When I first moved to Hyde Park many years ago I was perplexed by an unusual and exotic word sticking out of the front yards and porches of this otherwise quaint neighborhood: OBAMA. At the time the now elect-president was still a state politician, but the word did not remain obscure for long as the man behind it won a seat in the senate and then decided to run for president.
Against many odds, Obama won the presidential race in an election that shattered many myths the world had of America and, more so, Americans had of themselves. Although Obama is far from an ideal candidate, after eight years of the mishaps of Republican rule, one cannot but breathe a sigh of relief.
As far as the Middle East is concerned, that the seat will dictate politics to the man rather than the other way around already began to manifest itself with Obama’s rise to national politics. Known in his Chicago days as a harsh critic of Israel, Obama very consciously remodeled his utterances over the past eight or so years to rise to the occasion. (This article has a delicious photograph of Obama listening attentively to Edward Said at the dinner table). In another of these twists and turns, Obama, who opposed the war on Iraq, is making a relocation of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan sound like a change of policy.
Everything, from the character of the man to his choice of pastor, indicates that he would make an excellent neighbor just as he was an excellent local politician. Some Palestinians still entertain the hope that being of African origin and part of a persecuted minority he might exhibit some understanding and sympathy for their plight. As endearing as this is, realistically speaking, the most the Middle East can hope for is that follies and misadventures will no longer be declared policy. The other side of the coin is, of course, that in his golden mouth, follies and misadventures could regain legitimacy in the eyes of many.