Emperor Obama

Obama is certainly a good diplomat. He’s given an interview to a fawning journalist from the Saudi-owned Arabiyah channel (as opposed to the more credible Jazeera) in which he talks nice. Examine his words, however, and you see that the basic parameters have not budged an inch. ‘Israel’s security’ remains paramount; Hamas and Hizbullah are implicitly labelled terrorist (Iran supports terrorist organisations); the liberation of Palestine is reduced to an issue of economic development. On the ground, meanwhile, Obama’s first week was marked by the imperial murder of tens of civilians in Pakistan. Richard Seymour  provides an excellent analysis here:

The first Democratic president in the modern era to be elected on an anti-war ticket is also, to the relief of neocons and the liberal belligerati, a hawk. Committed to escalation in Afghanistan, his foreign policy selections also indicate bellicosity towards Sudan and Iran. During his first week in office he sanctioned two missile attacks in Pakistan, killing 22 people, including women and children. And his stance on Gaza is remarkably close to that of the outgoing administration. The question now is how Obama will convince his supporters to back that stance. Bush could rely on a core constituency whose commitment to peace and human rights is, at the very least, questionable. Obama has no such luxury. In making his case, he will need the support of those “liberal hawks” who gave Bush such vocal support.

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Obama’s Vietnam?

‘Friday’s airstrikes are evidence Obama will take the hard line he promised in Pakistan and Afghanistan,’ writes Juan Cole. ‘But he should remember what happened to another president who inherited a war’. Like most western commentators Cole reproduces uncritically claims about the deaths of ‘foreign fighters’ (unconfirmed, for the record). Pakistani officials are usually just as eager to conjure up foreign fighters in order to mitigate the backlash that the extrajudicial murder of innocent tribals would elicit.

On Friday, President Barack Obama ordered an Air Force drone to bomb two separate Pakistani villages, killing what Pakistani officials said were 22 individuals, including between four and seven foreign fighters. Many of Obama’s initiatives in his first few days in office — preparing to depart Iraq, ending torture and closing Guantánamo — were aimed at signaling a sharp turn away from Bush administration policies. In contrast, the headline about the strike in Waziristan could as easily have appeared in December with “President Bush” substituted for “President Obama.” Pundits are already worrying that Obama may be falling into the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam trap, of escalating a predecessor’s halfhearted war into a major quagmire. What does Obama’s first military operation tell us about his administration’s priorities?

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