The day after the inaugural address, as the streets around Pennsylvania Avenue are being swept and the previous nights party is just a hangover to take into the office, now begins the serious work of President Obama’s second term.
Americans are a people enamored with the virtues of pomp and ceremony, convinced of the sacred nature of their public rituals. Hence the inauguration of each President (and they number them) marks a defining moment in the greater national narrative. So what of Obama #44 as he begins his second term? How will he engage with the world or rather how will it engage with him these next four years?
The truth is that a lot has changed in the world, while staying much the same. There is near unanimous agreement that this is the Asian Century (read Chinese) yet many of the most pressing matters on the international stage still seem to be located within 500 km radius of Jerusalem.
In Lybia, the nascent government continues to try in vain to wrest full control of its sovereign country from a myriad regional war lords. In Egypt, the most important country in the region, democratic tensions continue to spill out onto the streets as the governing Muslim Brotherhood tussles for power with the resurgent counter-revolutionary Mubarak forces. Across the Straights of Hormuz, Iran is gripped in the ever tightening vice of US led sanctions, the consequences of which are entirely unpredictable. It is quite plausible that in the upcoming Presidential elections Syrians might either punish their leaders for their economic plight or the converse, and double down in patriotic defiance by electing another conservative to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Worst of all, in Syria a civil war rages on and shows no sign of abating, nor of either side being in the ascendancy. All of which means, absent a change in the balance of power, most likely by external means – read Turkish/ NATO intervention or Russian withdrawal of support – this conflict has no end in sight. Tens of thousands are already dead, many more have been displaced and all as the world watches on. Meanwhile, the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict remains in stasis. The status quo favours Israel, which continues to extend its borders by way of land grabs, while subduing its enemy by Apartheid style measures.
So this is the day after the night before. The sun rises to expose the ugly truth. There is a lot of work to be done. In the Middle East nothing gets easier, only more complicated. And considering his faltering efforts to bring peace to the Middle East in his first term, Obama can surely only improve.
Karabo Che Mokoape