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When Obama Bombs

| May 21, 2011

That was at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington earlier this month, where prayer didn't help with Middle East clarity. (White House/Chuck Kennedy)

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Barack Obama. He had the easiest act to follow since the Buchanan-Lincoln transition. But his speech on the Middle East this week must be a low point. The rhetoric sounded like it was on autopilot. The substance was all over the place. No wonder Obama aides were arguing over the speech until the last minute (the speech was delayed by more than half an hour because they were haggling over wording as if White House policy were a shop front in an Arab bazaar). There’s no clarity of vision in this administration regarding the Middle East. Past the soaring phrases, it’s a salad of contradictions, of hollow presumptions, of back-tracking and hair-splitting.

This was no landmark speech. There was no seizing of opportunities created by the killing of bin Laden. It was stylishly written clichés. I’m amazed at how easily the domestic audience, domesticated as it is by the patronizing and infantile simplicities of television networks (whether Fox or CNN, delude yourself of a difference), bought into the narrative of the “groundbreaking,” or pumped up the hype. Even in print, where, unlike television, IQ is occasionally recognizable. “Obama’s Israel Bombshell,” was the Wall Street Journal’s four-column headline.

Bombshell, no. A bomb of a speech, yes.

Obama was still speaking as if the United States could make much of a difference in the region. But it’s not just al-Qaeda that’s become irrelevant. The events of the last few months have shown to what extent American influence has shrunk, and how compromised America’s moral standing continues to be. It’s not Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, secret prisons and the no-exit muddles of Iraq and Afghanistan so much anymore, though those blights continue to accrue interest in America’s bank of shame. These days it’s Obama’s refusal to see thuggery for what it is and deal with it on equal terms. He starts another war against Libya because that country’s mad man turned his tanks against his own people. But Bahrain’s and Syria’s mad men are doing the same, and all Obama can do is slap a few sanctions on Syria, after saying nothing for weeks of massacres, and keep hugging and kissing the Bahraini king, because America’s Fifth Fleet is anchored in his port, while the king’s murderous troops crush demonstrators and invite Saudi troops to boot.

The Live Column

Obama continues to be a flip-flopper on these Arab revolutions, which are losing their momentum. For weeks he couldn’t figure out how to respond to the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. He hedged his bets. He wanted to make sure that if the tyrants didn’t fall, he could still be friends with them. He aligned himself with the insurgents only when he was certain that the gangsters he’d called allies and friends all those years were done for good. That’s not courage. It’s keeping up with CNN.

The big news Thursday was supposedly Obama’s endorsement of Israel’s pre-1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations over a Palestinian state. But all he’s doing is catching up to international law, to United Nations resolutions, to where the rest of the world has been, to where even several previous presidents were when American policy wasn’t a subset of whatever Israel was asking for. The only big news about those 1967 borders is that it took the United States so long to rediscover them, and the law.

Even then, Obama was all about hedging. A president who’s allegedly all for self-determination and human rights derided the Palestinians move toward declaring an independent state next September at the United Nations, much in the way that Israel declared itself a state in 1948. It took Harry Truman 20 minutes to recognize Israel back then. It’s been 63 years that the United States has joined Israel in denying Palestinians the right to exist. That hasn’t changed. Yet Israel still grouses, from its invulnerable and immovable existence, that Palestinians deny it the right to exist. Talk about illusion in the service of rhetoric.

In that sense (as in a few others, terrorizing Palestinians militarily, killing them arbitrarily and calling it collateral damage, and repressing them widely and illegally through occupation) Israel is worse than Hamas. Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist in words as idiotic as they are divorced from reality. That’s the mark of imbecilic fanaticism (forgive the oxymoron;  the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, incidentally, explicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1993. But Israel denies not only Palestine’s right to exist in actual fact; it denies Palestinians the right to exist—in history, in culture, in textbooks, and of course in the most important state of them all: in a state of their own. Obama, like most of his predecessors, have been complicit in that denial, swallowing whole the disingenuous Israel’s rhetoric about its existence hinging in the least on what Hamas’s moronic charter says. That didn’t change in Thursday’s speech. It was instead emphasized with Obama’s obnoxious suggestion that September’s UN vote for Palestinian statehood would be counter-productive. That from a president fighting four wars in the Middle East—Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, “terror”—allegedly in the name of Arab and Afghan self-determination against those who’d deny it.

But the square-peg-in-round-hole-hypocrisy of American presidents has no bounds in the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims briefly imagined Barack Obama to be different. He’s been an improvement. But improving from catastrophic to dismal isn’t much of an improvement. There was not a word about Saudi Arabia in Thursday’s speech, either, though Saudi Arabia, as close an ally as any in the Middle East, is in the same league of regressive tyrannies as the Taliban or North Korea—a sheikhdom as corrupt as they come, an illegitimate monarchy, an insult to women and an offense against liberty that the United States nevertheless embraces with strategic abandon. No word about the United Arab Republic, for that matter—a nation that’s just hired Blackwater’s private mercenaries to build it a private army of Seal-wannabes, apparently with the Obama administration’s quiet approval—and no word about other Arab clients that are no less illegitimate than Libya: Algeria, Morocco, Kuwai, Oman, Yemen, even Qatar and Iraq, where democracy is a vague glimmer.

And no word about the region’s backsliding. Egypt hasn’t been much different since Hosni Mubarak’s departure. The country is ruled by a military dictatorship. Arbitrary arrests, military trials, torture, censorship and the humiliation of citizens goes on. A blogger who had the temerity to criticize the military in a few sentences was sentenced to three years in prison, after the obligatory torture and humiliation that substitutes for Miranda rights in Egypt as it does in virtually every Arab state. In Egypt now there’s the added anxiety of street crime, which was rare during the old regime. Instead of reminding Egypt that it’s still the second-richest recipient of American aid after Israel, and that those billions should depend on immediate and verifiable civil rights reforms, Obama has accepted the new dictatorship as if the revolution never took place.

Elevating the Bush administration’s Mideast policy, which really was no policy other than war by every mean, would be ludicrous: American legitimacy and credibility is bankrupt primarily because of Bush’s trigger-happy cavalcades in the region, and his blind eye to Israel’s disproportionate clobberings of Palestinians on one hand and its South Florida-like development of the occupied West Bank by illegal settlements on the other. But Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, delivered one speech in 2005 in which which she admitted in a few lines what Obama has yet to do: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,” she said.

Make that 65 years.

The victorious people of Cairo’s Tahrir Square now have kindred spirits in the people of Chicago’s Grant Park, who must be wondering what happened to the man they elected in 2008. It’s like the Seth Myers joke at the White House correspondents’ dinner three weeks ago. Myers made fun of the Republican field of presidential candidates which, lucky for Obama, stars a line-up of suits approximating life forms. “So it’s not a strong field, and who knows if they can beat you in 2012,” Myers told the president, “but I can tell you who can definitely beat you Mr. President: 2008 Barack Obama.”

That’s assuming that that man’s existence was ever any more real than, say, a Palestinian state.

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11 Responses for “When Obama Bombs”

  1. JR says:

    Those jokes from the correspondents’ dinner were lame three weeks ago when Pierre first began repeating them ad nauseum.

  2. dlf says:

    I read with interest that the author is in love with Obama except when he is going against the authors values, spoken like a true liberal news reporter. The comparison of the people of Egypt to the USA voters is very interesting, will the people of Egypt be rewarded with the Brotherhood, while the people in the USA were rewarded with Obama, six of one half a dozen of the other.

  3. concerned says:

    Gee, and I thought those jokes were funny as hell and this one most of all – in a sad/sick sort of way. I guess the joke was on us back in ’08, or was it 2000…

    Pierre – I would only add that the House of Saud & the US entered into an agreement long about 1974 as a resolution to the OPEC crisis. We agreed to build Saudi infrastructure (the best in all the world) and militarily protect the kingdom, further agreeing to allow the House of Saud to remain in control of their country until basically the US is no more. In return the Saudis promised no further oil embargos to the US – ever. It was quite the money laundering job & an event that really mushroomed the global corportocracy. Recommended reading: ‘Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins – the EHM who was key to pulling it all off.

  4. Vi Ewing-Vincent says:

    You just now noticing that about him … you should have noticed it in 2008 ….. change …. yes we need it!!!

  5. Jenn Carleton says:

    Please Pierre. Don’t waste your ink on him. He is about as pathetic as politicians come. Jus’ Sayin’ You have much better stories and interesting news. He is a media junkie. He loves all this publicity even if it is bad. Moving in a few days. I will miss your articles but not Flagler. Stay in touch my friend. :o) ♥

  6. Cheryl M Fox says:

    Hmmmm. Interesting read.

  7. nehad ismail - London says:

    Pierre is obviously unhappy with Obama’s speech and US policies on the Middle East issues. I agree with the main thrust of the article, but II think Obama’s speech was a valiant attempt at laying out the parameters for a future Palestinian State, based on 1967 borders. The fact that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu slammed the speech and openly contradicted Obama is a clear indication that Obama got it just about right.
    In general terms the USA influence has declined in the region, it is a self-inflicted impotence, the glarest example is the recent veto in the UN Secuiryt Council resolution condemning the continued illegal settlement building. The US has in fact voted against its own declared policy.

    I agree that the US support for the Arab Spring has been selective. Supporting the Egyptians but not the Syrian people. Also the Arab Spring is a welcome development but it must exclude the Palestinians who are to remain under occupation indefinitely.

  8. NortonSmitty says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. He is the biggest Trojan Horse ever sold to the American voter. We thought we were voting for a 21st century FDR, instead we got George Bush in blackface. He is a plant for the Banksters, Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex. He is solidifying their rule by putting a bipartisan face on the boot to our throats and emptying our treasury into their pockets, leaving us in debt forever. We’re all screwed for at least a generation if not several.

  9. NortonSmitty says:

    Here’s the work of a so-called “Liberal” administration that has all of the Right Wing panties in a bunch: A President with dictatorial warmaking powers and fighting forever and ever, Amen. In other words, the logical, creeping expansion of the Imperial Presidency the Bush administration so coveted and worked for. Liberal my ass.

  10. William says:

    Well, he promised “Change”

    Forgot to mention it would be change for the worse.

  11. Val Jaffee says:

    Pierre, we need a like button!

    ‘Blind loyality’ is a phrase that is used to describe individuals who do exactly that, even when the person/establishment they profess loyalty to reveal their real/true ulterior motives. I’m certainly glad the author of the article isn’t showing blind loyalty. And yes, we do need the press to report on these things so that readers are aware of what’s going on and not be taken in by charismatic individuals looking for blind loyalty. No blind loyality from me either!

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