We welcome Saifedean Ammous to PULSE. Saif occasionally blogs at The Saif House and is a busy scholar and keen football aficionado.
The real problem with Obama’s speech, simply, is that everyone is talking about it.
The PR geniuses who ran the greatest presidential campaign since FDR seem to have now been handed the reins of Obama’s foreign policy. PR campaigners are an improvement over the warmongers of the Bush Administration, but that, obviously, is not saying much.
For almost a month, everyone everywhere has been talking about Obama’s speech in Cairo as if it actually matters for anything. Obama’s PR/Foreign Policy team have built it up to be such a giant spectacle that people seem to have forgotten that at the end of the day, it is nothing but a speech by a man who has given several hundred speeches over the last two years. It is a collection of sounds coming out of a man’s mouth. It matters for nothing. He said nothing new, added nothing new, and affected nothing real in any real way.
If there was anything important in this speech, he could have announced it at any point in the last few weeks of build-up and gotten it over with. But creating this giant spectacle turned this speech into a global quasi-religious interpretation-fest where everyone and their dog analyzed, with ridiculous detail, every last word Obama said, how he said it, and how he looked when he said it.
So we now know what Obama’s new foreign policy is going to be: talk, speeches, platitudes, oratory and rhetoric. The good news, as Churchill would have it, is that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”. I’d gladly sit through 12 Obama speeches a day over one of Bush’s wars. The bad news, however, is that this jaw-jaw-fest has very sneakily turned everyone’s attention from what the US Government does, to what its talismanic leader says. There is no better recipe for stalling, doing nothing and maintaining the status quo.
Obama has not changed anything from Bush’s policy on Iraq. His policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan may well be even worse than that of Bush. There can hardly be any cause for optimism over Iran with Dennis Ross in charge of that file, issuing ultimatums and bringing his unique brand of warmongering-masquerading-as-peacemaking to dealing with Iran. And, aside from a few bits of jaw-jawing about settlements, Obama has not offered anything concrete about what he plans to do about the fanatic Israeli regime that continues its mass murder, land-theft and persecution of the Palestinians, or about his government’s relentless economic, military and diplomatic support for that regime.
A charitable interpretation might hold that Obama really does seek to bring about real change on all these issues, and is biding his time with speeches and friendly gestures to set the stage for this change. But the reality on the ground, unfortunately, speaks louder than any words. Churchill’s quip might not apply here since, after all, the war-warring continues regardless of the jaw-jawing. Worse, the excessive fixation on speeches is helping distract everyone’s attention from the real problems of unending war.
I would love for nothing more than my skepticism to be misplaced.