SHARJAH: His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member, Ruler of Sharjah, and President of American University of Sharjah (AUS), inaugurated on Sunday an international conference, which was attended by renowned scholars from around the world to discuss American government policies.
Entitled, ‘American Government Conference -US Policy from Presidential Elections to Shifting Paradigms in the Middle East US Policy,’ the day-long event was held at the Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qassimi Centre for Gulf Studies (Al Darah), at Sharjah’s University City.
Academics and experts from the United States, Europe and the Middle East discussed how US President Barack Obama’s policies have been impacting the Middle East.
Discussions throughout the conference focused on a number of significant issues including how the Obama administration guided or reacted to major events; whether Obama’s quiet “lead from behind” strategy advanced broad changes that were already afoot and whether President Obama’s policies are hindering initiatives or actually catalysing events.
According to Dr James Thurber, distinguished professor of government and director of the Centre for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, Washington, D.C., those on the right see Obama as “too much of an activist, too liberal, too socialist even!” while for those on the left he may be perceived as “too moderate and too willing to sell out his base supporters for political expediency.”
In his lecture “Assessing President Obama and the 112th Congress,” Profesor Thurber noted that since his assumption of office, President Obama had moved on several issues such as passing a stimulus package, health care overhaul, financial sector re-evaluation through TARP, auto industry bailouts, among others. Thus far, 243 new laws have been passed.
However, while Obama had unprecedented approval ratings, these have now taken a nosedive, he added.
He noted that President Obama’s difficulties have been exacerbated by the biggest loss faced by Democrats in the 2010 congressional “wave” elections, which saw the GOP gain 63 seats net in the House. That election brought in a freshmen class of 87 Republicans, many of whom with little or no experience of government. This, according to him, has been making the atmosphere within Congress extremely divisive.
Professor Thurber stated that the current state of the 112th Congress has had a negative impact on how the people view Capitol Hill. The public approval is at historic lows, with both parties sharing the blame for the loss of public confidence.
Obama & Europe
Meanwhile, addressing the topic, “Obama, Europe, and the Middle East,” Dr Gilles Andreani, former director of the Policy Planning Department in the French Ministry and professor at University of Paris II, said that Europeans find themselves looking at a “strange America” which they have difficulty in recognising not so much for its foreign policies but for the stark difference emerging in its internal, domestic affairs.
Dr Andreani focused on a number of issues that have impacted the European perception of Obama. He stated that Obama had a lot of goodwill in Europe but appears to have little interest in the continent, compared to some of his predecessors. In the public domain, American performance in the Middle East has a substantial impact upon how a US president is viewed by Europeans, he said. The favourable reviews that were generated by Obama’s Cairo speech soon evaporated due to American foreign policy, especially with regard to the Obama administration’s manner in handling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Afghanistan.
Dr Andreani said that Europeans had earlier appreciated the fact that Obama had inherited a difficult situation when he came into office, with two wars and a rapidly deteriorating economy. However, over the past three years, there has been a steady decline in the President’s popularity on the continent, especially since the United States record in the Middle East has been rather mixed of late.
Justin Siberell, United States Consul General to the UAE, delivered the keynote address at the event. Sheikh Sultan also visited an exhibition of his rare collections held as part of the conference.
This is the second American government conference to be held at the centre and was organised by the AUS College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs (ODAA).