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Obama and the Middle East

June 25, 2008


An article in today’s Financial Times (Obama Under Fire Over Iraq Troop Pledge) suggest just how soft is Barack Obama on ending the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. Quite troubling and for those following Obama’s statement on Israel-Palestine (before AIPAC at the beginning of the month), on Iran – the drift of his remarks is not surprising.

The arguement – pressuring Obama to back away from his commitment to getting the US out of Iraq – goes something like this: if Obama keeps to his announced timetable of withdrawing all US combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office then all the `progress’ made to pacify the country throught the so-called surge will be quickly undone `compromising’ US interests.

The logic is interesting in a number of respects. It suggests that the results of the surge are quite fragile and that if US troops are with withdrawn the Maliki government will not last long. Since it is creature of the US occupation and exists only because of Bush Administration support, this is probably true. It is no so much `US interests’ that would be compromised if the project collapses – the US image in the region would probably improve dramatically – it is US corporate interests and the Bush-Cheney plan to restructure the region along neo-conservative lines that would come wonderfully unglued.

Other than Bush, Cheney, Halliburton, Blackwater, AIPAC and a few other of the usual suspects, an end to the US occupation would probably be cause for global celebrations.

Not about to happen soon though it appears.

And now, if the Financial Times is on-target, Obama has joined the Iraq wafflers as well. According to the above mentioned article, `Colin Kahl, national security professor at Georgetown University, Obama’s Iraq policy coordinator, wrote a paper in April suggesting the US should leave a `residual’ force of 60,000 to 80,000 troops `far below the current 150,000 but much higher than the anti-war Democratic base would wish’.

There is no mention here of dismantling that string of US mega-bases – self contained American small (or not so small) towns tranported to Iraq. They have a permanent air about them. No hint of the United States admitting the obvious: surge or not – complete defeat in Iraq with no chance of future success. No sense of what is needed: a new vision and direction for US foreign policy in the Middle East – towards Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, Saudi Arabia.

To the contrary, Obama’s recent remarks suggest the degree to which the Bush US foreign policy in the Middle East is what it long has been: a bipartisan program in which the Democrats are almost as responsible as the Republicans. How else can Obama’s remarks to AIPAC be evauiated? What did he say:

1 On Israel-Palestine his remarks were frankly to the right of the Bush Administration. If Bush and Cheney have legitimized lsraeli annexation of large chunks of the West Bank (large areas around Jerusalem), Obama extends the gift giving to Jerusalem itself – and this at a time when supposedly there are Israeli-Palestinian peace talks underway. Jerusalem is not Obama’s to give away.

He also promised to maintain the unsustainable (and immoral) high levels of US military and economic aid to Israel and to sign yet another `memorandum of understanding’ with the Jewish state, – one of those secret agreements that essentially commits the US to defending Israeli security – this the forth most powerful military in the world – as if it were the fifty first state or some extension of Long Island lying a few miles east of Montauk Point.

2. On Iran, while it is true that Obama responded to Hillary Clinton’s racist threat of `obiliterating’ Iran with a call for diplomacy, still, at AIPAC, he describes Iran as `the greatest threat to US and Israeli security in thirty years’. Besides being utter nonsense – the same type of vilification done before the US invastion of Iraq – this kind of statement could be interpreted as giving a green light to Israel to pursue its plans – now completely open and discussed in the US and world media – to attack Iran. Let us remember that no Israeli attack on Iran could take place without full US logical, intelligence and military support and close coordination.

How much of this is `pre-election’ hype, groveling before – rather than challenging – AIPAC? Hard to tell.

That said, Obama’s campaign has generated a great deal of interest, of hope for change. I expect he’ll be swept into office – barring the unforseeable – in November and taking with him a new Democratic Congress. A political retrograde like John McCain doesn’t stand a chance in the current political environment. He will suffer a humiliating and well deserved defeat. It took eight years – no 28 years if one begins with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan – but it seems that the worldwide rightwing revolution of neo-liberalism (meaning economic conservatism combined with US military adventurism) as pretty much run its course.

The people of this country – and the world – are hungry for a `new America’ that includes a new Middle East policy. Yet so much that Barak Obama has done these past months has been to dampen hopes of Middle East change, suggesting we should expect less of him, not more. This is a politically dangerous game. When hopes are stirred and politicans don’t deliver their base of support can quickly shrivel.

Frankly I’ve never thought Obama would do much to change US policy towards Israel and Palestine. That would take more political courage than he seems able to muster. But I have been hoping he would avoid a military confrontation with Iran and at least begin – in a serious manner – the US military disengagement from Iraq towards an eye on ending the US occupation there. His promise to move in this direction, was, far more than any other factor, the reason he defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

If he fails to move decisively on Iraq (among other things) , besides his support base soon shrinking , his chances for a second term will seriously diminish..and he will have done the people of this nation, Iraq and the world an unforgiveable disservice. He needs to be reminded of his commitment.

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