Thursday, June 4, 2009


It is on occasions like this one today in Cairo that I take great joy in knowing that George W. Bush is back in Dallas and no longer at the White House. Obama's speech was a masterpiece in its message to both the Muslim world and Americans back home. I want to comment on several facets in this post.

First, Obama talked about the Israeli/Palestinian problem. He said that calling Jews vile names and denying Israel's right to exist was counter-productive:

"Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction - or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews - is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."

Obviously the above was intended for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has caused a lot of friction and talk of war by his imprudent and unhelpful comments about Israel and the Holocaust. But note that Obama did not take Ahmadinejad's words and use them as a threat of future war. Obama did not say that denying the Holocaust was a casus belli. Rather he put Ahmadinejad's comments in their proper place without sounding threatening or demeaning.

But Obama went on to talk about the plight of the Palestinians:

"On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people - Muslims and Christians - have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations - large and small - that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own."

There is no way that we would have heard these sentiments from Bush. And when was the last time that anyone has heard an American president acknowledge that the Palestinians have been homeless for more than 60 years? Never! The U.S. has continuously supported the Israeli side, looked the other way when they dropped bombs on Palestinians in Gaza, winked at Israeli building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, termed Hamas, democratically elected by the Palestinians in Gaza, as a terrorist organization. So for Obama to admit the obvious about the plight of the Palestinians is indeed new realistic policy.

Obama went on to say that both Palestinians and Israelis must accept the right of the other to exist:

"At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

Obama also noted the current devastation in Gaza where many Palestinians are living in make-do huts and shelters because Israel refuses to allow Palestinians to bring in building materials to re-build after the devastation caused by the Israeli attack this past January:

"Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress."

How can Israel think it will secure peace by denying essentials of life to a million Palestinians in Gaza? This is what Obama is saying - Israel's cruel blockade is ultimately against its own self-interest in peace and security.

Obama goes on to address the low state of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States:

"This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

"It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

"I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal."

Note that Obama acknowledges the role of the U.S. in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government led by Mossadegh in 1953. I personally would have like Obama's words to be stronger in their admission of American misdeeds than "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically- elected Iranian government." But at least Obama said what all Iranians think the U.S. should have said and admitted a long time ago. The American CIA wrongfully and illegally manipulated the overthrow of a government democratically elected by the people of Iran.

Note that Obama not only says that Iran having nuclear weapons would destabilize the Middle East but also admits that it is unfair that some countries possess nuclear weapons and others do not. So Obama reiterates that the U.S. government will work to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. By this Obama means not just the putative ones that some neo-cons say are in the hands of Iran but all weapons whether held by the U.S., Russia, or even by Israel.

This was an important speech that will have repercussions over the next days, weeks and months. It can and should be held up next to Obama's forthcoming actions as a checklist for what Obama does and what remains to be done.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not so sure that I can agree with the enthusiasm that has met Mr. Obama's speech.

    I find these two blog sites much more in touch with what actually occurred.
    Obama in Cairo: High Words, Low Truths By ALEXANDER COCKBURN Weekend Edition June 5 -7, 2009
    Despite what Mr. Obama said about torture, the U. S. forces are still actively engaged in proving that our government can get low down and dirty with the worst of them.

    The war against Middle Easterners will continue and billions are being dumped into a military buildup in this country. Nothing is changing, we are still a fascist nation, under a so called Christian god.