US President-Elect Barack Obama’s glowing agenda is beginning to take shape with the announcement of priorities he will choose to address immediately as well as the appointment of several Cabinet members.  Domestic issues have convincingly been expressed as a major concern, but the global community is still eager to hear how he will bring the US back into the world stage as a compassionate and collaborative leader. Obama’s theme of “change” and “hope” has stolen the hearts and minds of not just the American, but of people across the globe.  In particular, Arabs in the Middle East region are anxious for Obama to rebuild broken relationships and begin a new chapter of peace in a region plagued with wars, poverty, and human rights abuses.  The key ingredient that the US has left out of its foreign policy decisions is that on local support.  Local feelings about US support has been poisoned with a war in Iraq that most feel is unnecessary and the rhetoric used to generalize and demonize some Muslim-majority countries, among many other reasons (2007 Poll).  As a result, local negative feelings have festered to dangerous levels which American policy-makers have far too long overlooked.  With Obama’s election local support have sky-rocketed and it is at this junction that he must carefully use to everyone’s advantage.

General David Patraeus was the first to really emphasize the importance of local communities.  His “surge” tactic in Iraq, that has been seen by many as a success with lower rates of violence, is mostly attributed to  his strategy of investing in the local communities.  The conventional idea of fighting “wars” only with the military and the strict use of the Track 1 form of diplomacy between government leaders has proven to be ineffective.  Obama has the shifted the mind-set of the Arab community across the region and created a space for reconciliation to occur between two regions that have long-awaited this time to come. “Obama-mania” has gone beyond the top-level politicians to local citizens.

On November 13th, 2008, Americans for Informed Democracy held an international videoconference with four sites in the United States and two in the Middle East.  The question participants tackled was “how to better relations between the US and the Middle East” and I think a Moroccan participant said it most clearly when she answered “relations are already better with the election of Barack Obama and his move for change and hope.”  All social and economic classes across the region have expressed similar thawing of relations. From naming a donkey in Jordan’s Petra valley to narcotics in the villages of Egypt after Obama, locals are excited to be a part of this change and history-making movement.  People across the region are anxious to hear Obama’s first foreign policy decisions and the direction he will lead the US in regards to rebuilding its relationship.  President-Elect Obama must utilize this moment of togetherness and build new bridges and relationships with a region so eager for American collaboration.

One can only hope Obama’s honeymoon period goes beyond his 100 first days.  The world is on his side.  The Middle East society is on his side.  But where can he take it?  Where will it go?  President-Elect Barack Obama should listen to the people of the Middle East and use this pivotal moment in history to embark on a more collaborative effort with all actors and not just with the politicians and military leaders.