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President Barack Obama’s speech is a fascinating document. The theme is this: absolutely nothing can go wrong with political change in the Middle East and that the United States helps moderate forces, defined as anyone who isn’t actively trying to kill Americans. The fact that some-to-many of those revolutionary forces favor killing Americans is outside his purview. And the fact that his policy has supported militantly anti-democratic groups far more than the (far weaker) moderate ones is airbrushed away.
That’s not to say there weren’t good-sounding formulations in his speech. Either due to a learning process, the impact of events, or–most likely–the immediacy of an American presidential election to whose voters he is actually addressing himself—you decide—Obama hit some of the right notes also. The problem is the isolation of this soaring rhetoric from his actual policies. That’s what’s important here, not the discussion about the video and its relationship to the rioting which has drawn literally all of the attention in analyzing the speech.
By the way, what’s really amazing, but no one has noted, is that almost every word of the speech could have been given by President George W. Bush. Obama has totally accepted the dangerous “neo-conservative” approach to the region despite the fact that this label makes his supporters foam at the mouth.
In basic terms, Obama urged the world to support the good people and not the bad people. Why should the U.S. ambassador to Libya be killed? After all, Obama claims, “He supported the birth of a new democracy” and was allegedly in Benghazi to review plans for a new cultural center and a modernized hospital. “Chris was killed in the city he helped to save,” said the president. Yet the most powerful force in the Middle East views his actions not as saving the city but as delivering it to U.S. control.
The anti-American riots were “an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded – the notion that people can resolve their differences peacefully; that diplomacy can take the place of war; and that in an interdependent world, all of us have a stake in working towards greater opportunity and security for our citizens….Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.”
That passage is unintentionally funny. After all, for decades violence and intolerance has been central at the U.N. and this will continue to be true. Indeed, the Obama Administration has supported many of these forces of violence and intolerance or, in other places, not stood up to them. After all, the minister of railroads in Pakistan, a country which has received billions in aid by the Obama Administration, has just offered a reward for murdering an American citizen without fear of any consequences for his regime. Amidst a thousand other examples that gives a sense of the reality of the contemporary situation compared to Obama’s rhetoric.
Obama says that the United States “has supported the forces of change” in the Arab Spring. But he does not evaluate these forces. The old regimes were tyrannical but what will replace them? Well, to prove he doesn’t comprehend there is a serious battle within the “forces of change” Obama could actually say:
We again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop, and a new dawn can begin.
A new dawn? Almost a century ago, revolutionaries were overthrowing the czar, widely viewed in the West as the world’s worst tyrant, and it was assumed that whatever happened would mark the beginning of a new dawn. Thirty years ago, those assumptions were repeated with Iran, where the world’s worst tyrant was supposedly being overthrown and the result had to be a “new dawn.” Each of these events generated massive sufferings and several wars.
The implication is that Obama believes that all change is good; that nothing can be worse in the region. This is a very dangerous conclusion, especially about the Middle East. It is not a strategy but merely a tossing of the dice in a casino where the dice are very crooked indeed.