As MEED went to press, Barack Obama appeared almost certain to defeat John McCain to win the US presidential election. Over the course of the campaign, he has provoked high expectations that he will quickly bring radical change to foreign policy, not least in the Middle East. But if he does win, the reality will be rather different.
Whoever becomes the US president will need to focus their attention on domestic economic affairs in their opening months in office. Only with a stable and functioning economy at home will the US be able to exert proper influence abroad in the years to come.
Foreign affairs will not be top of the agenda at first, and the US’ allies in the Middle East will need to show some patience in their early dealings with the new president.
A withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is likely to be among the few policy shifts brought in at first, and the Iranian nuclear question will also not be far from the new president’s thoughts.
Efforts to engage with the Iranian leadership may cause Gulf allies some discomfort, but there is no suggestion that Obama will be slow to defend the US’ core interests in the region. Other issues, including Palestine and Syria, will force themselves onto his agenda soon enough.
But even without an overnight change in policy, the Middle East can expect a more pragmatic, multilateral approach from an Obama presidency, which should be welcome after the Bush years.