And here’s one more on Obama’s speech in Cairo. Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani of IPS give an overview of what human rights activists in Cairo think of “the speech no other president could make” as Jonathan Freedland put it in his typically deferential commentary in the Guardian. As opposed to seeing the speech as “sensitive, supple and sophisticated” (Freedland), opposition journalist and reform campaigner Abdel-Halim Kandil argues that “Obama’s visit was a show of support for both the dictatorial Egyptian regime and the criminal policies of Israel regarding the Palestinians…It represents an acknowledgement of Egypt’s role in serving U.S. and Israeli policy objectives, while totally overlooking the regime’s dismal record on human rights and political reform.” For more on this, see Ann’s analysis of the spectrum of responses to the speech posted below.
Egyptian officials are lining up to praise U.S. President Barack Obama’s address to the Islamic world delivered in Cairo Thursday. But local campaigners for political reform say the speech was disappointingly light on the issues of democracy and human rights.
“Obama spoke very briefly and in very general terms on these two subjects,” opposition journalist and reform campaigner Abdel-Halim Kandil told IPS. “Despite the hype, Obama’s speech was little more than an exercise in public relations.”
Personally, I found it unpleasant to see Obama lecturing the Arabs, and the handpicked audience clapping ecstatically whenever the President (rather like Napoleon in Cairo) made an Islamic allusion. Most depressingly, Obama’s address was heavily influenced by the Bernard Lewis school of Orientalism – Arab and Muslim anger is caused by the cultural trauma of modernity and a “self-defeating focus on the past,” rather than by present realities, such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the destabilisation of Pakistan and Somalia, the unwelcome military bases in the Muslim world, and the support of dictatorial regimes such as Mubarak’s. Obama’s assumptions repeated falsities, such as the notion that Arab regimes focus on Palestine to distract the people from their own failings. In fact the Arab regimes do everything they can to take the focus off Palestine, as the Palestinian tragedy is the key symbol of the bankruptcy of the client regimes. And Obama mocked violent resistance while not saying a word about the 1400 just killed in Gaza or the million slaughtered in Iraq.
The best response I’ve seen to the speech is by Ali Abunimah, posted here at PULSE, who studies Obama’s phrases well: “Suffered in pursuit of a homeland? The pain of dislocation? They already had a homeland. They suffered from being ethnically cleansed and dispossessed of it and prevented from returning on the grounds that they are from the wrong ethno-national group. Why is that still so hard to say?”
James Petras enumerates how the Obama administration’s policies constitute more continuity than change, and thus continue and compound Bush-era failures.
President Obama’s greatest foreign policy successes are found in the reports of the mass media. His greatest failures go unreported, but are of great consequence. A survey of the major foreign policy priorities of the White House reveals a continuous series of major setbacks, which call into question the principal objectives and methods pursued by the Obama regime.
These are in order of importance:
1) Washington’s attempt to push for a joint economic stimulus program among the 20 biggest economies at the G-20 meeting in April 2009;
2) Calls for a major military commitment from NATO to increase the number of combat troops in conflict zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan to complement the additional 21,000 US troop buildup (Financial Times April 12, 2009 p.7);
3) Plans to forge closer political and diplomatic relations among the countries of the Americas based on the pursuit of a common agenda, including the continued exclusion of Cuba and isolation of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador (La Jornada (Mex. D.F.) April 20, 2009);
4) Weakening, isolating and pressuring Iran through a mixture of diplomatic gestures and tightening economic sanctions to surrender its nuclear energy program (Financial Times, April 16/17, 2009 p. 7);
Robert Dreyfuss is one of the best analysts of the forces shaping US foreign policy. Had more people been reading him in the lead up to the Iraq war, it is likely that they could have acted more effectively to prevent the war. While some like Noam Chomsky would have you believe that there is a unified ‘elite’ which makes unanimous decisions, the reality is far more complicated and far less hopeless. There are forces within the establishment who are deeply wary of the neoconservative worldview, and while 9/11 had put them in a disadvantaged position, now they are silent no more. Here Dreyfuss reports on the stern advice Obama received from one of the leading lights of the Realist camp.
President Obama got some strongly worded advice yesterday on how to deal with Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, who’ll be making his first visit to the United States as Israel’s new leader in mid-May. The Obama-Netanyahu meeting promises to be a showdown.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, the veteran strategist and hardliner — who was Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser — told a conference yesterday that in the history of US peacemaking in the Middle East, the United States has never once spelled out its own vision for what a two-state solution would look like. That, said Brzezinski, is exactly what President Obama needs to do. And fast.
Brzezinski was speaking at a conference on US-Saudi relations sponsored by the New America Foundation and Saudi Arabia’s Committee on International Trade. Brzezinski, who advised Obama early in the presidential campaign, was exiled from Obamaland after his less-than-devout support for Israel made him a liability.
Robert Fisk reminds us of President Obama’s pre-election pledge to recognise the Armenian Genocide as thus. Since his inauguration and during his recent visit to Turkey Obama backtracked and downgraded his description to “great atrocities” like his predecessors George W Bush and Bill Clinton.
It was clever, crafty – artful, even – but it was not the truth. For in the end, Barack Obama dishonoured his promise to his American-Armenian voters to call the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915 a genocide. How grateful today’s Turkish generals must be.
Genocide is what it was, of course. Mr Obama agreed in January 2008 that “the Armenian genocide is not an allegation… but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide… I intend to be that President.” But he was not that President on the anniversary of the start of the genocide at the weekend. Like Presidents Clinton and George Bush, he called the mass killings “great atrocities” and even tried to hedge his bets by using the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” which means the same thing – it’s a phrase that elderly Armenians once used about the Nazi-like slaughter – but the Armenian for genocide is “chart”. And even that was missing.
This is significant. Despite the obligatory admonishments, Obama’s tone was respectful, and showed cultural sensitivity. The message has shortcomings, no doubt. But what is important is that he is bucking neocon/Israel lobby pressure to opt for engagement. As John Mearsheimer notes in his latest LRB piece, the Israel lobby may have won a tactical battle over Freeman, but the hysterical approach it employed has only brought more intense scrutiny to its activities. It is faltering. And here finally is proof. However, there is need for some caution. The US knows, as Andrew Bacevich points out, that its only consideration in Iraq now is how best to minimize the humiliation of its inevitable withdrawal.
TruthDig: This is the text of a talk by Chris Hedges that will be read at anti-war gatherings to be held by The World Can’t Wait in New York’s Union Square, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Nashville, Louisville, Chicago and Berkeley on March 19 to protest the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.
Barack Obama has shown that he is as capable of doublespeak as any other politician when he announced an end to the war in Iraq. Combat troops are to be pulled out of Iraq by August 2010, he said, but some 50,000 occupation troops will remain behind. Someone should let the Iraqis know the distinction. I doubt any soldier or Marine in Iraq will notice much difference in 19 months. Many combat units will simply be relabeled as noncombat units. And what about our small army of well-paid contractors and mercenaries? Will Dyncorp, Bechtel, Blackwater (which recently changed its name to Xe), all of whom have made fortunes off the war, pack up and go home? What about the three large super-bases, dozens of smaller military outposts and our imperial city, the Green Zone? Will American corporations give up their lucrative control of Iraqi oil?