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Which Obama are we talking about? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Many people were optimistic when Barack Obama became president of the US. Some people were optimistic because he is an African-American, saying that he would not make the same mistakes as previous US presidents, because he was in a unique position to recall Washington’s injustice towards America’s black community. Some were optimistic because he did not need the Jewish lobby to reach the presidency. We are not saying that he opposed the Jewish lobby, but rather that this did not play a major role in his political rise. Whilst others were optimistic as a result of his early speeches, through which he addressed the Arab and Islamic world, using a markedly different language and rhetoric from previous US presidents, a language which attempted to convey that: I understand you. In fact, we can say that this expression is one that was not even in the lexicon of former US presidents.

However anybody observing the positions being taken by Obama today cannot help but view a different Obama, one that is going too far in declaring his support for Israel, whilst also going too far in declaring his opposition to the Palestinian position [of seeking international recognition via the UN]. This Obama is not just rejecting the Palestinian stance, or advising the Palestinian leadership to change their position, he is threatening them with the US veto [at the UN Security Council]. Obama seemed to quickly and indeed completely change his personality and character from one extreme to the other. Everybody is putting forward the traditional pretext to interpret this change, namely that Obama now needs the Jewish lobby to secure a second presidential term. However this pretext can be clearly refuted, for Obama never previously took a stance against Israel, rather he always stressed that America guarantees Israel’s security. This alone is enough to secure Obama the support of the Jewish lobby at the forthcoming elections. However Obama has gone far beyond this; and it is as if he is battling against the Arabs and Palestinians to the point that he told the Palestinian president not to continue in his endeavour to secure UN recognition of the State of Palestinian, threatening to use the US veto. Customarily, such messages would be relayed during speeches or official statements, not during face-to-face meetings. Therefore the statement would be issued first, and then any foreign leader meeting with the US president would clearly understand the nature of the meeting, and its results, in advance, thereby avoiding any serious verbal confrontation between the two parties. This way, both parties can ensure that the meeting is calm, and be courteous to one another, without either party relinquishing their stance.

Obama assumed the presidency following three presidents whose stances were extremely rigid and strongly reflected US interests, even at a time when the US was in a state of hostility or outright conflict with a number of foreign states. However when Obama came to power he was keen to show that his politics and policies would be different, and would incline more towards moderation. However Obama himself has now taken an extreme and rigid position, where there is no place for loved ones, according to the Arab expression.

Obama came to power following President George H. W. Bush, whom himself rose to power following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the outbreak of the first Gulf War. These two events crowned President George Bush Senior as one of the most important leaders in the world. President Bush therefore took the initiative and announced a [post-cold war] “new world order”, a world order led by the US.

He was succeeded by President Bill Clinton, who effectively used America’s position in this “new world order” with a blend of rigidness and flexibility. Whilst internally, American society was heating up, and moving towards a different type of politics.

When President George W. Bush came to power, neo-conservatism was already present in American society. This extremism neo-conservative policy then expanded to encompass US foreign policy, and is something that we Arabs have experienced as part of the concept of the “Greater Middle East” [sometimes called the New Middle East].

The neo-conservatives sought to change the Arab world in their own style, changing it from one condition to another, under the pretext of spreading democracy and protecting human rights, with the true objective of imposing US control upon Arab oil. This control extended to include American domination of the world, whilst guaranteeing Arab oil to America and Europe. The US is seeking to intervene in the distribution of oil so that it can exploit this for its own political reasons, something that is not in Arab interests. Therefore President George W. Bush worked to create inter-Arab tension, including increasing US support for Israel in an unprecedented manner, most prominently advocating Zionist settlement building on Palestinian territory.

Following these three presidents, Obama came to power as a young and cultured African-American president who personally announced that he would put an end to the hostile policies against the Arab world enacted during the George W. Bush era. He attempted to portray his stance as being a cultural and civilized one, rather than a mere political position, and he was welcomed throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Yet, this welcome did not last forever, and it was not very long until Obama appeared to the world with a new character, policy, and rhetoric.

Obama began to declare his support for Israel in a manner that surpassed all his predecessors. In his recent speech at the UN last week, the Israeli press itself described Obama’s speech as a “Zionist speech”, whilst Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself thanked President Obama in his own speech to the UN General Assembly.

As for Palestine, Obama began by declaring his opposition to any new Palestinian initiative, emphasizing his rejection of the Palestinian endeavour to secure full UN recognition. The US President also did not refrain from repeatedly threatening to use the US veto if this Palestinian initiative was put forward to the UN Security Council, a stance that was clearly pro-Israel and anti-Palestine.

Former President George W. Bush was neither cultured nor an eloquent speaker; attributes possessed by his successor President Obama. However the manner in which Obama has handled the Palestinian demands lack eloquence or tactfulness, and instead his discourse was marked by rudeness and discourtesy, whether in his statements or speeches, or his personal talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Therefore such a transformation in Obama’s character and personality cannot be explained under such conventional pretexts, like America’s strong traditional ties with the Zionist movement, for this completely ignores the manner in which Arab and American interests intersect.

American support of Israel is well known; in the same manner that American support for the Zionist movement is well known. However Obama’s public challenge to the Arab interests, and his ignoring of how Arab and American interests insect, is something that necessitates review and scrutiny, and perhaps even accountability. This is a position that the Arab world must take.

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan is a distinguished journalist and political analysts specializing in Arab–Israeli affairs. He is based in Paris.

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