“Only the mood music has changed”: Tariq Ali on Obama’s presidency

OK… here’s the PULSE exclusive I’ve been working on. Hope you enjoy.

Is president Barack Obama the change America has been waiting for or is he another corporate Democrat representing elite interests?  According to Tariq Ali, very little has chanced between Obama and former president George W. Bush.  In his latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad,” Ali argues that Obama is carrying on the reckless policies of the Bush regime.  If Obama continues down this path, the Democratic Party not only face the prospect of the House & Senate in 2010 but also the presidency in 2012.  This should be a cause for concern.

I caught up with Ali during his American book tour and here’s what he had to say about the Obama presidency.

Where did the idea for this book emanate from? Why did you want to write a book about “The Obama Syndrome” and what does that refer to?

The idea occurred because I speak a lot on the United States. People ask me questions after each talk and increasingly in the past two to three years, the talk has been about Obama.  I thought a short book which essentially provided a balance sheet from the left on the mid-term would be a useful exercise. Given that he’s being attacked nonstop for being a socialist, a leftist, being a Muslim and all this nonsense that comes from the Tea Party-Fox Television alliance, I thought it was better to have a hard-headed realistic account about who the guy really is.  So my book is a critique of him, but it’s also by implication a very sharp critique of people who claim that everything Obama is doing is so radical that they can’t take it anymore.

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The Coup Is Not Over: Marking a Year of Resistance in Honduras

by Joseph Shansky

At one point during the military coup in Honduras last year, a US representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) joked that Hondurans were living in a state of “magical realism”, a folkloric literary genre blurring reality and the surreal, often in the historical or political context of Latin America.

He wasn’t far off, despite the bizarre comparison: A democratically-elected president is overthrown by an elite conspiring against him, forced out of the country, the military takes over, the people revolt in massive opposition, while governments across the world refuse to recognize the new regime and withdraw their ambassadors. Only the United States, the most powerful of all countries, remains on the fence, then hops off onto the side of the golpistas (coup-makers) while presenting a straight face of diplomacy.

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Taking Sides: Israel and the lobby against the US

by John Mearsheimer

In the wake of Vice President Joe Biden’s ill-fated trip to Israel last week, many people would agree with the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s remark that ‘Israel’s ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975… a crisis of historic proportions.’ Like all crises, this one will eventually go away. However, this bitter fight has disturbing implications for Israelis and their American supporters.

First, the events of the past week make it clear in ways that we have not seen in the past that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States, not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was. Specifically, the Obama administration has unambiguously declared that Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, are doing serious damage to US interests in the region. Indeed, Biden reportedly told the Israeli prime minister, Binyahim Netanyahu, in private:

This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us, and it endangers regional peace.

If that message begins to resonate with the American public, unconditional support for the Jewish state is likely to evaporate.

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ON PRESIDENTS AND PRECEDENTS: IMPLICATIONS OF THE HONDURAN COUP

By Joseph Shansky

First published in Upside Down World, 10 December 2009

President Obama was elected partly because of his promise to a large Hispanic constituency to give both new attention and new respect to Latin America. Judging from the US role in the military coup in Honduras, he must think that one of the two is enough.

For those who closely followed the coup and its aftermath, a tiny fear sat in the back of our minds. Eventually it was confirmed. As the State Department position shifted from condemning to condoning the illegal government, the outline of a bigger picture became clear. If this violent takeover were really to be approved by the US, it would mark a frightening new focus on the region.

In late June, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by the military and forced out of the country. For the next five months, an illegitimate government, headed by Congressional leader Roberto Micheletti, suppressed the outrage of many Honduran citizens against this regime through a number of violent means including murder, torture, and detention of citizens.

Throughout this time, the US response to these allegations was silence.

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Hope? – Obama, Abbas, Abunimah and Morrisons

Bell on Obama
Steve Bell

The hope invested by many in Barack Obama has dissolved. Dare I sing ‘I told you so’? I do. The audacious hope of Obamamania was always faith-based, founded on the believer’s premise that the handsome candidate didn’t mean what he actually said, that we should read his words esoterically, as code for profound radicalism. Now reality bites, and we discover that his promises to AIPAC and the military were solid and literal.

It’s certainly something that a black man has become president of a country built by African slaves, although we must place this in the context of the fierce racist backlash since his election (would those guardians of the constitution raving about the tree of liberty being watered by the blood of tyrants be quite so eager to wear their guns on their sleeves if the president were white and not a jumped-up negro? I doubt it). But that’s the achievement of Obama’s skin colour, not his policy; in fact it’s the achievement of the people who voted for him. Another achievement is that – in the company of war criminals such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Henry Kissinger – Obama has already won the Nobel peace prize. Hooray!

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Nobel Prize for Public Speaking

Robert Fisk, Richard Murphy and Azzam Tamimi discuss the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama. Does he deserve the prize? And what has he achieved? Or was the award granted in the hope he would succeed in the future?

Demonising Iran

This was published in the Sunday Herald.

Two manifestations of Iranian Modernity
Two manifestations of Iranian Modernity

The mainstream media narrative of events unfolding in Iran has been set out for us as clear as fairytale: an evil dictatorship has rigged elections and now violently suppresses its country’s democrats, hysterically blaming foreign saboteurs the while. But the Twitter generation is on the right side of history (in Obama’s words), and could bring Iran back within the regional circle of moderation. If only Iran becomes moderate, a whole set of regional conflicts will be solved.

I don’t mean to minimise the importance of the Iranian protests or the brutality of their suppression, but I take issue with the West’s selective blindness when it gazes at the Middle East. The ‘Iran narrative’ contains a dangerous set of simplicities which bode ill for Obama’s promised engagement, and which will be recognised beyond the West as rotten with hypocrisy. 

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The Green Still Resists

In one of the most contentious sections of his thoroughly contentious Cairo speech, Obama declared:

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

It’s difficult to know where to start with this. Perhaps by registering just how insulting it is for the representative of the imperial killing machine – responsible directly and indirectly for millions of deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Somalia – to lecture the dispossessed and massacred Palestinians on their occasional attempts to strike back. We can be sure that the sleeping children Obama is concerned with here are the Israeli children who live on the stolen land of Palestine, not the unsleeping, traumatised children of Gaza, several hundred of whom were burnt and dismembered six months ago. Then it’s worth remarking how the erudition and intelligence shown in Obama’s pre-presidential book ‘Dreams from my Father’ have been immediately crushed on his assumption of the presidency. How otherwise could his historical vision be so partial and simplistic? There was certainly a key non-violent aspect to the struggle for civil rights in the United States, but pretending that violence played no role in the process makes it necessary to ignore the American Civil War (half a million dead), Nat Turner, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and rioting Chicago. Violence, or the threat of violence, was important in South Africa and India too, and certainly in Obama’s ancestral Kenya, and was the dominant anti-imperial strategy in Vietnam and Algeria.

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Obama’s Beguiling Jaw-Jaw Still PR Amid War-War

We welcome Saifedean Ammous to PULSE. Saif occasionally blogs at The Saif House and is a busy scholar and keen football aficionado.

Obama and Mubarak
President Hosni Mubarak and President Barack Obama

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.

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How Much Really Separates Obama and Netanyahu?

Jennifer Loewenstein writes that policy continuity from the previous administration in fact persists in Obama’s proclamations: “Barack Obama has sent Benjamin Netanyahu the message he most seeks, whether Netanyahu recognizes it or not: continue your colonial-settler project as you have been doing; just change the vocabulary you use to describe it.”

obama_netanyahuBenjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have one thing very much in common: both of them have nearly the same vision for the future of “Palestine”. They may not recognize it yet, but sooner or later, whether Netanyahu remains in power or is replaced by someone who speaks Dove-Liberalese better, they will shake hands and agree that the only thing that really separated them in the early months of President Obama’s administration was semantics: the language each man used to describe what he saw for the future of Palestine, or “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” – a phrase that suggests there are two sides each with a grievance that equals or cancels out the other’s and that makes a just resolution so difficult to formulate.

How deeply have we been indoctrinated.

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