As Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in a ceremony watched by billions worldwide yesterday (20 January), two conflicts came to an end, sending a message to the new leader of the world’s only remaining superpower.
Barack Hussein Obama, who used his middle name as he was sworn in as a symbolic gesture to the Muslim world, inherited two wars from his predecessor – in Iraq and in Afghanistan – and a major world economic crisis.
Tellingly, two other conflicts fizzled out just before his inauguration: the Israeli offensive in Gaza and the second ‘gas war’ between Russia and Ukraine, which had begun in the New Year and replicated a similar conflict in January 2006.
Many observers noted that the Israeli operation had been carefully planned for the final days of George W. Bush’s mandate, to avoid major interference from Washington. In his twenty-minute inauguration speech, Obama neglected to mention the Middle East conflict, despite earlier assurances that the issue would rank high on his agenda.
Obama told the Muslim world that he will seek “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect”.
“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” the first black American president said.
In his speech, Obama also opted not to mention Russia, which according to various observers “won” the ‘gas war’ yesterday, by obtaining favourable economic terms for sales to Ukraine and by weakening that country’s pro-NATO president, Viktor Yushchenko.
The timing for resolving the crisis is seen by many as a signal that Moscow is beginning to “question the post-Cold War environment,” one prominent East European MEP stated recently.
In Brussels, Ion Mircea Pascu (PES, Romania), a former defence minister in Bucharest, warned the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee that the gas row will be “the biggest geostrategic game for the next fifty years”. He said Europe should not simply blame Russia, but rather understand that the country has been pushed into a corner in the last decade, and now wants to reassert its regained power. “But we need to react,” he added.
In a policy paper, the European Institute for Security Studies advises the EU and the US to engage in close consultations to make its Russia policies more compatible, including by giving “serious consideration” to a proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev regarding the European security architecture.