"Only a miracle prevented a disaster," it was said after the attempted terrorist attack on Delta-Northwest Airlines Flight 253. A passenger, Jasper Schuringa, who jumped on the terrorist as he was trying to set off an explosive device, not only saved his fellow passengers but also the first year of U.S. President Barack Obama's tenure.
The last thing Obama would have needed was to devote his State of the Union address next month to the first big terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001.
The incident reveals just how delicate a situation the president with the ambitious agenda finds himself in. Under the pressure of circumstances, the Obama administration has already been forced to backtrack from its policy of the first few months, when officials refused to use the word "terror" in an attempt to draw a clear line between George W. Bush's policy of "intimidation" and the Obama era.
In the second half of the past year, however, the word has returned to the administration's lexicon, and it will apparently remain there.
Speaking at the United States Military Academy at West Point at the beginning of the month, when he announced he would be sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, Obama said that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the centers of Al-Qaida's violent extremism. However, he and his advisers now know that the roots of the problem lie not only in the Taliban outposts but also in Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as among a minority of young Muslims in the United States who are undergoing a dangerous process of radicalization.
It is difficult to ignore the sharp increase in the number of extremist Muslim activists in the United States who have been arrested in the past year. But as long as security forces, vigilant civilians and luck prevent attacks and distance the claims of the right wing that Obama's "spineless" policy is making America less safe, the public's attention will focus on the socio-economic arena.
Obama is about to complete a year in office with a historic achievement - health reform. But a reform that more than half of Americans view with suspicion is not enough to reduce the president's political deficit. It seems that Obama's chances of soaring again in the polls are dependent on three factors: whether the economy picks up, whether the unemployment rate drops, and whether the troop surge in Afghanistan is successful.
It is said that for a president to be a great leader, he needs a great crisis. Obama has had no dearth of such crises and does not back away from them. At the climate conference in Copenhagen, Obama intervened without waiting for his aides to prepare the ground. There are some who believe that this approach is not beneficial and say that Obama is wearing thin his prestige in the eyes of the Chinese, Russians and Arabs. But even though not every change in his foreign policy has brought results so far, Obama reads the geopolitical map well and understands America's place on that map.
Obama does not have time. The conduct of Congress over the past few months has demonstrated that there is no chance for a bipartisan foreign policy. The Republicans, who are hungry for a comeback, have already begun their election campaign, and this will have an influence on Obama's involvement in the Middle East. The Senate will vote in January on additional sanctions against Iran, but their efficacy is not clear.
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been pushed to the sidelines of the presidential agenda, Obama has missed at least two opportunities to present a peace plan. The PLO representative in Washington has told Haaretz that the Palestinians do not need a new plan.
"There are already sufficient parameters on the table to renew the negotiations," he said.
If Obama is thinking about acting without waiting for ideal conditions, as he has done on a number of other issues, this is the right time to present his plan.
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