible environmental policy, but at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December, he put his credibility at stake by appearing to act as a spokesman for big business.
The only foreign policy move that I applaud was pulling out from the missile-defense shield project in Europe. But that is embarrassingly little for the president of the world's most powerful country.
Gajo Sekulic, professor
Then: Obama is certainly capable of doing something positive in this region and in Bosnia, but he has to deal with the terrible legacy of a virtually illegal American foreign policy -- above all the legacy of George W. Bush -- as well as extremely pressing and unprecedented domestic problems. In other words, Obama might find himself in a situation where our region, and Bosnia in particular, finds itself very low on his list of priorities.
Obama alone will not do anything for Bosnia, or the region, unless we take the first steps. Obama is not Santa Claus. We shouldn't expect anything special from him. As the saying goes, "trust only yourself and your horse."
Now: There's been progress in shaping Obama's general foreign and domestic policy, but there's still an obvious gap between his political aspirations and his chances of implementing them. The American administration is dealing with lots of serious domestic and foreign political problems.
Regardless of [U.S. Vice President Joseph] Biden's useful visit to our region [in May 2009], the United States still hasn't made a strategically important decision. Is it going to continue to act as a partner to the European Union in efforts to stabilize this region, especially Bosnia-Herzegovina? Or is it going to abandon that role?
Vesna Pusic, parliament deputy and candidate in the 2009-10 presidential election
Then: I wish that Barack Obama as the newly elected president of the United States of America could visit Croatia -- it might have a very positive impact for the country as well as for the region.
I hope that Obama will support the advancement of the countries of Southeastern Europe toward NATO membership. Less attention should be paid to military issues; there should be more emphasis on political relations and cooperation instead.
Now: His key task in the last year was economic recovery [and] health reform. His approach to economic recovery was successful, and I think a number of countries are following his lead, especially in Europe. On health reform, he's been very persistent; he's come very far. Nobody in the world can understand why nobody in America has ever succeeded in reforming health care, so if he manages to push this through, it will be a turning point in American history.
The foreign policy issues are less clear. Afghanistan is a huge problem. We are now witnessing fights and conflicts in Kabul. His idea that Afghanistan was the key trouble spot, and not Iraq, was a good approach. But I don't see much progress in Afghanistan. Maybe it's too early.
I thought that in his inaugural speech he outlined a new policy on Iran. So far, the world hasn't moved much on that particular issue. The shift from the previous refusal to deal with the Iranians and this problem in any way other than with threats was a good thing. But it hasn't really produced any results, at least in the short term.
Ghia Nodia, political analyst
Then: There are great hopes in Georgia for the incoming Obama administration, because close cooperation with the United States is crucial for security and the stability of this country.
Overall, it will be of paramount importance for the Obama administration to find the right balance between a natural need for a modus vivendi with Russia and taking a firm stand in support of genuine sovereignty for the small and vulnerable states in Russia's neighborhood. A failure to do so will undermine the security not only of Georgia, but of the whole region.
Now: In the first year of his presidency, Obama was successful in accumulating goodwill around the world. This is important political capital, but so far it hasn't translated into equally meaningful specific achievements.
He made a conscious choice to focus on the Afghanistan-Pakistan issue, which is probably reasonable from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests. However, this somewhat reduced U.S. attention toward, and influence in, the post-Soviet part of the world.
Within my region, the U.S. focus was not on Georgia but on supporting Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, which is without a doubt a very important political project. It can bring lots of benefits to the region, especially if it is followed by progress in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Unfortunately, Georgian-Russian relations remain deadlocked and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It appears that the U.S. administration believes it can't do anything about it -- although it didn't step back from its stance that Russia's failure to meet its own obligations on withdrawing troops from Georgia is unacceptable.
RFE/RL was unable to contact reformer and former lawmaker Fatemeh Rakei, who last year spoke hopefully about Obama starting diplomatic relations based on "the realities of Iran."
This year, we spoke to Hooshang Amir Ahmadi, the founder and president of the U.S.-based American Iranian Council.
At its worst during the past year, the relationship between Iran and the United States has been frozen. At its best, there have been some positive statements from both sides. Problems stem from the overly optimistic expectations of people who think that the problems between the two countries should be solved very quickly. In fact, they can't even identify the problems. These are issues that have evolved over the course of 30 years. No one can solve them so quickly.
I think Obama has been successful in his goals on Iran, to some extent. Unfortunately, some problems have arisen that are out of his hands -- including the recent presidential election in Iran and some of the organizations that have been established in Iran and in the region. These organizations are creating enmity between the two countries, and that's something that Obama has no power to control.
Hashim al-Tay'i, chairman of the parliamentary Regions Committee
Then: I wish that the security pact would be implemented, and that the Iraqi and American people would interact better to project a more civilized image of their two countries than before.
Now: President Obama has made promises with regard to Iraq, especially during Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's visit to Washington [in October], where he addressed a big investment conference. We're still hopeful these promises will be kept. We particularly look forward to implementing the cultural cooperation facet of the overall framework agreement signed between the two countries.
As far as the security pact is concerned, breaches have taken place involving U.S. forces in some parts of Iraq, due to poor coordination with the Iraqi side. In the province of Nineveh, for example, there's an agreement between the central Iraqi government and the multinational forces with the Peshmerga militia on so-called disputed areas. We hope this won't violate the existing security pact.
President Obama has been able to deflect a lot of the anti-American resentment felt in the region. Obama is expected to take a more even-handed approach toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with regard to the past history of pro-Israeli U.S. vetoes on the UN Security Council.
Zhusipbek Korgasbek, journalist and head of the Zhas Orken youth publishing group
Then: Whenever America starts to push its enemies on democracy, developing nations start to feel nervous about this issue of democracy. You can hear opinions like, 'Do we really need democracy?' And that's why my hope is that the democratic forces led by Barack Obama will serve democracy in real terms. If a great nation like the United States is fair in terms of its own democratic values, then it will have a major impact on developing nations contemplating the same path.
Now: The world is full of ethnic, governmental, and religious conflicts. It will take time to solve them all. But during Obama's year in office, he's fully demonstrated his will to solve these issues. You could see Obama's goodwill during the holy month of Ramadan, when there were many special events in the United States. All these efforts are a step toward accord.
As a writer and journalist, I think that a person's appearance, nature, manner of speaking, and facial expressions play a huge role. In my opinion, there should be no hint of aggression in the face and overall bearing of a person who leads a country as powerful as the United States. Barack Obama fully meets those requirements.
Hajredin Kuchi, deputy prime minister
Then: Kosovo has a pro-Western orientation, and specifically a pro-American one. We would like to strengthen our ties with the United States even further in the future. The United States is identified with peace and security in Kosovo. I believe the administration of President Obama will contribute to the stability of our country and assist us in further development and integration in Euro-Atlantic structures.
Now: The Obama administration this year helped influence Kosovo's sustainability as a state, by strengthening relations within Kosovo as well as its regional integration. This offered additional possibilities for Kosovo's statehood to be recognized, and for it to be integrated into international structures like the World Bank and the IMF.
We've all seen a full, strong -- and I would add very serious and sincere -- engagement by the Obama administration with regard to Kosovo.
Roza Otunbaeva, opposition lawmaker and former foreign minister
Then: Obama's foreign policy will be mainly directed at improving the United States' deeply damaged reputation. He needs to finish the Iraq war and to deal with affairs in Afghanistan. If he overcomes the mistakes of the previous [Bush] administration and ends the wars, then it would be a great contribution to the global [political] climate.
Now: In Central Asia, I would say that the Obama administration is still not properly engaged. We don't feel it. Take Kyrgyzstan as an example. The Americans care mostly about their own [Manas] military base, and issues like human rights and democracy have been put aside.
At a time when all nations are reconsidering [their role in global issues], Obama's policy is a fundamental turning point. During this year he did a lot of things; he started to move his soldiers out of Iraq, he worked toward closing the prison camp in Guantanamo, and he's begun gathering powerful [military] forces in Afghanistan. We wouldn't be wrong is saying that 2010 will be a decisive year for the West, and especially for the United States.
Igor Botan, director of the Association for Participatory Democracy (ADEPT) in Chisinau
Then: Concerning the part of the world where the Republic of Moldova is situated, one should be pragmatic. Regional security, stability, and economic progress have long been thought of as regional issues. But they're also gaining in international urgency, in large part because of the Russia-Georgia war last August and the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute this month.
The approach to such issues could be improved significantly by eliminating any Bush-era friction remaining between the United States and the European Union after the U.S. presidential transition. Even a partial harmonization of U.S. and EU interests in the region could prove to have a synergic effect.
Now: If we take into account all the problems Barack Obama inherited when he took office a year ago, you can say that his main achievement is that at least he didn't disappoint. On the contrary, his energy and actions in fighting the fallout of the various crises inspire even more hope that he will eventually succeed.
To paraphrase the famous formula of Paul the Apostle: Americans under Obama should pass through an entire cycle -- suffering the consequences of the crises, increasing their endurance to combat its effects, and hardening their character in order to raise hope.
This seems to be the success formula for Obama's supporters at home. That hope persists in international affairs as well, and awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama was a very important sign in this sense.
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee
Then: I expect U.S. policy toward Russia to change. It should become more active on America's part, and it should include a debate on problems that interest not only the United States, but also Russia. If we can start debating the whole range of problems on an equal footing, I'm confident we'll begin working more effectively on issues such as our common enemies.
The very fact that America voted for such a candidate shows that America is waiting for change, both in domestic policy and certainly in foreign policy. Change should come to U.S.-Russian relations too. A concrete, substantive agenda should now evolve and it should be about the economy, first and foremost.
Now: The main result of Obama's first year is a change in the mood of the international community, a change in the perception of what has seemed over the past decade to be an irreversible trend of global development. There is a feeling that we can not only agree on something, but also act together. So far it is at the level of hope and expectations. And it's clear that these hopes put enormous pressure on Obama.
Still, the past year has been obviously positive, at least for Russian-U.S. relations, and in that sense Mr. Obama remains a very important, promising partner for us. The most positive outcome of our bilateral contacts now is that we have come very close to signing a new strategic arms control treaty, and we have got some breathing space in discussions about a global missile-defense system.
I hope before 2018, when the U.S. missile-defense program becomes real again, we will have developed some common mechanisms in this regard. Also, our discussions regarding the Afghan problem have become more constructive. Another positive aspect is a more trusting dialogue on the Iranian problem.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, liberal opposition activist and former State Duma deputy:
Then: I don't think there will or can be any fundamental changes in Russian-U.S. relations, because the United States already has a structure of long-term interests in our region. The United States will seek to strengthen its role in the Caucasus. It will try to pull into its orbit post-Soviet countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine. We have serious disagreements on the situation in Belarus. The United States will be increasing its presence in Central Asia, and so on.
Now: I don't think Obama made any serious mistakes in the first year of his presidency. He has shown himself to be a very energetic, efficient leader. He has done a lot of work in the international arena. He has made a few key speeches, for example in Prague, Cairo, and Moscow. He has paid great attention to foreign policy.
I think he gets a solid B for his first year. On the other hand, he has been unable to unravel any of the knots left by his predecessors. After much consideration, he decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan, but there's no certainty this won't lead to a repeat of Soviet history -- the more troops there are, the more guerilla warfare and victims and the less control there will be. In Iraq, the situation may destabilize quickly. There is no progress with Iran.
Obama's policy for Russia is pragmatic. Of course, he makes statements that democracy and human rights in Russia are important to him, but the first year of his relations with Putin and Medvedev has been focused on pragmatism, on the strategic arms control treaty -- which has not been signed yet, by the way. And there is [Russia's support for operations in] Afghanistan.
In turn, the new U.S. administration has halted the process of NATO's eastward expansion and halted its missile-defense program in Central and Eastern Europe. So they have reached a kind of compromise. At the same time, there are still fundamental differences: the idea of spheres of influence, put forward by Moscow but rejected by Washington -- in other words, the struggle for post-Soviet countries. [And the issue of] NATO enlargement, which has not been canceled but only postponed, the same as with the missile-defense system. Relations have improved, but fundamental differences remain.
Zivorad Kovacevic, ex-Yugoslav diplomat and current president of the Belgrade-based European Movement for Serbia
Then: I think Serbia has nothing to expect from the new American administration. It's not likely that the new administration will change its position on Kosovo -- and that's a priority for Serbia.
What Serbia can hope for is a new style of American foreign policy. We can hope for a less arrogant approach to international issues and expect more effort in Washington in understanding the complexity of the international arena.
Now: Although some people spoke out against Obama having been given the Nobel Prize because it was more about promises than realization, one could say that after a year of his presidency, a lot of promises have been fulfilled.
In his confrontation with insupportable difficulties, particularly considering the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he's done a very, very good job. He really is now a beacon of hope for the whole world.
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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