Obama gets mixed reviews at conference

Perceptions of Mr Obama's success in the GCC rested on how he dealt with Iran's nuclear programme, says professor.

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Barack Obama's greatest achievement in his first year as US president has been to reduce anti-American sentiment in the Gulf and recognise that militarism is not a sustainable solution to the region's complex problems, a prominent UAE academic told a conference yesterday. Dr Abdulkhaliq Abdallah, a professor of political science at UAE University, told a conference on American Government, Politics and Policy at the American University of Sharjah that despite recent "failures" in domestic policy, from an international perspective, Mr Obama was "the best thing to happen to America in recent times".

"The world is definitely a safer place with Obama as president. He has managed to remove the USA from the unilateralism and militarism that defined the Bush administration. His 'soft power' approach is widely respected," he said. "Obama has brought back diplomacy and dialogue to US foreign policy and this has been key in the Gulf experiencing an exceptional year of tranquility in 2009." However, Prof Abdallah said, perceptions of Mr Obama's success in the GCC rested on how he dealt with Iran's nuclear programme, which he said was the main security risk in the region.

Gilles Kepel, the director of doctoral studies on the Arab world at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, gave a more cynical assessment of Mr Obama's performance. He told the conference that despite high expectations of his presidency fuelled by the promises and rhetoric of his electoral campaign, Mr Obama had failed to make practical changes in the region. He cited the tensions in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Mr Obama's "naive" address to the Muslim world in Cairo as seeds of major dissatisfaction towards the US in the region.

"The Gulf issue, and specifically the issue of Iranian nuclear power, is a much more important problem than Israel. This part of the world is a major exporter of oil and gas and this passes through the Strait of Hormuz on a daily basis. If this is threatened it will have an impact not only on the region but the global economy," he said. tbrooks@thenational.ae