Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Obama's coming speech in Cairo: Words and Deeds

President Obama is going to Cairo to pronounce a speech.

His fine oratorical skills not withstanding, and even possibly his good intentions cannot change the reality of power politics in the US. When President Bush (the statesman) put pressure and led to the Rome Conference on Israel/Palestine and then the Oslo agreement he was staunchly warned of the risk to become a "one term president." Whether his status as a one-term president had anything to do with this, or was the fluke result of Ross Perot is another discussion topic, but merely the threat that was made to him shows something of the sensitivity of the topic in American politics--I've commented before on the US Congress voting 90% in favor of resolutions which had no weight, except to make a statement of support against very questionable policies and actions. (When else does the Congress vote 90% in favor of anything?)

Robert Fisk writes a good column about the low expectations from the Arab world of Mr Obama's speech. What is needed is action: while comforting Israel that its core ally will remain its core ally, exert strong pressure to force a change of course--and by change I mean 180 degrees. The end of the deadly illusion that the Jewish State is mandated to rule the lives of Arabs on their own land, and ultimately to take that land.

Below are the concluding paragraphs from Fisk--you can read his full column here.
"Arabs, I find, have a very shrewd conception of what goes on in Washington – the lobbying, the power politics, the dressing up of false friendship in Rooseveltian language – even if ordinary Americans do not. They are aware that the "new" America of Obama looks suspiciously like the old one of Bush and his lads and ladies. First, Obama addresses Muslims on Al-Arabiya television. Then he addresses Muslims in Istanbul. Now he wants to address Muslims all over again in Cairo.

I suppose Obama could say: "I promise I will not make any decision until I first consult with you and the Jewish side" along with more promises about being a friend of the Arabs. Only that's exactly what Franklin Roosevelt told King Abdul Aziz on the deck of USS Quincy in 1945, so the Arabs have heard that one before. I guess we'll hear about terrorism being as much a danger to Arabs as to Israel – another dull Bush theme – and, Obama being a new President, we might also have a "we shall not let you down" theme.

But for what? I suspect that what the Arab world wants to hear – not their leaders, of course, all of whom would like to have a spanking new US air base on their property – is that Obama will take all his soldiers out of Muslim lands and leave them alone (American aid, doctors, teachers, etc, excepted). But for obvious reasons, Obama can't say that.

He can, and will, surely, try his global-Arab line; that every Arab nation will be involved in the new Middle East peace, a resurrection of the remarkably sane Saudi offer of full Arab recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 242. Obama will be clearing this with King Abdullah on Wednesday, no doubt. And everyone will nod sagely and the newspapers of the Arab dictatorships will solemnly tip their hats to the guy and the New York Times will clap vigorously.

And the Israeli government will treat it all with the same amused contempt as Netanyahu treated Obama's demand to stop building Jewish colonies on Arab land and, back home in Washington, Congress will fulminate and maybe Obama will realise, just like the Arab potentates have realised, that beautiful rhetoric and paradise-promises never, ever, win against reality."

It's counter-intuitive, but in the big scheme of thing, this American disconnect between words and deeds (not an American exclusive, but an exceptionally weighty disconnect given the place of the US in today's world) will have far greater consequences than the bankrupcy of GM.

Until the moment of their crash, however, empires tend to concern themselves with things which cease to matter the minute after the crash.


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