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Sat. February 04, 2023
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Barack Obama: In search of the Jeffersonian legacy?
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President Obama’s speech on the Middle East took foreign analysts, diplomats, and foreign governments by surprise due to its highly ideological and ethical context, pressuring Middle East countries participating in the “Arab Spring” to pursuit liberal reforms. However, the most surprising aspect of the President’s speech was his reference to Israel-Palestinian relations, urging his long lasting ally (Israel) to make peace with Palestinians on the basis of the boundaries that existed before the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. Speaking from inside the Benjamin Franklin room in State Department, President Obama became the first US President to break the long lasting tradition of all former US Presidents who totally supported and argued in favor of Israel’ s foreign policy decisions. This was in complete contradiction with the previous Bush administration, claiming that “it is unrealistic to expect” Israel to pull back from the West Bank and Golan heights. In contrast, President Obama tended to keep his distance from both sides, commenting that: “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation” arguing in favor of “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces from West Bank”. However, he stated a necessary precondition of a nonmilitarized future Palestinian state (acting as a buffer zone), stressing his will of a secure and safe Israel state. Moreover, President Obama’s speech called for a “new beginning” with the Arab world, suggesting that under his Presidency, alliances with the Muslim world will not be based on supporting pro-American dictatorships but rather based on alliances of states embracing democratic and humanitarian values, cooperating in harmony and on moral grounds: “After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursuit the world as it should be”. In addition, President Obama, also proposed a series of economic measures-one of which called for a $2 billion loan guarantees to Egypt, drawing fire for being over - enthusiastic and not realist, since-as House Foreign Affairs Chairman claimed: “considering our own national debt, we cannot afford to forgive up to $1 billion of Egypt’s debt”. President Obama’s speech gives the impression that was heavily influenced by the Jeffersonian legacy. As John Locke before him, Jefferson viewed all aristocratic / autocratic regimes as inherently corrupt and argued that every man has certain inalienable rights and opposed any state action from infringing on the liberty of the people. Jefferson believed that the US was the cradle of social liberties and democracy, thus US had the moral obligation to conform its foreign policy according to those ethical principles and to try to promote them globally, with the ultimate goal being an envisioned global democracy, based on liberal values, cultural uniformity and ethics. In other words, Jefferson envisioned world relations between states to be conducted on the basis of a “divine moral law”, where the states having adopted US revolutionary values & principles (as defined by Thomas Paine and others), cooperate harmoniously with each other. Does President Obama’s speech signals a new turn towards a more Jeffersonian US foreign policy ? Does this mean that the US will follow this foreign relations doctrine with autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, their most valuable ally in the Arab peninsula and #1 oil supplier? Or with President Karzai’s corrupt regime in Afghanistan? We’ll have to wait and see. At the United States Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School, they have a motto: “Ductus Exemplo” (Leadership by Example). President Obama, will have to show he really means business…

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