President Obama’s inaugural address emphasized, throughout the narrative, that the United States seeks to be a great power — but not a superpower. And greatness means when the people have equal opportunities, medical coverage, social security, investment in infrastructure, educational opportunities, openness to immigrants and an emphasis on empowerment of those who are vulnerable.
The speech was basically inward-looking, extricating the United States from the lingering results of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. This was emphasized by phrases such as, “We the people believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” In stating, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he also signaled to his political opposition, in a subtle way, that his second mandate as president includes objectives that should be common, but are unnecessarily rendered controversial. There is no doubt that he is now emboldened.
The absence of an outline of his foreign policy probably stems from awaiting confirmation of John Kerry for secretary of state and especially of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. Also, he probably wanted to convey that his approach to international policies will be active more than reactive. For the Arab world, and the Palestinian question, it remains to be seen if his new empowerment will lead to a more even-handed policy and authentic resolution of conflicts in tune with international law. This is a logical expectation, and hopefully a realistic one.
Clovis Maksoud is a former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and its chief representative in the United States for more than 10 years.