Rhetoric & reality
Editorial in The News, Islamabad, Pakistan
Can Obama Win Over The Arabs?
Ramzy Baroud | Arab News
The Grim Picture Of Obama's Middle East
By Noam Chomsky
Obama to Muslims: Put Up and Shut Up
By Paul Craig Roberts
Obama In Cairo: A Bush In Sheep's Clothing?
By Ali Abunimah, The Guardian, 05 June, 2009
Obama In Cairo: A New Face For Imperialism
By Patrick Martin, WSWS.org
Obama In Cairo: The Devil’s In The Details
By Alan Sabrosky*
Obama Speech Seeks To Heal ’Breach’ With Islam
Stephen Collinson, Agence France-Presse
Muslims See Shift In Obama Speech, No Breakthrough
4 Jun 2009, 1916 hrs IST, AP
Obama Calls For 'New Beginning' In Ties Between US, Muslims
Mark S. Smith, Associated Press
Rhetoric & reality
Editorial in The News, Islamabad, Pakistan
Friday, June 05, 2009
None can deny that President Obama is a rhetorician the like of which America has not seen for decades. Both Clinton and Kennedy would find him hard to match for sheer eloquence and elegant phraseology - that on the surface is free of ambiguity. His address to the Al Azhar University in Cairo on Thursday was a model of its kind, and was received by an audience who at some points cheered and clapped not unlike those who attended the election rallies that eventually put President Obama where he is today. He knows how to work an audience and from the outset his speech was littered with 'applause points' and phrases that were crafted with tomorrow's headlines in mind.
Cynicism aside, President Obama was in Cairo to mend fences with the Muslim world, sorely battered after years of willful neglect. He made several references to the Holy Koran and called for inter - and intra - faith harmony, making the point that the Muslim world needs to mend a few fences of its own. He said… "I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect" …which was nothing less than you would expect, but there was more to it than a little international grooming.
'Change' was the watchword of his campaign, and change was the agenda of the Cairo address. He accepted that… "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust" and that in future he - and he hoped others, would…- "Say openly the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors" - which earned him a round of applause. The biggest ovation by far was for what he said to Israel, and here he really did speak very differently to any of his predecessors… "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements". Followed by, "It is time for these settlements to stop" - which echoed the words of his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. But is there equivocation in even these seemingly straightforward statements? Does he mean that the building of all settlements will stop and existing settlements be dismantled? And does it mean that America is moving its position regarding the settlements which has for decades been one of veiled ambiguity? Only time - and diplomacy - will tell.
Speaking then to the Palestinians he said that they must renounce violence in their turn, and offered the example of the (mostly) peaceful American civil rights movement that eventually saw a new dawn for Americans who were not white, a dawn which matured into the daylight in which he, a black American, now stands. He touched other hot-button issues - Iran and nuclear power, democracy (in particular the tendency of those who call loudly for it whilst out of power and then leave it by the wayside when they are in it), the rights of women, religious freedom and the lack of it in much of the Muslim world, globalization and modernity and the fears that can come with the sense that the rest of the world wants the Muslim world to blithely follow where it is being led. No American President has ever gone out of his way to reach out to the Muslim world in the way that President Obama has. We applaud that. But our applause is discreet rather than rapturous for these are as yet mere words. Were we ever to see all - or any - of them transition from rhetoric to reality then the applause would thunder across the world, and bring together the hands of every faith.
Can Obama win over the Arabs?
Ramzy Baroud | Arab News
Wednesday 3 June 2009 (09 Jumada al-Thani 1430)
Among the many major misconceptions pertaining to Arabs and Muslims is the common belief that they are weak-willed, easily influenced and effortlessly manipulated. This mistaken assumption underscores the very ailment that has afflicted US foreign policy in the Middle East for generations.
As media pundits and commentators began their drum-rolling in anticipation of US President Barack Obama's speech in Egypt tomorrow, very few paid attention to the fact that Arabs and Muslims are not so naive as to be wooed by mere rhetoric, but that they are significant players in their own affairs, capable of resistance and change.
To begin with, it is underhanded and foolish to speak of one Arab and Muslim polity, as if geography, class, language and politics are irrelevant. Why is there an insistence on addressing Arabs and Muslims as one unified body that behaves according to a specific rationale, predisposed to respond in the same way to the same stimuli? True, various groups within the Arab and Muslim worlds share a common history, language and religion, but even the same groups differ in historic interpretations, dialects, religious sects and frames of reference.
Then, why the reductionism? Is it true that a struggling North African immigrant in a French slum carries the same values, expectations and outlook on life as a SUV-driving Arab in the Gulf? Does a poor Egyptian, struggling for recognition within a political body that has room only for a chosen few, relate to the world in the same way as a Malaysian Muslim with a wide range of opportunities, civic, economic and political? Even within the same country, among the same people, adherents of the same religion, does the word mean the same - and will President Obama's words in Egypt represent the unifying lexicon that will meet every Arab or a Muslim man or woman's aspirations? Can one lump together those who collaborated with those who resisted? Those who exploited and those who were exploited? Those who had much and those who had nothing?
A recent poll conducted by Shilbey Telhami and Zogby declared that Obama is popular among Arabs, yet Arabs are still skeptical of the US. Iraq matters the most, followed by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Of course, there is no denial that Arabs in various countries have major perceptions and expectations in common. But who is to say that there is not more common ground between the poor of Egypt and Mexico than between the elites of Egypt and Pakistan? However, such an assertion is irrelevant for one main reason: Arabs and Muslims have been demonized collectively, targeted collectively and at times, victimized collectively. In other words, it is US foreign policy toward various Arab and Muslim collectives that largely explains the constant lumping of all Arabs and Muslims into one single category.
Arabs and Muslims seem only relevant as a collective whenever the US is interested in carrying out a rhetorical policy shift, a war, a self-serving "democracy" campaign, and so forth. They are available as a collective to be duly demonized as "terrorists."
David Schenker, writing for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy website was honest enough in explaining the significance of Obama's speech in Cairo. He pointed out that Iran is a major issue that Obama and moderate Arabs have in common. His explanation is straightforward: "Tehran's progress toward a nuclear weapon and its provision of material and ideological support for resistance, across the region is of grave concern to Washington and its moderate Arab allies."
According to the poll cited above, only a fraction of polled Arabs seem concerned by the Iranian nuclear program. This leaves Iran posing one major "threat" - its support of resistance.
It's ironic that resistance, which is a universal right of any oppressed individual or collective is being dealt with as a "grave concern" this in part explains the lingering illusion that continues to blight US foreign policy and also to highlight the common strength that the Arab and Muslim masses continue to wield - their ability to resist. Amidst the fraudulent democracy programs that have appeared and disappeared in recent years - Bush's Middle East democracy project being one - none were an outcome of genuine and collective movements in Arab and Muslim nations. Such genuine movements, although in existence, are unpopular in Washington for they seem inconsistent with US interests.
This leaves one last aspect of collective self-expression again which is resistance, in all its manifestations. It is the root cause of Arab and Muslim resistance that are most deserving of analysis and understanding.
If Obama continues to approach Arabs and Muslims as one single collective, ready to be manipulated and wooed with promises, rhetoric and impressive body language, then he will surely be disappointed. Highly politicized, skeptical and, frankly, fed-up societies refuse to be reduced to a mere percentage in some opinion poll that can be swayed this way or that, whenever the US administration determines the time and place. It is exactly that consistent lack of depth that has caused the US so much trouble in the Middle East and will cost it even more if such imprudence persists.
- Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com.
The Grim Picture Of Obama's Middle East
By Noam Chomsky
CommonDreams.org, 05 June, 2009
A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.
Keeping just to Israel-Palestine -- there was nothing substantive about anything else -- Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.' There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.
Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral U.S. rejectionism.
Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as 'an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.' How should the Obama administration see it? Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June '67) border, perhaps with 'minor and mutual modifications,' to borrow U.S. government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab 'confrontation states' (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement. Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a 'beginning' if the U.S. continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.
In the background is the Obama administration's goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the 'moderate' Arab states against Iran. The term 'moderate' has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to U.S. demands.
What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: 'Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).' All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.
Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive U.S. support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal 'separation wall' (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East. Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the centre of their cultural, economic, and socio-political life. Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel's successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.
It is worth remembering that there has been one break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his 'parameters,' vague but more forthcoming. He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress. A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference. But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.
It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding U.S. economic support for them. In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are 'not under discussion' and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be 'largely symbolic,' so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).
There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor (retired) at MIT. He is the author of many books and articles on international affairs and social-political issues, and a long-time participant in activist movements. His most recent books include: Failed States, What We Say Goes(with David Barsamian), Hegemony or Survival, and the Essential Chomsky.
Obama In Cairo: A Bush In Sheep's Clothing?
By Ali Abunimah
The Guardian, 05 June, 2009
Once you strip away the mujamalat - the courtesies exchanged between guest and host - the substance of President Obama's speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy. It is not necessary to divine Obama's intentions - he may be utterly sincere and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions that in most regards maintain flawed American policies intact.
Though he pledged to "speak the truth as best I can", there was much the president left out. He spoke of tension between "America and Islam" - the former a concrete specific place, the latter a vague construct subsuming peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied than similar.
Labelling America's "other" as a nebulous and all-encompassing "Islam" (even while professing rapprochement and respect) is a way to avoid acknowledging what does in fact unite and mobilise people across many Muslim-majority countries: overwhelming popular opposition to increasingly intrusive and violent American military, political and economic interventions in many of those countries. This opposition - and the resistance it generates - has now become for supporters of those interventions, synonymous with "Islam".
It was disappointing that Obama recycled his predecessor's notion that "violent extremism" exists in a vacuum, unrelated to America's (and its proxies') exponentially greater use of violence before and after September 11, 2001. He dwelled on the "enormous trauma" done to the US when almost 3,000 people were killed that day, but spoke not one word about the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows left in Iraq - those whom Munathar al-Zaidi's flying shoe forced Americans to remember only for a few seconds last year. He ignored the dozens of civilians who die each week in the "necessary" war in Afghanistan, or the millions of refugees fleeing the US-invoked escalation in Pakistan.
As President George Bush often did, Obama affirmed that it is only a violent minority that besmirches the name of a vast and "peaceful" Muslim majority. But he seemed once again to implicate all Muslims as suspect when he warned, "The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer."
Nowhere were these blindspots more apparent than his statements about Palestine/Israel. He gave his audience a detailed lesson on the Holocaust and explicitly used it as a justification for the creation of Israel. "It is also undeniable," the president said, "that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation."
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?
He lectured Palestinians that "resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed". He warned them that "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." (Note: the last suicide attack targeting civilians by a Palestinian occurred in 2004)
Fair enough, but did Obama really imagine that such words would impress an Arab public that watched in horror as Israel slaughtered 1,400 people in Gaza last winter, including hundreds of sleeping, fleeing or terrified children, with American-supplied weapons? Did he think his listeners would not remember that the number of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians targeted and killed by Israel has always far exceeded by orders of magnitude the number of Israelis killed by Arabs precisely because of the American arms he has pledged to continue giving Israel with no accountability. Amnesty International recently confirmed what Palestinians long knew: Israel broke the negotiated ceasefire when it attacked Gaza last November 4, prompting retaliatory rockets that killed no Israelis until after Israel launched its much bigger attack on Gaza. That he continues to remain silent about what happened in Gaza, and refuses to hold Israel accountable demonstrates anything but a commitment to full truth-telling.
Some people are prepared to give Obama a pass for all this because he is at last talking tough on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. In Cairo, he said: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
These carefully chosen words focus only on continued construction, not on the existence of the settlements themselves; they are entirely compatible with the peace process industry consensus that existing settlements will remain where they are for ever. This raises the question of where Obama thinks he is going. He summarised Palestinians' "legitimate aspirations" as being the establishment of a "state". This has become a convenient slogan to that is supposed to replace for Palestinians their pursuit of rights and justice that the proposed state actually denies. Obama is already on record opposing Palestinian refugees' right to return home, and has never supported the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to live free from racist and religious incitement, persecution and practices fanned by Israel's highest office holders and written into its laws.
He may have more determination than his predecessor but he remains committed to an unworkable two-state "vision" aimed not at restoring Palestinian rights, but preserving Israel as an enclave of Israeli Jewish privilege. It is a dead end.
There was one sentence in his speech I cheered for and which he should heed: "Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail."
Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and a fellow with the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC. Abunimah is Executive Director of The Electronic Intifada.
© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited
Obama In Cairo: A New Face For Imperialism
By Patrick Martin
WSWS.org, 05 June, 2009
The speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Cairo yesterday was riddled with contradictions. He declared his opposition to the “killing of innocent men, women, and children,” but defended the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US proxy war in Pakistan, while remaining silent on the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. These wars have killed at least one million Iraqis and tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.
Obama declared his support for democracy, human rights and women’s rights, after two days of meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two of the most notorious tyrants in the Middle East. He said nothing in his speech about the complete absence of democratic rights in Saudi Arabia, or about the ongoing repression under Mubarak’s military dictatorship. In the days before the US president’s arrival at Al-Azhar University, the campus was raided by Egyptian secret police who detained more than 200 foreign students. Before leaving on his Mideast trip, Obama praised Mubarak as a “steadfast ally.”
While posturing as the advocate of universal peace and understanding, Obama diplomatically omitted any reference to his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan with the dispatch of an additional 17,000 US troops. And he tacitly embraced the policy of his predecessor in Iraq, declaring, “I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.” He even seemed to hedge on the withdrawal deadline of December 2011 negotiated by the Bush administration, which he described as a pledge “to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.”
Obama rejected the charge that America is “a self-interested empire”—a perfectly apt characterization—and denied that the United States was seeking bases, territory or access to natural resources in the Muslim world. He claimed that the war in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the same argument made by the Bush-Cheney administration at the time, which deliberately conceals the real material interests at stake. The war in Afghanistan is part of the drive by US imperialism to dominate the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin.
There was of course a distinct shift in the rhetorical tone from the bullying “you’re either with or against us” of George W. Bush to the reassuring “we’re all in this together” of Obama. But as several commentators noted (the New Republic compared the speech line-for-line to that given by Bush to the United Nations on September 16, 2006), if you turned off the picture and the sound and simply read the prepared text, the words are very similar to speeches delivered by Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other officials of the previous administration.
The vague and flowery rhetoric, the verbal tributes to Islamic culture and the equal rights of nations, constitute an adjustment of the language being used to cloak the policy of US imperialism, not a change in substance. Obama made not a single concrete proposal to redress the grievances of the oppressed peoples of the Middle East. That is because the fundamental source of this oppression is the profit system and the domination of the world by imperialism, of which American imperialism is the most ruthless.
Obama made one passing reference to colonialism, and to the US role in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. But in his litany of “sources of tension” in the region, he offered the same checklist as his predecessor, with the first place given to “violent extremism”, Obama’s rhetorical substitute for Bush’s “terrorism.”
The reaction to the Obama speech in the American media was across-the-board enthusiasm. Liberal David Corn of Mother Jones magazine said Obama’s great advantages were “his personal history, his non-Bushness, his recognition of US errors, his willingness to at least talk as if he wants to be an honest broker in the Mideast.”
Michael Crowley wrote in the pro-war liberal magazine New Republic, “to see him unfold his biography, to cut such an unfamiliar profile to the world, is to appreciate how much America will benefit from presenting this new face to the world.”
Perhaps most revealing was the comment by Max Boot, a neoconservative arch-defender of the war in Iraq, who wrote: “I thought he did a more effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was.”
In his speech in Cairo, Obama was playing the role for which he was drafted and promoted by a decisive section of the US financial elite and the military and foreign policy apparatus. This role is to provide a new face for US imperialism as part of a shift in the tactics, but not the strategy, of Washington’s drive for world domination.
Nearly two years ago, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave his public backing to the presidential candidacy of a still-obscure senator from Illinois, holding out the prospect that as an African-American with family ties to the Muslim world, Obama would improve the worldwide image of the United States.
Brzezinski was the leading hawk in the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter and helped instigate the political upheavals in Afghanistan in the hopes of inciting a Soviet invasion that would trap the Moscow bureaucracy in a Vietnam-style quagmire. He has remained steadily focused on what he calls the “great chessboard” of Eurasia, and particularly on oil-rich Central Asia, where a struggle for influence now rages between the United States, Russia, China and Iran.
According to Brzezinski in August 2007, Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world... Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”
Brzezinski, a ruthless defender of the interests of US imperialism, has issuing warnings to the American ruling elite of the danger of what he calls the “global political awakening.”
In one particularly pointed comment, he told the German magazine Der Spiegel, only months before he endorsed Obama, that the vast majority of humanity “will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition. That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.”
To call it by its right name, what the more perceptive elements in the US ruling class fear is world revolution. The effort to prevent such a social upheaval is what impelled them to install Obama in the White House and what set him on his pilgrimage to Cairo.
Copyright © 1998-2009 World Socialist Web Site
Obama to Muslims: Put Up and Shut Up
By Paul Craig Roberts
What are we to make of Obamas speech at Cairo University in Egypt?
"I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
Cairo is the capital of Egypt, an American puppet state whose ruler suppresses the aspirations of Egyptian Muslims and cooperates with Israel in the blockade of Gaza.
In contrast to the Islamic University of Al-Azhar, Cairo University was founded as a civil university. Osama’s Cairo University audience was secular.
Nevertheless, Obama said startling words that many Muslims found hopeful. He said that colonialism and the Cold War had denied rights and opportunities to Muslims and resulted in Muslim countries being treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. The resulting blowback from "violent extremists" bred fear and mistrust between the Western and Muslim worlds.
Obama spoke of the Koran, his middle name, and his family connections to Islam.
Obama praised Islams contributions to civilization.
Obama declared his "responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."
Obama acknowledged "the responsibility we have to one another as human beings."
Obama acknowledged Iran’s "right to access peaceful nuclear power."
Obama declared that "no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on any other."
Obamas most explosive words pertained to Israel and Palestine: "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
Obama declared that "the only resolution [to the conflict] is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, Americas interest, and the worlds interest. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires." For Obamas commitment to be fulfilled, Israel would have to give back the stolen West Bank lands, dismantle the wall, accept the right to return, and release 1.5 million Palestinians from the Gaza Ghetto. As this seems an unlikely collection of events, the nature of the "two-state solution" endorsed by Obama remains to be seen.
After the euphoric attention to idealistic rhetoric dies down, Obama will be criticized for extravagant words that create unrealizable expectations. But were the extravagant words other than a premier act of schmoozing Muslims designed to quiet the Muslim Brotherhood in our Egyptian puppet state and to get Muslims to accept US aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Obama decries regime change, but continues to practice it, invoking women’s rights to gain support from secularized Arabs. He admits that Iraq was a war of choice but claims that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and 9/11 make Afghanistan a war of necessity.
Obama said that "the events of 9/11" and al-Qaeda’s responsibility, not Americas desire for military bases and hegemony, are the reasons Americas commitment to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan will not weaken. Will Muslims notice that Osama’s case for Americas violent extremism in Afghanistan and now Pakistan is hypocritical?
Al-Qaeda, Obama says, "chose to ruthlessly murder" nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 "and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale." These deaths are a mere drop in the buckets of blood that Americas invasions have brought to the Muslim world. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of the Muslims America has slaughtered are civilians, just as are the unarmed Palestinians slaughtered by the American-equipped Israeli military.
Against al-Qaeda, whose "actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings," Obama invokes the Korans prohibition against killing an innocent. Does Obama not realize that the stricture applies to the US and its "coalition of forty-six countries" in spades?
America’s wars are all wars of choice. The more than one million dead Iraqis are not al-Qaeda. Neither are Iraqis four million refugees. Yet, Obama says Iraqis are better off now, with their country in ruins and a fifth of their population lost, because they are rid of Saddam Hussein, a secular ruler.
No one has a good tally of the dead and refugees America has produced in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, declared Obama, "The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals and our need to work together."
In his first 100 days, Obama managed to create two million Pakistani refugees. It took Israel 60 years to create 3.5 million Palestinian refugees.
What Obama has really done is his speech is to accept responsibility for the neoconservative agenda of extending Western hegemony by eliminating "Muslim extremists," that is, Muslims who want to rule themselves in keeping with Islam, not in keeping with some secularized, Westernized faux Islam.
Muslim extremists are the creation of decades of Western colonization and secularization that has created elite, which is Muslim in name only, to rule over religious people and to suppress Islamic mores. All experts know this, and most of them hail it as bringing progress and development to the Muslim world.
Obama said that "human progress cannot be denied," but "there need not be contradiction between development and tradition." However, the West defines development and education. These terms mean what they mean in the West. Muslim extremists understand that these terms mean the extermination of Islam.
In typical American fashion, Obama offered Muslims money, "technological development," and "centres of scientific excellence."
All the Muslims have to do is to cooperate with America and be peaceful, and America will "respect the dignity of all human beings."
OBAMA IN CAIRO: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS
By Alan Sabrosky*
President Obama’s Cairo speech is a watershed event. However this plays out, he has done what no other American president of any party could or would have done, and for that alone he deserves praise. It is refreshing that he went immediately to the heart of the matter: the mistrust between Americans and the Muslim world, and the intolerable situation of the Palestinians – no equivocation, just put it on the table.
Purists or fanatics may say that he did not go far enough in condemning past US actions, or in reasserting his predecessor’s open-ended commitment to anything and everything Israel did or wanted. But politics is the art of the practical, and neither groveling in the rhetorical dirt nor being an Israeli apologist would do anyone except those purists and fanatics any good. Obama acquired a good deal of legitimacy as an intelligent, articulate and charismatic leader, thus distancing himself from a predecessor who was none of those things. I applaud him for that.
Reflecting on the Details
Actions do speak louder than words, and it is those that will determine the proof of his intentions. But we should remember that the ship of state, like a ship at sea, cannot do an instantaneous change of course. It needs to turn, and turn slowly and carefully, so it does not capsize or run aground, especially in a narrow channel with obstacles on all sides.
And Obama does face numerous obstacles. One is AIPAC's tame poodles in the US Congress and Israel’s advocates in the mainstream media. No matter what Obama wishes to do, it is absolutely certain that for now, Congress will vote for whatever Israel wishes, and a good part of the mainstream media will endorse that.
Another is his reaffirmation of a special relationship of unbreakable bonds with Israel. The US cannot hope to broker disputes anywhere if it enters the fray professing a clear preference for one of the parties, and refuses to penalize it in any substantive way.
A third is Palestinians bent on revenge against Israelis who have ravaged them and their land and families for decades. Whatever Palestinian representatives endorse, many who have been oppressed and lost loved ones to Israeli soldiers and settlers will want to return the “favor.”
And the most fundamental is the carefully ignored reality that whatever the two-state rhetoric employed, Palestinians and Israelis claim the same land, neither believes they can be safe without their own country, and neither believes they can be safe if the other has a country. The Israelis now rule and have no intention of relinquishing that position. Some Palestine may emerge that is called a state, but that doesn’t mean it will be anything but an Israeli victim with a different status, barring external protection.
Making it Happen
Good intentions do not have much leverage, but three things can still be done to help Obama begin to achieve his goals, not as Israel’s patron-in-chief but as a US President committed to America’s interests overall. The most important is to replace many of the key players in the Administration now dealing with Middle East affairs. Almost all now are either Jewish or firm Israeli partisans; Arab-Americans and those who are not staunch supporters of Israel are not exactly easy to find in the government. But they are easy to find in America, and Obama should remember that another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, was the last president with a senior Middle East adviser (William Quandt) who was not an Israeli partisan, and he managed to achieve the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. It is a precedent worth repeating.
Second, the so-called “special relationship” with Israel absolutely has to end, both because of Israel’s elected government and its behavior, and America’s own national self-interest. When one cuts through the rhetoric, the issue of Israel today comes down to parties and people: Who governs? And this much is clear. If any other country elected someone like Binyamin Netanyahu from a party like Likud as its Prime Minister, and someone like Avigdor Lieberman from a party like Yisrael Beiteinu as its Foreign Minister, no one in Washington would be babbling about a "special relationship" between America and that country. No US President would affirm that its security was America's paramount concern. No one in Congress would pledge continued support. In fact, no one in official Washington would give such people access to scraps in the White House kitchen, or send a penny to their country. And that is the only approach that may help less dogmatic Israelis come to the forefront.
Third, the US must explicitly link the phased withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank and the lifting of the Israeli blockade of the beleaguered people of Gaza to a continuation of American military and economic assistance to Israel. A properly coached Congress will be enraged, but while Congress can authorize all the funds for Israel it wishes, the President is under no practical obligation to spend them (so-called “signing statements” may have a good purpose, after all!), and I do not see a Democratic Congress impeaching and convicting a black Democratic President. Without this leverage, Israel has no reason whatsoever to support Obama’s expressed goals, and a failure to understand this essential point will entail the failure of Obama’s grand design, leaving the road to his political hell and more war truly paved with his own good intentions. With it, a safe and stable Palestine has a chance.
These proposals take more from Israel than from the Palestinians, and place a greater burden on Israelis than on the Palestinians. That is because Israel today is in the dominant position, whereas the Palestinians have lost almost everything and are subject to Israel’s whims. Doing what I propose will assuredly upset the Israelis and their supporters in the US. But America has better things to do than to underwrite Jewish settlers determined to play “master race” over impoverished and terrorized Palestinians.
*Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Muslims see shift in Obama speech, no breakthrough
4 Jun 2009, 1916 hrs IST, AP
CAIRO: Muslims around the world, including the Palestinian militant group Hamas, said President Barack Obama's outreach in a speech on Thursday was a positive shift in US attitude but fell short of a breakthrough because it lacked concrete proposals to turn the words into action.
Obama touched on many themes Muslims wanted to hear. He insisted Palestinians must have a state and said continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank is not legitimate. He assured them the US would pull all it troops out of Iraq by 2012 and promised no permanent US presence in Afghanistan.
``There is a change between the speech of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush,'' said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. But he complained that Obama did not specifically note the suffering in Gaza following the three-week Israeli incursion earlier this year and did not apologize for US military attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
``So all we can say is that there is a difference in the statements, and the statements of today did not include a mechanism that can translate his wishes and views into actions,'' said Barhoum, whose group the US considers a terrorist organization.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, welcomed Obama's words.
``The part of Obama's speech regarding the Palestinian issue is an important step under new beginnings,'' his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said. ``It shows there is a new and different American policy toward the Palestinian issue.''
The Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon did not comment. Hezbollah's representative in the Lebanese government, legislator Mohammed Fneish, said he didn't hear the speech.
In Iran, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric who was vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, called the speech ``compensation to hostile environment which was created during President Bush.''
``This can be an initial step for removing misconceptions between world of Islam and the West,'' he said.
Political commentator Ali Reza Khamesian said Obama's acknowledgment of Iran's right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was ``a step forward for better ties with the United States.''
Before the speech, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any statements by Obama were just ``words, speech and slogan'' without specific measures by Washington, such as lifting sanctions on Iran.
The speech contained a mixed message for Israel. Obama strongly endorsed the US alliance with the Jewish state but harshly criticized its West Bank settlement policy.
The director of Israel's government press office, Danny Seaman, called Obama's speech ``not bad.''
``All in all, his attitude is one we certainly share as a democratic country. The state of Israel isn't against reconciliation ... We think we should be more cautious and it should be done in such a way that the extremists shouldn't take control,'' he said.
Obama, aiming to repair ties with the Muslim world that had been strained under his predecessor George W. Bush, struck a respectful tone. He opened with the traditional greeting in Arabic ``Assalamu Alaikum,'' and listed many of the grievances of Muslims against the US and the West. He quoted several times from the Quran, the Islamic holy book, drawing applause from his audience at Cairo University.
Baghdad resident Mithwan Hussein called Obama ``brave.'' ``I think it's a good start and we hope he will open a new chapter with Islamic world and Arab Nation in particular,'' he said.
But not everyone was impressed. Wahyudin, the 57-year-old director of a hard-line Islamic boarding school in Jakarta, Indonesia, said ``I don't trust him.'' He spoke as he watched the speech on television.
``He's just trying to apologize to Muslims because of what America _ or really Bush _ has done in the past,'' said Wahyudin, who goes by one name. ``He's promising to be different. But that's all it is, a promise. We want action. We want to see an end to all intervention in Muslim countries. That's what we're fighting for.''
In Pakistan, where the US believes many top al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden may be hiding, citizens were generally skeptical that American deeds would match Obama's soaring words.
``Whatever wounds America has inflicted on the world, they are very deep and they cannot be erased away by only one speech,'' political analyst Siraj Wahab told Aaj TV. ``Overall the speech was positive, but let's see whether it was merely good words or could we ever see these words be practiced.''
Zahid Husain Gardezi, a 50-year-old landowner in the Pakistani city of Multan, seemed pleased at the gesture.
``It is the first time I have ever heard such affectionate words from an American for Muslims,'' he said. ``Apparently we can expect America to try to befriend the Muslim world in deeds as well. But let's see how long it will take to see this on the ground.''
Obama speech seeks to heal ’breach’ with Islam
Stephen Collinson, Agence France-Presse
Cairo, June 04, 2009
President Barack Obama will make a historic multimedia address on Thursday from an ancient hub of Arab civilisation to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, seeking to narrow a chasm between America and Islam.
After having left early on Thursday Saudi Arabia, one centre of Islam, Obama was expected to arrive in another, Egypt, to give a long-awaited speech in Cairo crafted to temper antipathy towards the United States felt by many of the faithful.
“There has been a breach, an undeniable breach between America and the Islamic world,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s top political advisor, as the president launched his Middle East mission with talks with Saudi King Abdullah.
“And that breach has been years in the making, it is not going to be reversed with one speech. It is not going to be reversed perhaps, in one administration.
“But the president is a strong believer, in open, honest dialogue.”
At the venerable Cairo University, Obama will deploy his ultra-modern new media machine to push the speech on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, aiming to take the message viral, and maximise its impact.
The State Department website is offering listeners the chance to register for text messages from the speech in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English and Whitehouse.gov will stream it live.
Obama will target the well of distrust in the Muslim world towards the United States, which saw its image sullied by the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, Guantanamo Bay, the stalled peace process and the Iraq war.
He must also address those Americans, still stung by the September 11 attacks in 2001, who view the religion through the prism of extremism.
Yet critics warn Obama’s hopes may founder, given that he has no intention of changing policies -- like staunch backing of Israel -- that make the United States unpopular.
Some question whether his trademark soaring rhetoric will conceal undercooked policies towards a region in tumult.
Others fault him for undercutting his message by speaking in Egypt where critics accuse President Hosni Mubarak, who Obama meets Thursday, of repression.
The shadow of extremism also looms: as soon as Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, he was greeted by threats from Osama bin Laden, but his new tape was dismissed by the White House as a futile bid to steal the president’s moment.
Obama promised to address a major Islamic forum during his 2008 campaign, and expectations have mounted ever since, especially across the region where he is more popular than the nation he leads, polls show.
“He feels it’s important to speak very openly and candidly about the very full range of issues that have caused some tensions between the United States and the Muslim world,” said Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes.
But hopes Obama will outline a major new plan to end the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict will likely be dashed.
Seeking to avoid a let-down, Axelrod and other aides were Wednesday argued that one event, albeit historic, pales into comparison with centuries of conflict and antagonism plaguing the Middle East.
In characteristic style, Obama will interweave his own story and personal ties to Islam with US foreign policy aspirations and the perilous state of a region frequently tipped into war.
Barack Hussein Obama, a Christian, has an Islamic family lineage in Kenya, and spent several years as a young boy growing up in Indonesia.
Aides said Obama would describe the divides and opportunities facing Islam and America, including US efforts to confront extremism, the Afghan and Pakistan war, Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He was expected to mention Iran’s nuclear programme and will outline initiatives on healthcare, education and investment in the Muslim world.
Obama pushed for a new dialogue with Islam on taking office in January, vowing to rev up Middle East peace moves.
He quickly called Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, gave an interview to the Al-Arabiya satellite network, made an unprecedented video address to Iranians and, in Turkey, reassured Muslims the United States was not at war with them.
Obama arrived in the Middle East after sparring publicly with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over West Bank settlements, an issue he sees as an impediment to resumed peace talks.
Aides said Obama had thrown himself into the speech, consulted Muslim Americans widely on its content, and was tinkering with the final draft “down to the wire” Wednesday night
Obama calls for 'new beginning' in ties between US, Muslims
Mark S. Smith, Associated Press
Cairo, June 04, 2009
Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims" on Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East.
"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world's largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the US-led war in Iraq. The White House said Obama's speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East. He said American ties with Israel are unbreakable, yet issued a firm, evenhanded call to the Jewish state and Palestinians alike to live up to their international obligations.
In a gesture to the Islamic world, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension "has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations."
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear," said the president, who recalled hearing prayer calls of "azaan" at dawn and dusk while living in Indonesia as a boy.
At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire." Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe.
The speech was the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violent struggle waged by Al-Qaida.
Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday, greeted by a new and threatening message from al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden. In an audio recording, the terrorist leader said the president inflamed the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in the Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.
But Obama said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are "irreconcilable with the rights of human beings," and quoted the Quran to make his point: "be conscious of God and always speak the truth ..."
"Islam is not part of the problem in combatting violent extremism it is an important part of promoting peace," he said. "Hamas must put an end to violence, recognise past agreements, and recognize Israel's right to exist," he said of the organisation the United States deems as terrorist.
"The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people," Obama said. "At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" on the West Bank and outskirts of Jerusalem, he said. "It is time for these settlements to stop."
As for Jerusalem itself, he said it should be a "secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims ..." Obama also said the Arab nations should no longer use the conflict with Israel to distract their own people from other problems.
He treaded lightly on one issue that President George W. Bush had made a centerpiece of his second term the spread of democracy. Obama said he has a commitment to governments "that reflect the will of the people." And yet, he said, "No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other."
At times, there was an echo of Obama's campaign mantra of change in his remarks, and he said many are afraid it cannot occur. "There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward," he said. The president's brief stay in Cairo included a visit to the Sultan Hassan mosque, a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study. He also toured the Great Pyramids of Giza, standing in awe at the massive structures. "This thing is huge!!" he yelled, his ebullient voice echoing off the stone of the largest of them. The build up to the speech was enormous, stoked by the White House although Obama seemed at pains to minimize hopes for immediate consequences.
"One speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East," he told a French interviewer. "Expectations should be somewhat modest."
Eager to spread the president's message as widely as possible, the tech-savvy White House orchestrated a live Webcast of the speech on the White House site; remarks translated into 13 languages; a special State Department site where users could sign up for speech highlights; and distribution of excerpts to social networking giants MySpace, Twitter and Facebook.
Though the speech was co-sponsored by al-Azhar University, which has taught science and Quranic scripture here for nearly a millennium, the actual venue was the more modern and secular Cairo University.
Red draperies formed a backdrop for the speech, blocking view of a portrait of Mubarak, an aging autocrat who's ruled Egypt since 1981.
"Egypt's democrats cannot help being concerned," wrote Dina Guirguis, executive director of Voices for a Democratic Egypt. The university's alumni are among the Arab world's most famous and notorious. They include the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz. Saddam Hussein studied law in the '60s but did not graduate. And Al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri earned a medical degree.