Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wounds of Centuries

Words that could heal wounds of centuries by Robert Fisk via Counterpunch.org

Robert Fisk is an excellent writer. Where I tend to bash away at a point, Mr. Fisk slides it in quietly and with subtlety. The article behind this link tries to be very appreciative of what Mr. Obama was trying to do with his speech in Cairo. But then, in one little quote, slipped in right at the end, he makes exactly the same point about Obama that I tend to make in my bash-over-the-head writing style.

Preacher, historian, economist, moralist, schoolteacher, critic, warrior, imam, emperor. Sometimes you even forgot Barack Obama was the President of the United States of America.

Will his lecture to a carefully chosen audience at Cairo University "re-imagine the world" and heal the wounds of centuries between Muslims and Christians? Will it resolve the Arab-Israeli tragedy after more than 60 years? If words could do the job, perhaps...

It was a clever speech we heard from Obama yesterday, as gentle and as ruthless as any audience could wish for - and we were all his audience...

Go read the rest of it, all the way to the end.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Tone and the Music

The Tone and the Music by Uri Avnery via Counterpunch.org

I've always like Mr. Avnery's writings, and everything I've heard of the man gives me a lot of respect for what he says. I'm willing to admit that he is perhaps wiser than I am. So, even though I don't really agree with what he says here, I'm happy to pass it along.

In 55 minutes, it not only wiped away the eight years of George W. Bush, but also much of the preceding decades, from World War II on.

The American ship has turned – not with the sluggishness everyone would have expected, but with the agility of a speedboat.

That is much more than a political change. It touches the roots of the American national consciousness. The President spoke to hundreds of million US citizens no less than to a billion Muslims.

The American culture is based on the myth of the Wild West, with its Good Guys and Bad Guys, violent justice, dueling under the midday sun. Since the American nation is composed of immigrants from all over the world, its unity seems to require a threatening, world-encompassing evil enemy, like the Nazis and the Japs, or the Commies. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, this role was taken over by Islam.

Cruel, fanatical, bloodthirsty Islam; Islam as the religion of murder and destruction; an Islam lusting for the blood of women and children. This enemy captured the imagination of the masses and supplied material for television and cinema. It provided lecture topics for learned professors and fresh inspiration for popular writers. The White House was occupied by a moron who declared a world-wide “War on Terrorism”.

When Obama is now uprooting this myth, he is revolutionizing American culture. He wipes away the picture of one enemy, without painting another in its place. He preaches against the violent, adversary attitude itself, and starts to work to replace it with a culture of partnership between nations, civilizations and religions.

I see Obama as the first great messenger of the 21st century. He is the son of a new era, where the economy is global and the whole of humanity faces the danger to the very existence of life on the planet Earth. An era where the Internet connects a boy in New Zealand with a girl in Namibia in real time, where a disease in a small Mexican village spreads all over the globe within days.

This world needs a world law, a world order, a world democracy. That’s why this speech really was historic: Obama outlined the basic contours of a world constitution.

The problem is, I'm not sure Mr. Avnery understands that with President Obama, his words and his actions are often quite different from each other. Ever since mounting the national stage, Mr. Obama has been very good at speaking words that sound good. He seems to understand the world's problems, and can express them with eloquence.

The problem is that there is always a lack of concrete calls for action in his speeches. And, here in America, we've learned that when Mr. Obama does later decide to act, his actions are often in conflict with his fine words. I sincerely hope that Mr. Avnery is correct and that I am wrong. That this speech did indeed mark a radical change in America. But what I see in Mr. Obama's actions is quite different.

  • The American defense budget, intelligence budget, and homeland security budget all continue to grow. And all are justified by the need to stop those evil muslim terrorists.
  • Our troops remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Mr. Obama has essentially continued the Bush policy of fighting the war now, and giving vague promises of withdrawal in the future. This is all justified by the need to stop those evil muslim terrorists.
  • Mr. Obama is escalating the Afghanistan war, and he is expanding that war into Pakistan. Again we are told that we must do so to stop those evil muslim terrorists.
  • Almost before his plane returns to the US, SOS Clinton is threatening Iran with a repeat of the Iraq war. Again we are told that it is inconceivable that a terrorist state like Iran have any possibility of getting nuclear weapons. The fact that both US 'intelligence' and the IAEA say there is no proof that Iran is working on a nuclear bomb is irrelevant and forgotten.
  • While Mr. Obama might not directly refer to Hamas as terrorists, his government still treats them as terrorists. The US government supports the Israeli government's wish to deny the fact that Hamas was the elected choice of the Palestinians. The siege of Gaza continues, with US support. And recently, US citizens were sentenced to 65 years in prison for the crime of raising money for schools and hospitals run by Hamas. The US DOJ says that this can't be allowed because Hamas only uses schools to teach and recruit suicide bombers. (When was the last Hamas suicide bombing in Israel? Several years ago I believe).

As someone who's listened over and over to Obama's fine words, only to be disappointed and shocked by his actions, I'll wait to see concrete actions by President Obama to fulfill his vision and his fine words.

Meanwhile, I get the impression that this piece was intended more for domestic Israeli consumption. My impression is that Mr. Avnery is trying to shame the Israeli people and government away from their course of more war, more detention, more starvation, more denial of medical care, and more torture. I wish him the very best in his endeavors.

Obama needs summer school

Obama, the "Student of History," Needs to Go to Summer School by Prof. Mark A. Levine on the History News Network

Near the start of his much-anticipated speech to the Muslim world, President Obama described himself as “a student of history;” by the end it was clear that he needs to get back to the classroom.

For all its well-intentioned rhetoric, President Obama's speech was, sadly, conceptually flawed, empirically challenged, and politically blind to the daily realities that drive hundreds of millions of Muslims to increasing despair.

So, a history professor feels that a US President mangled 'history' when making a speech. Nothing really new there. If for instance you've been reading what Prof. Chomsky has been writing for the last 40 years, you'd know that the US routinely mangles 'history'. Of course, Obama campaigned on 'change', so maybe the gullible among us expected something different?

Obliterate Iran

Clinton Threatens to Attack Iran ‘The Way That We Did’ Iraq from Antiwar.com

Citing the disastrous 2003 US invasion of Iraq as an example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today warned that by continuing to refuse to abandon its civilian nuclear program, Iran was risking the possibility of an invasion by the US or “some other enemy that would do that to them.”

The comments came during an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program, and when asked by interviewer and former Clinton-era official George Stephanopoulus, Secretary Clinton reiterated “that’s right, as a first strike.”

(the antiwar.com article has links to ABC News, follow the link above to get there).

Of course, just the other day, President Obama was trying to start a 'new beginning' with Muslims. Remember this part ....

"We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.”

Of course, uncounted numbers of 'innocent men, women and children' have died as a result of our attack on Iraq. By implication, Secretary of State Clinton is threatening to kill many, many more 'innocent men, women, and children.'

I wonder if President Obama will fly home and confront the violent extremists here?

And, does anyone else notice how none of the real 'choices' given to the American voters last year mean any change at all in our policies? Does it sound like there is any difference at all between Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of State Clinton?

Then there's this ....
Clinton Threatens ‘Massive Retaliation’ in Case Iran Attacks Israel also on antiwar.com

Spending yet more time publicly railing against a nuclear weapons program which both US intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency insist doesn’t exist, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today insisted that the American nuclear umbrella in fact extends over Israel, as well as “a number of nations” and that the US would retaliate “massively” in the event of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.

Of course, for anyone paying attention, there would seem to be a much greater threat that Israel would attack Iran instead of the other way around. Israel routinely threatens to attack Iran. Israel recently staged major military excerises that seemed to simulate an attack on Iran. Over the last twenty years, Israel has attacked other nations in the region several times. And Israel is known to posses hundreds of nuclear weapons and the delivery systems to launch them. And in the quote above, SOS Clinton explicitly threatened that 'some other enemy' might attack Iran ... a rather transparent reference to Israel.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, experts seem to be in agreement that Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons program, and they've shown zero ability to design a nuclear weapon that would fit on top of a missile, survive the g-forces and vibrations of a missile launch and still work when it gets somewhere. There are some very vague statements, with disputes over their translation, from one political leader in Iran, who does not hold absolute power, saying that someday Israel might not exist.

Seems like SOS Clinton would be much better off spending her time worrying about an Israeli attack on Iran, rather than the other way around. But, as one can see below, she seems to be signaling rather publicly that the US would support an Israeli attack on Iran.