Connect to share and comment

No marker

The 100-day mini-milestone has not been ballyhooed in Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf states, and there's been precious little commentary in the local press.

The reason may be that Arabs are still holding their breath to see what actually will emerge as Middle East policies in the Obama administration.

The atmospherics have changed — a lot. But when it comes to the region’s carbuncles of tough problems, all that the Arabs have seen so far is a promise of change.

Washington’s relationship with Iran under the Democratic president has yet to take shape.

On Iraq, Obama has committed to troop withdrawals as planned, but the neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, are still deeply worried about the possibility of civil war as the U.S. draws down its forces.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arabs are hopeful, but don’t yet see the kind of change that would make them yell "Wow!"

"Every president sent a special envoy. Every president promised to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said analyst Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. "We haven’t seen anything new which separates Mr. Obama from his predecessors. The question is, ‘How far is Mr. Obama going to pressure the Iranians and the Israelis?’ The question is, ‘How far is Mr. Obama going to be different from other presidents?'"

King Abdullah II of Jordan, interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday, after meeting President Obama in Washington, said that Washington had to make its intentions clear by the time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the United States next month.

"But if, right after that visit, there's not a clear understanding of how America is going to weigh in on these problems, then I think the goodwill (towards) the United States will disappear," the king warned.

One thing that has delighted and heartened Saudis and other Arabs, however, has been the new administration’s disciplined and mature rhetoric.

Obama’s speech during his recent visit to Turkey went “a long way to reversing the damage from the use of phrases like ‘Islamofascism,’ which the Bush administration was fond of using,” said Mehran Kamrava, a professor at the Qatar campus of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

“Certainly the atmospherics have improved,” added Kamrava. “But 100 days is not enough of a time period to see if the changed sentiments towards the United States is lasting.”