Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Obama Era

Saja kindly translated my lastest article on Obama which appeared on last week:

"The Obama Era: Arab hopes or Illusions?

Grandiose hopes about Obama's era have infiltrated Arab public opinion and predominant political education circles. Many of these illusions do not rely on Obama's own speeches, programs and promises, but on emotional factors and psychological relief resulting from the end of Bush's era.

Some in our countries take comfort in Obama's skin color, in spite of flagrant anti-Black racism in the Arab world. Others find solace in his name, which is one third Arabic (and one third Swahili).

Some in Arab media still insist on defining Obama as a Muslim even though the man spent about two years negating the accusation of Islam, just like someone defends himself against the accusation of committing some crime. Others yet hang on to the pettiest matters and weakest links to justify their illusions. For example, some see in his mere reference to the Islamic world during his inauguration speech proof of his friendship towards Arabs and Muslims and their causes. But actual evidence takes precedence, or should, over illusions.

Widespread disappointment in the Arab world generates varieties and colors of wishful thinking. The state of humiliation and indignity Arab regimes have experienced on the hands of Bush create exaggerated optimism to the point that some in Arab media have announced the end of American imperialism.

While it is still too early to judge Obama's era, there is some indication to make preliminary assessments about the direction of foreign policy in his administration.

The inauguration speech was comprehensive regarding domestic and foreign policy. It included general slogans, references and promises, but it would be hasty to conclude that Obama has divorced all Bush's policies.

Quite the contrary. He was perfectly clear and frank in his speeches and references to the Middle East during the electoral campaign. The higher his poll ratings, the closer he grew to Bush's policies and intentions towards Israel, which are the origin while Arabs are a secondary detail in a policy obsessed with Israel's security. Security is the right of only one people for them.

The inauguration speech included an insinuation towards the Islamic world, but it was met with exaggeration and reverence in Arab media. The series of wars and humiliation by the Bush administration has made Arabs easy victims of pretty talk, only comparatively.

However, Obama's "reference" towards the Islamic world came in the context of his speech about terrorism and his pursuit of terrorists. In other words, he made no methodical shift from Bush's administration's perspective (or that of Zionists), which links the Muslim to the terrorist.

He offered no meaningful initiative to causes which concern the Arab and Islamic worlds, such as American wars and traditional western orientalist hostility, the United Sates' support for tyrannical regimes in the Middle East, and Israel and its incessant wars and aggression.

Obama called on some regimes which "repress" their people, but everyone knows that those include only regimes which object to the American will. This means that Obama's politics won't be different from Bush's politics with regard to democracy. Violation of Arabs and Muslims rights are allowed and praised if the oppressor is supportive of US wars. The proximity of Obama's politics to those of Bush surface on more than one front, as he postponed his decision to shut down Guantanamo Camp, or he decided to shut it down within a year, after he had spoken about immediate closure. Torture may remain secretive, as the appointed Attorney General indicated.

The issue of withdrawal from Iraq has also changed. Today he speaks very vaguely about a "responsible withdrawal" from Iraq, after he used to promise complete withdrawal within a six-month period at the beginning of his electoral campaign.

As for Afghanistan, he promised to escalate the war there and increase the number of occupying troops. This means that Obama considers a policy of "surge" in Afghanistan in return for Bush's "surge" in Iraq.

Hence, the difference between the two men, Bush and Obama, is only with regard to the location of downpour of bombs and rockets, not about ceasing them altogether. Obama surpassed Bush by calling for violation of Pakistan's sovereignty under the rubric of "pursuit" of terrorists. And a number of Pakistani citizens were in fact killed on the first days of Obama's administration. This was termed "inauguration bombardment."

However, America's pursuit of terrorists has become a familiar issue for villagers in various places in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where American warplanes monstrously shell for the remotest suspicion of the existence of someone wanted or their brother or uncle or father. So the operations remind us of cowboys' adventures in American movies.

The Arab world anxiously awaited some kind of statement from Obama about Israeli aggression (with participation of some Arab regimes) towards Gaza. Obama's team excused his silence by pointing to Bush as president, albeit Obama issued a clear stance towards the Mumbai explosions in India and he certainly didn't take refuge in utter silence then.

Obama's fans didn't wait for long before he articulated a stance about the Middle East. He gave a speech at the State Department only two days after he became president. He said nothing new, though there were some in Arab media that insisted on clinging on to false hope.

Obama's speech was a series of the usual clichés used in American foreign policy towards the Middle East. "She" is the sweetheart in their opinion, and the state of aggression and occupation in ours. Obama's analysis of the barbaric aggression towards Gaza indicates his policies towards our region. He spoke as usual about Israel's security, to indicate everything stays the same, and everything else is secondary. Israel's security doesn't only mean defending Israel, but also preserving its military and technical superiority in comparison to all Arab countries combined. It actually also means Israel's right to attack, invade and aggress. Israel has enjoyed this right incessantly since Lyndon Johnson's administration. As for the suffering of Gaza's people, Obama spoke about it in the passive voice, so that you would imagine that the Strip had suffered a hurricane that destroyed everything.

The general talk, in his speech, about humanitarian suffering in Gaza fell within the context of previous points he'd said during the election campaign. Its essence was that the Palestinian people themselves bear the responsibility of their own suffering, and he named Hamas in this regard.Nobody in the media rushed to ask him about the reasons for the Palestinian people's suffering before Hamas was created. Pro-Israeli American political discourse cannot be rejected or questioned. Obama reiterated his words about Hamas's terrorism and expressed sympathy with the "victims" of terrorism in "southern Israel". This racist construct, which does not consider our civilian losses victims of terrorism, does not change throughout administrations.

It is no coincidence that no Palestinian women or children were ever considered victims of Israeli terrorism, because Israel has a monopoly over the characterization of victimhood. The disproportionate comparison between the number of Israeli victims (the state of Israel has resorted to deception, as usual, by counting those who suffered “shock” from Hamas’s rockets among the wounded, as if all the Strip’s people didn’t suffer shock from the Israeli aggression) and the number of Palestinian victims in Gaza was intended to exonerate Israel from war crimes. Obama reiterated the usual line of praising regimes that enjoy good relations with Israel. His acclaim of the Egyptian regime is noteworthy to say the least. He called on the Jordanian regime to continue training Palestine “security” forces, that is, Obama’s administration will continue the Dayton Accord for igniting civil war in Palestine.

Obama continued to stress the importance of preventing “smuggling” of weapons even though Security Council resolution 1680 addresses only prohibition of “illegal” weapons, so that Palestinian forces aligned with “moderation” take advantage of smuggling “legal” weapons.

While it is true that Obama demanded opening the crossings, this contradicts Israel’s tight grip on the Palestinian people’s neck in the Strip, with American cooperation and support. But some rushed to search for positive points in Obama’s address: some Arab and Islamic organizations (which celebrated Bush’s arrival in 2000) in Washington tried to assert that Bush’s foreign policy era is gone forever, and Arab media should be blamed for its haste since Obama is not Bush. There are other standards and criteria with which one can distinguish the two administrations. But the manufacture of American foreign policy is a complex process which involves various administrations, institutions and authorities. The American president’s shift of foreign policy, especially as it pertains to the Middle East, requires decisive decision making and courage that remains to be seen from the Obama administration as of yet, and unlikely to be seen as the man dreams of a second term. Also, why does the American president need to change his policies toward us if Arab regimes are obedient and complacent under all circumstances.

Of course, this is not reason for absolute pessimism, unless we believed Anwar Sadat in that all affairs are in America’s hands. Change, lest we forget, can come from the Middle East, even if it doesn’t come from the US, but this requires determination and action."