November 16th, 2008
Dear Mr Obama:
Tell me we haven’t been bamboozled. We need the change you promise, but something just doesn’t seem right. After eight years under a Bush administration that engendered misery at home and around the world, the United States had found itself distrusted, scorned and despised. And so it seems—correct me if I’m wrong here, please—the US did what the US does best: sell.
Public relations. Imagine with me, if you will, a room of men, probably old white men, with a problem. How do we, they ask themselves, hold onto our place as the world superpower, yet at the same time get rid of the all the bad PR, those annoying threats and censures? How do we, they ask themselves, appease the voices that dare to suggest we’ve gone too far? Without, of course, conceding anything. Epiphany! Change our image, not our style. Ah, the art of American business. Substance is irrelevant, just package it and sell it. They grabbed onto the marketing ploy that has sold many a dubious product: “New and improved.”
Change? Those old white men found the packaging solution. How about the biggest change in American history, colour in the white house? Appearance is all that matters. It would have pushed their luck to choose an African American whose ancestors had struggled to rise from having been degraded as slaves. Such a man may have been too empathetic to the oppressed of the world. No, your past and your appearance was enough; their front man need only carry the pretence of change.
Mr Obama, look in the mirror. You don’t look like them, those old white men. Marketing ploy extraordinaire: product aside, a different image is new and exciting. “Change,” you advised the world, to an America “where all things are possible.” And we the consumers dared to hope. Maybe he really is, we dreamed, new and improved.
The marketers knew the American voters were hungry for talk. Just look at the phenomenal success of YouTube, internet blogging, endless streams of reader-comments, editorial columns, talk shows of every variety. Voters were frustrated—fighting for oil, fighting to make a living—and frustration is vented in talk. With your charming smile you promised dialogue, diplomacy without preconditions; you said “we are nice, you see, we like to talk too.”
While the magicians distracted us with your youthful dark appearance, however, while we focused on our newfound open-mindedness, you selected Joe Biden as your vice-presidential candidate. Were you off your game? Or just hoping we wouldn’t dare burst our bubble of self-righteousness by pointing out that this old white man gleefully announced he was a Zionist?
US domestic welfare has been irrevocably intertwined with its foreign policy in the Middle East. And the Middle East is hurting. Now you are an intelligent man, Mr Obama. Did you not think that bringing an unabashed Zionist with you to the White House might tend to dump salt into the wound? Your statement on foreign policy is clearly dominated by Middle Eastern issues. You promise change. You promise dialogue and diplomacy without preconditions to resolve these issues. Yet a truly significant portion of your statement is spent on swearing in the most absolute terms your unmitigated, incontrovertible and permanent allegiance to Israeli interests. And then Biden. Talk about preconditions.
In fact, your preconditions are so prevalent that the concept of dialogue is ludicrous. You state that “Not talking doesn’t make us look tough – it makes us look arrogant, it denies us opportunities to make progress.” How true. Just what the consumer needed to soothe his conscience. We are not bullies, you assured us, as you offered “direct diplomacy without preconditions to end the threat from Iran.” But wait a minute, Mr Obama, does that statement not presume that there is a threat from Iran? Once upon a time US intelligence documented that there was no threat, a point which has been obfuscated by a smoke cloud of politically-motivated accusation.
Perhaps it is time to hire a new team of writers, Mr Obama, because they failed to notice the contradiction between the phrase “direct diplomacy without preconditions” and the undeniable precondition which immediately follows that phrase in flashing lights: “Obama and Biden will present the Iranian regime with a clear choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, they would offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization. If Iran continues its troubling behaviour, Obama and Biden will step up our economic pressure and political isolation.” Do what we say or else. And we won’t just threaten through the media, we will tell you to your face. Some dialogue.
It troubles me that you view the July 2006 War (which left 43 Israeli civilians dead and at least 1200 Lebanese civilians dead) as an Israeli exercise in self-defence. It troubles me that you categorically deny Lebanon the same right to self-defence. Is “self-defence” an objective concept or is it a US/Israeli prerogative? It troubles me that you vocally champion “adherence to the rule of law” on the one hand, and then look the other way as Israel violates humanitarian and international laws time and again.
Am I being an idealist in mentioning such grandiose notions as humanitarian and international law? I think not. You speak often of ideals. You even acknowledge their violation parenthetically in your “Plan to Actively Engage China.” You note that China has “failed to live up to international standards of human rights,” (a phrase many would say is a gross euphemism at best) and then you kindly chastise China: “the United States has to be frank with the Chinese about such failings and will press them to respect human rights.” You graciously offer not to “demonize China” because you “understand both the magnitude of the challenges facing a developing China and the importance of a constructive relationship to foster continued peace and prosperity.”
Compare this if you will, to the bold assertions in your “Israel Fact Sheet” (not a speech, a statement or a plan here, but an incontestable fact sheet). Well, you know what it says, don’t you, Mr Obama. Israel is always right. Lebanon, Palestine and any other country that dares support Arabs’ being of equal worth to Jews, they are always inherently wrong. You do not hesitate to demonise the Arabs/Iranians as violent extremists and terrorists. “Those who threaten Israel threaten us,” you say. Does that not recall your predecessor’s warning that “you’re either with us or against us”?
This brand of so-called diplomacy is neither new nor improved. Any vague sense of hope for change we may have still clung to—those of us who value open-minded dialogue that demands listening as well as speaking—well, that hope that you so carefully crafted during the campaign was resolutely squashed after the election when you nominated as your Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Would you expect anyone to believe that he is not the epitome of bias, a veritable Mr Preconditions?
Bamboozled indeed. It seems to me that this little game of con the consumer has seduced those who are hungry for power. For it is this dogged insistence on double standards that has these past eight years fed the distrust and scorn and despising of the US. And it is the chauvinism of adhering not to the rule of law, but to the rule of men. And it is the hypocrisy of professing to defend democracy by killing the spirit if not the body of anyone who dares to voice a different opinion.
Mr Obama, it has been a mere week since you were elected, and already you have destroyed any semblance of hope held for peace in the Middle East. Over sixty years of US subservience to the Zionist dream has not brought peace to anyone, not even to the Israelis. It certainly is time for a change. You can continue to seek profit from the illusion of power, or you can seek pride from the reality of respect. It is indeed time, as you say, to promote the cause of peace. But as you cautioned us to reaffirm the fundamental truth of perpetual hope, you failed to mention the need to reaffirm the ultimate fundamental truth: that all the world’s people are simply that, just people, none better than any other. If you are serious about dialogue, then everyone deserves the same seat at the table. Then we can talk.
Friends of Lebanon
London, United Kingdom