So Obama is already a lock-in for Time magazine's 2008 Person of the Year. And that's before he actually accomplishes anything. So what, exactly, will the guy do and how will he be remembered in fifty years time? The rule in American politics is that Presidents get elected because of the economy and then spend most of their time focused on international affairs. With the good ship Hillary hopefully on the team as Secretary of State, Obama will soon recognize the intractability of the problems in Detroit and on Wall Street and will instead turn his statesmanlike gaze outward, toward American relations with the rest of the world.
We haven't had a genuinely bold moment in American foreign policy since Nixon went to China in February 1972 to bring the Beijing communists in from the cold. The obvious opportunity is for Mr Obama to go to Tehran and sit down with the bearded powers-that-be there to establish a firm American-Iranian raprochement. An Iranian trip early in his Presidency would be the most effective way for him to really turn Middle Eastern politics upside down. And it would be the key to solving most of America's most explosive foreign policy problems. Such a historic trip could accomplish the following:
- The symbolism of Barack Hussein Obama breaking bread with with the Mullahs in Tehran would be much more effective way of ending the cold war between American and the Islamic world than either turning Afghanistan into Iraq, bombing northern Pakistan or endlessly hunting down the merely symbolic Bin Laden (who is probably dead anyway).
- Allow Obama to gracefully withdraw most American troops from Iraq while ensuring there be no immediate Iraqi civil war.
- Doing a deal on the Iranian nuclear capability which save Tehran's face but also ensure that an Iranian bomb remains potentiality rather than actuality.
- Laying the foundations of a genuine Arab-Israeli peace by bringing the Syrians, Hezbollah and Hamas to the table and then forcing the Israelis to honestly negotiate a viable two state deal.
- Showing the Arabs, particularly the Saudis and the Egyptians, that the Americans have alternative Moslem allies in the region.
So what are the chances of this really happening? Low, I'm afraid, very low. As John Pilger reminds us, Obama's decision to pick the uncompromising Zionist Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff suggests that he's learnt nothing from the last fifty years of disastrously pro Israeli American diplomacy in the Middle East. The great Seymour Hersch said the same thing in Denmark on Sunday, when he spoke before me at Fagfestival.
So, Mr Obama, is you happen to be reading this: please go to the Tehran and bring the Mullahs in from the cold. Such a trip will guarantee you posterity. It might even win you another Person of the Year award from Time magazine.