In his inaugural speech, the newly-elected US president, Barack Obama, mentioned the Founding Fathers of the United States several times. Who exactly were they? A quick look at history will reveal that the Founding Fathers belonged to the wealthy aristocratic class among the first English settlers in North America. They spoke, orated and wrote a great deal about “freedom” and “the right to pursue happiness”. Between speeches and declarations, however, those same Fathers were intent on enslaving and/or expelling the native Indians to whatever extent possible. (It is no wonder that the natives on the continent tended to favour the British side in the American War of Independence.) The Founding Fathers also built their happiness and their liberty on the enslavement of the Blacks.
George Washington himself was the biggest slave-owner in America. In Virginia, one of the biggest states in North America at that time, 40 percent of the residents were Blacks – slaves. These details never prevented the historical Fathers of the Cradle of Democracy from speaking again and again about the ideal of freedom and “America, the land of the free”.
In his inaugural speech, Barack Obama pathetically evoked the names of the Founding Fathers, without the name of Martin Luther King ever crossing his lips.
It was no coincidence. The absence of King from the speech can also be understood in light of the shameful conflict between Obama and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright in the middle of the election campaign. Wright was for years the pastor of the church that Obama attended and even officiated at his wedding. This is a man who is quite close to Obama, but who for all that is very different in his views. In his sermons, which thanks to his closeness to Obama, attracted much interest during the campaign, Wright presented a picture very different from the mythological picture of American history that Obama represented in his inaugural speech. In his sermons Wright depicted the many long years of suffering of the Black population and its long tradition of struggle against slavery and discrimination – up to this very day. In the past Wright strongly criticized Apartheid in South Africa and US support for the White regime. Nor did the pastor spare the rod over the unjust war in Iraq. Wright dared even to criticize America’s relations with the Third World when he said that America needed to understand the admonition of Jesus not to do to unto others what you do not want them to do unto you.
Wright is not just another minister of religion. He is a representative of the Black American church, which was established underground during the period of slavery. Throughout its history it has retained a radical religious-social analysis of the American society and government that enslaved those with black skins for so many years and built its wealth on the sweat of the Black community.
The press, knowing of the closeness between Wright and Obama, mobbed him for interviews, in which he made no effort to conceal his opinions.
Consequently Obama was asked to clarify his relations with Wright. Obama complied with statements to the media in which he publicly dissociated himself from the minister. He claimed that Wright was a divisive element within the American people. The minister said in reply that it was not he but American society that causes divisions between citizens.
Obama’s denial of Wright was perhaps the founding premise of his campaign for the presidency. Obama chose to dissociate himself from the Black American historical tradition and enter the ideological mainstream, thereby endearing himself to the American elites.
Throughout his campaign for the White House, Obama continued to represent himself as a unifier and a candidate who does not represent the Blacks in particular – as could be understood from his inaugural speech.
What plans does President Barack Obama have, as the holder of the highest office in the world, with regard to Israel?
Obama understands, as Bush’s people did by the end of his presidency (cf Bush’s agreement to depart from Iraq and even his plan for dismantling the Guantanamo prison), that it is necessary to change the behaviour of the American empire in order to preserve its power. This will be manifested in sweeter words and in contacts and negotiations with various parties. But Obama also understands that nice words will not suffice in the long run; when all is said and done, the power of the American empire is based on its military might. For that reason I ascribe the greatest importance to the following sentences from Obama’s speech: “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred”; and he continued, “for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents we say to you … we will defeat you.”
Those words are completely believable. They are supported by the existence of 700 military bases all over the world and by a military budget of 700 billion dollars (which accounts for half of the entire world’s military spending), and are reinforced by acts of war in which America has recently used its military might in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was President Teddy Roosevelt who said: “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. The sitting president, Barack Obama, is a worthy heir of that approach.
Of course, the demagogic representation of unfortunate America threatened by evil all over the world is a regular feature of such speeches, as is the President’s reply to the effect that “we shall show you the lighting down of our arm.”* And the masses cheer on cue.
The same kind of demagoguery is embodied in the statement about extending a hand to those very Muslims, if only they would unclench their fist. The American superpower, that spends 700 billion dollars a year on the war budget, is threatened by the terrifying Iranian mailed fist, which has a budget of 7 billion dollars. It sounds nearly hallucinatory, until we recall that the previous president, George W. Bush, declared that Iraq too was a threat to the security of the United States and launched a war against it. The “Western democracies” in Europe applauded from the sidelines.
And here in Israel, our leaders and pundits rack their brains about what Obama will do in our region, or in simple terms, will he continue to support the occupation of the West Bank and the ongoing siege of Gaza. They can derive encouragement from the fact that over the course our entire invasion of Gaza, when we bombed and destroyed whatever we felt like, Obama did not utter a syllable. The future president took refuge in the miserable pretext that there is only one president in America. But that did not prevent him from making his voice heard on other important subjects during the last days of his predecessor’s term.
In my estimation, Obama will continue to implement his predecessor’s policy in our region without essential changes. He will perhaps place greater emphasis on the use of sweet words and thus follow in the footsteps of the smiling Bill Clinton, who did not particularly contribute to the welfare of the Palestinians or to the advancement of peace in the region.
The fundamental premise of the Americans is that Israel is an important cog in the wheel of American regional strategy to preserve military-economic hegemony in the Middle East. It should even be expected that US support for Israel will increase after the invasion of Gaza. The State of Israel acquired its status as a strategic asset in the eyes of the Americans after the war of 1967, and in the following years proved itself as the strongest military power in the region. But Israel lost some of its strategic importance after the second Lebanon war. It was not only Israel’s power of deterrence that was weakened, but also America’s. Now Israel has succeeded in proving again its capability and its brutal resolve to crush and destroy when necessary, and has once again become a potential candidate for carrying out any military action its powerful ally asks of it for the preservation of its regional hegemony.
Over the years it has been claimed by many that it was in America’s interest to restrain Israel a little bit, in order not to provoke the anger of the Arab states against America. But America appears to have succeeded in retaining the “moderate Arabs”, a group that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and even Mahmoud Abbas, under its control. No one has to explain to American diplomats that the Palestinian resistance or even Arab resistance has not been broken and is likely to break out again; but in its current condition, with the economic crisis that oppresses its economy, when its relative strength among the powers has been somewhat reduced, the United States prefers to preserve the existing status quo. Now that Israel has once again proved itself as an American strategic asset, it will be treated by America and Obama accordingly.
The most that can be hoped for under these circumstances is that the Obama Administration will pressure Israel to dismantle a few “illegal outposts” while leaving the other settlements – which zseware presumably “legal” – in place. To all appearances, Obama will work with Israel to bring about some accord with Abu Mazen, through whom he will try to undermine Hamas and its regime in Gaza. The Hamas movement is in effect an enemy of the USA because it is a resistance movement, not because it is religious-fundamentalist. And this is the source of the identification with Israel and the support for the latest military campaign in Gaza. Only a na?f would believe that Obama’s team did not authorize that adventure.
Obama is not a herald of “hope and change” within the USA or in the world. The vast support he has received from the US masses can be explained by the fact that their hope and desire for change are stronger than their capacity to recognize the bleak reality.
In order to change such a reality, a real and profound social change is required. That can be realized only by new social forces.
* See Isaiah 30:30 – trans.
Translated by George Malent
25 January 2009