Just arrived in Dubai today and have given a couple of talks here about President Obama’s foreign policy efforts and team on what is almost the one year anniversary since he moved into the White House.
I had the chance to chat with a number of people from Dubai today — and others from Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Bahrain. In general, people here sympathize with the challenges Barack Obama is facing. I figured that they had given up on him being able to deliver something substantial on Israel/Palestine, on Iran, or in the region as a whole — and that’s not true. They are disappointed and think he got swindled by Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — but from their perspective, Netanyahu’s actions were totally predictable and most are surprised that the White House demonstrated such naivety.
Bottom line though is that most here want Obama to succeed. Most want normalized relations with Israel after a course to a Palestinian state is established — and most see that normalization track with Israel as part of a larger security lynchpin against Iran’s ambitions.
The most interesting comments I heard today came from some sophisticated business guys who paid careful attention to President Obama’s trips to Asia and Europe. They commented that in Asia, he went to Japan, South Korea, to China, to Singapore and really bounced around. They felt that in the Middle East, Obama did Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia — but with none of the fanfare and prep done in these other corners of the world. They hope that he’ll make a multi-country visit in the not too distant future and visit the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, as well as the larger heavyweights in the region like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
On the econ front, I don’t get any sense at all from this trip that people are down in the dumps about the debt mess Dubai is carrying — at least not yet. Maybe tomorrow.
Tomorrow evening, I have been invited to the gala opening of the Burj Dubai, a magnificent tower in the pic above — which is next to The Address Hotel in Downtown Burj, where I am staying.
This place has a great confidence — and the cosmopolitan mix here and opportunities to just see the benefits of a more modern path are clear as I saw three head-scarved covered young ladies holding hands and ice skating in the Dubai Ice rink a short while ago.
More tomorrow — and thanks again to the folks who hosted me today and drove me all over Dubai and into the desert. And I’ll post more on the big party opening tomorrow and the event with Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed.
— Steve Clemons