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Obama's Top Aides & Implications For The GME.

Obama's Dec. 1 decision to name the former First Lady and his formal rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State is causing Iranian, Iraqis and fellow Arabs, Israelis and non-Arabs in the Greater Middle East (GME) to readjust expectations of his administration's policies towards their vast and energy-rich part of the world. One of the main conditions for her to accept this key post was that she will have direct link to the president, while Obama has since made it clear that he will have full control over the various branches of his administration.

During the campaign, Obama carried the hopes of many Arabs, as well as the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran, for a new brand of diplomacy, more open to their views, one which would revive America's power and prestige in the region and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the main concern of the Arabs as well as Iran was Obama's appointment Rahm Emanuel - a Jewish hawk who has served in the Israeli military and now is said to be part of the Jewish state's intelligence network Mossad - as his White House chief of staff. Representative Emanuel of Illinois, the fourth-ranking House Democrat and a close friend of Obama's from Chicago, has a reputation of being combative, fiercely loyal to Israel and one of those hawks who are determined to see the US and its allies curb Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions. Iran leads an axis of anti-US/anti-Israel forces in the GME which include the 'Alawite/Ba'thist regime of Syria, Hizbullah - the Lebanon branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, etc.

In turning to Emanuel, whose father was a key man in the pre-Israel terrorist group Irgun Zwei Leuni, Obama sought out one of the hardest-hitting veterans of the Democratic Party, known for his deep Washington experience, savvy and no-holds-barred approach to politics. Nor is he considered a practitioner of the "new politics" which Obama promised on the campaign trail to bring Republicans and Democrats together, suggesting that the cool and conciliatory new president is determined to demonstrate toughness from the beginning.

Before his appointment of Emanuel and other hawks, Israelis viewed Obama as a less reliable friend than John McCain, his Republican rival, or Mrs Clinton who touted a deep affinity for the Jewish state in her bid for the Democratic nomination. Israelis now are applauding Mrs Clinton's nomination as a sign that Obama can be trusted to act firmly against Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions and to refrain from pressing the Jewish state to accept a weak, violence-prone Palestinian state on its borders.

Arabs and fellow Muslims - especially Iran's theocracy and its allies, say the news of the appointments has dampened their optimism that Obama will veer from the Bush administration's hawkish policies and from what they call America's pro-Israel tilt. "I was frankly surprised by this choice", said Manar Shorbagy, an expert on US foreign policy who teaches at the American University in Cairo, adding: "Obama's talking about bringing diplomacy back to a US foreign policy that has been militarised under President Bush. Senator Clinton has different ideas. She voted for the Iraq war and has supported many things Bush has done in his two terms". Clinton had warned repeatedly before the Nov. 4 elections that Iran will be obliterated if it ever threatened its neighbours with nuclear weapons.

Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, says of Mrs Clinton: "Her friendship and support of the Jewish people and Israel is second to none". The Arab world sees two Hillary Clintons: one, the first lady who famously got ahead of US policy a decade ago by advocating Palestinian statehood and remains at least verbally wedded to the goal of a US-brokered peace deal; the other, a politician with lingering presidential ambitions and a BlackBerry which holds too many pro-Israeli connections. Mou'in Rabbani, an independent analyst based in Amman, says of her: "My impression is that before agreeing to take the job, she fought quite hard for a real role in formulating American policy. But she'll be acting with at least one eye on her own political future".

Obama's early top adviser Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state, was made the US ambassador to the UN with the rank of a cabinet secretary. Like Obama a black but forceful person, she will have to navigate her way through a strong Secretary of State, Mrs Clinton, and other members of a new administration with strong character.

Obama retained Republican Robert Gates as defence secretary, signalling continuity in US policy towards Iraq as the Pentagon is the American party in the SOFA. A moderate, Gates will implement Obama's promised shift of emphasis to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Most of the US combat forces which will leave Iraq will be sent to Afghanistan, where the Obama administration intends to conduct the US war against Neo-Salafi terrorism which has developed a strategic depth in Pakistan.

Iraq's Kurds were particularly elated by Obama's appointment of Lt Gen James L. Jones as his national security adviser, who will also weigh heavily in decisions about the region after the new Democratic administration takes office on Jan. 20. Gen Jones was the man in charge of Iraq's Kurdistan after the first Gulf War in 1991 which liberated Kuwait from Saddam's forces. Jones later became supreme commander of the NATO armed forces. A veteran of the Vietnam war and long-standing friend of McCain, Jones has a strong character and is able to manage a "team of rivals", having emerged as a critic of the Bush administration's strategy. Rtr Lt Gen John Abizaid, a former CentCom commander of Lebanese origin, says of Jones: "He must be a good co-ordinator, but will be an enforcer when necessary".

Vice-President-elect Joe Biden has extensive foreign-policy experience. For him, as for Obama, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq pose more immediate problems than other geo-political issues in the GME - these being far below Obama's top priority which is the US economy. The US is in deep recession, the cause of a global credit crunch and a rapid fall in world oil prices (see omt24GCC-OilDec8-08).
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Title Annotation:Barack Obama and the Greater Middle East
Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 8, 2008
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