Moises Naim, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, urged Europe to switch from applauding US President Obama to helping him and tells Deutsche Welle why he is optimistic about the Middle East.
Obama has received enough congratulations from Europe, now it's time for help, Naim said
Currently editor-in-chief of "Foreign Policy," a leading international affairs magazine, Moises Naim previously served as Venezuela's minister of trade and industry, as executive director at the World Bank and as director of economic reform projects at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
DW-WORLD.DE: Since taking office US President Barack Obama has launched a major overhaul of his predecessor's policies. Obama has started the process of closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and the prohibited the use of torture. How important were those first steps and what do they say to the world about Obama?
Naim said he was surprised Obama's administration didn't lean farther left
Moises Naim: What's more important than the decisions themselves, which he had announced in the campaign, is that we have not yet seen any major missteps. It's normal for a new government in the United States to make a misstep that then becomes a theme during the rest of the term. With Bill Clinton it was gays in the military, a decision that he made early on and that completely distracted from everything else.
But perhaps the most important surprise of the Obama administration has been his theme. No one would have predicted in the campaign that he would have assembled such as centrist group of people. You would have expected a more left-of-center government. Instead what we see is a highly centrist government.
Despite applauding the decision to close Guantanamo, in Europe many politicians are opposed to taking in any former inmates and feel that the United States has to solve this issue alone. Do you think it will be possible to close Guantanamo within a year?
In government and public policy, as well as in life in general, you quickly realize the devil is in the details. There is no doubt that Obama will close Guantanamo. He is committed to it. It's going to take longer and it's going to be more complicated than he had anticipated, but I don't have any doubt that Guantanamo will be closed as a detention center in the way that it was run by the Bush administration.
Obama is expected to call on European countries, particularly Germany, to send more troops additional aid to Afghanistan. But Europeans are not eager to contribute more soldiers. Where does that leave the much discussed new dawn for European-American relations?
Obama received a massive welcome in Berlin
A central message of the Obama administration towards Europe is "stop smiling and congratulating me and start helping me." The world was pro-Obama, but Europe was ultra-pro-Obama. Very few European politicians would command the kind of crowds that Obama generated, for example during his visit to Berlin. Obama is very popular in Europe and every politician in Europe knows that Obama is more popular in his or her country than himself or herself.
The United States cannot deal with all the world's problems alone. Obama is aware of that. Europe is also aware of that, so now it's time to do something. Bush made it very easy for Europe to say, "We don't agree with what you're doing and, therefore, we won't move a finger. We're not going to deploy a soldier; we're not going to write a check." Now Europe will have to write checks, mobilize the military, mobilize the diplomats and the institutional resources and stop applauding and start doing.
Recently many government leaders, including, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have criticized the US and Obama for the economic crisis and warned of a new American protectionism. Is that criticism justified?
One of the collateral effects of the financial crisis is to spur policies and measures that are inhibitors of international integration. It's very hard to compete in another country in an industry where your competitors are all subsidized by governments. That's a real danger of which the United States is not the only culprit.
Let's be clear: When it's a matter of subsidizing industries, bailing out industrial champions and picking winners in certain industrial sectors every country does a bit of it. It's very important that every country denounces this, because let's remember that one of factors that accelerated and deepened the recession was the beggar-thy-neighbor policies in which we saw competitive efforts at protecting industries.
One region where President Obama could dramatically change US policy is Latin America, especially Cuba. Do you expect him to lift the travel ban and loosen the money flow towards Cuba or could he even end the economic embargo altogether?
How much Obama changes US relations with Cuba remains to be seen
The relationship between the United States and Cuba by the end of this year will look completely different from what it has been in the recent past. Obama has already announced that the travel ban will be lifted, that remittances will also be lifted, that Cuban-Americans in the US will be able to send money to their families, that they will be able to visit more frequently.
The fact that the price of oil is very low greatly helps in an indirect and complex way. With a low oil price, the support of Venezuelan President Chavez in bailing out the Cuban economy will be harder to sustain. The Cuban economy is bankrupt, and Cuba has been able to postpone needed reforms because President Chavez has supplied it with massive amounts of money. In fact, Venezuela now sustains the Cuban economy. This new situation provides even more of an incentive for Raul Castro to find new ways of sustaining what he recognizes is a bankrupt economy.
Obama also wants to bring change to the Middle East. How realistic is it -- even with renewed American efforts -- to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis?
International calls for peace in the Mideast have increased after a 22-day war
The Middle East has educated us to be very cautious about being optimists. The rule is: Whatever bad can happen in the Middle East, will happen in the Middle East. And whatever good could happen, won't happen. Yet, I feel optimistic. I think there is a convergence of forces that are creating a new basis, perhaps not for a permanent solution, but for progress. The Obama administration comes with a new way of looking at things and is trying hard to solve the problem.
Secondly, the recent tragic situation in Gaza has taken everyone's position to a level where there is a commitment to deal with this tragedy. Third, I think everyone understands that this is not a problem between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Everyone understands that this is a proxy war, that Iran is deeply involved, that all the regional players like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Syria are crucial for the problem and the solution and that the domestic Israeli political situation is also in flux.
The world is willing to lend a hand to see if progress can be made. So there are many forces pointing to an opening for a solution. President Obama's envoy to the Middle East, Senator Mitchell, is a very respected politician who played a great role in solving the Northern Ireland conflict. He is a very experienced negotiator and has the confidence of both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think he can generate some movement. So let's cross our fingers and hope that a history of guaranteed outcomes in the Middle East is broken in these coming months.