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Fears of American Isolationism Dominate the Davos Forum

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The gathering of heads of state and global leaders of both the public and private sectors at the World Economic Forum next week in Davos will be focusing on resilient dynamism, as optimism regains its place after the pessimism of the past year. This year, which marks the forum's 43rd annual meeting in the Swiss Alps, coincides with US President Barack Obama assuming his second term for the four years to come. Because the United States remains a frame of reference for the world, all eyes are turned towards Washington to determine whether it will continue on the path of disengagement, or will temper what is referred to as "Obamist isolationism". Indeed, there are those who consider the "light footprint" policy to in fact represent a heavy impact, secretly and in an invisible way. There are also those who fear that American isolationism could lead to dire consequences, especially if it were to contribute to the rise of a new form of Jihadism. This will be part of the discussions that will be exchanged at the Davos forum in private session between heads of state, CEOs of major corporations and global intellectual leaders. The forum's Executive Chairman, Professor Klaus Schwab, may well be determined to introduce optimism to the language of the day, in a positive vision he seeks and wishes for. Yet the equation of optimism and pessimism is as much a local one as it is a global one. A quick look at the forum's program indicates that there are 250 sessions, some of them political and some concerned with the economy, the environment, health issues, natural disasters and international relations. Some 50 heads of state and government will be participating in the forum alongside 250 ministers from more than 100 countries. Also present at the Swiss resort will be 2500 international figures representing the public and private sectors as well as civil society and academia. The Davos forum represents an important milestone for both big and small players, and often forms a compass for determining who is a rising star or what issue ranks highest, according to the list established by the forum.

Russia seems to be at the forefront once again this year, in the person of its current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, after his predecessor, current President Vladimir Putin, had been the shining star at the forum three years ago. Medvedev will be the first speaker at the conference that will also be attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Jordanian Monarch King Abdullah II and Queen Rania - in addition to the heads of Arab governments, among them Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim and Prime Ministers from Arab Spring countries, such as Libya's Ali Zeidan, Tunisia's Hamadi Jebali, Morocco's Abdelillah Benkirane and Egypt's Hesham Kandil. For the first time, a Lebanese Prime Minister will be participating in the Davos forum, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati attending. Also attending will be Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres. American corporations and the US Congress will have a strong presence in Davos as well. What will be present in and outside of the different meetings held there will be the relationship between the United States and Russia, particularly in terms of how it reflects on hot-button regional issues, most prominently those of Iran and Syria. Nevertheless, the forum has not set apart a session for discussing the matter of Syria despite its urgent nature - and perhaps very much so because of this. The forum's organizers perhaps sought to avoid confrontation and to spare Russia a campaign that would criticize it for its policies. They may also have sought to spare the United States from being demanded to further clarify its position on Syria.

Last year, the spotlight was focused on the leaders of the countries of the Arab Spring, and they were welcomed warmly and enthusiastically. This year, the leaders of those countries are heading to Davos weighed down by what happened in their countries in the phase that followed the rise of the Islamists to power. To be sure, it will not be easy for these leaders to present at the Davos forum a record rife with the kind of democratic reforms that had fueled the Arab Spring before being hijacked by those in power, particularly with regard to Arab women. Davos will demand to see reform plans and will put the spotlight on the transitional period in political, economic and social terms in the countries of the Arab Spring - not just with regard to achievements, but also to failures. There will once again be talk of the soundness of assuming that the democracy that achieved elections would triumph over attempts to stifle it after the rise of Islamists to power.

Russia will focus, as it usually does, on the issue of "terrorism", which it considers to be the common enemy between itself and the United States. It is in complete agreement with the military intervention in Mali and stands prepared for resolutions by the Security Council that would support this intervention in the name of partnership in combating terrorism. It refuses any resolution by the Security Council on the Syrian issue, considering it to represent unacceptable interference, and raising the slogan and the complex of the "experience of Libya" in order to ward it off. At the same time, such a complex and such a slogan disappear when it comes to Mali.

Indeed, as far as Russia is concerned, Syria today is a battlefield against terrorism, as it in effect does not recognize the Syrian opposition and reduces it to being mere terrorist groups. And while Russia's Prime Minister takes the stage in Davos to present his country's policies and its President's vision, preparations will begin in New York for a Security Council session to hear the ideas of joint United Nations and Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, following his meetings with American Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Geneva, to discuss the Syrian issue. Russian diplomacy at the United Nations still maintains its stances rejecting the notion of a resolution being issued by the Security Council that would involve defining a phase of political transition in Syria without regard for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. In fact, Russian diplomacy has approved of the body governing the process of political transition and the powers it would hold, yet it still insists on Assad being a part of it.

For Russia, Syria is no longer an Arab country that deeply concerns every Arab, and in fact one Russian diplomat mocked the discourse about Syria as a part of Arab sentiment and consciousness, saying: "What are you as Arabs but countries unrelated to one another? Do you think you are the Soviet Union?"

Syria's problem is not just Russia, for whom Syria has become a mere arena for fighting Jihadists and a mere naval base in Tartus. Syria's problem also resides in it being the victim of "Obamist isolationism", if the US President were to persist in taking such a direction in his second term. Then, the main feature of the global gathering in Davos next year will be the opposite of what it is today - "resilient dynamism". The international discussion may well then become: what has American isolationism done this time?

Indeed, American isolationism in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in the rise of Fascism and the emergence of Communism. In this century, American isolationism may well lead to the rise of a qualitatively new form of Jihadism, one that would dwarf Al-Qaeda in comparison.