Obama’s Cairo speech one year later

US President Barack Obama (Samantha Appleton/White House Photo)


We’re told that US President Barack Obama’s Cairo Speech a year ago was a harbinger of peace, magnanimity, truth and justice. Hark, herald the new dawn. Islam is not a terrorist religion: peace; fist clench; hand open; assalaamu alaykum. Celestial choirs punctuated every sentence with a rising crescendo of harmonious hymning. And at the climax, we climaxed. We’re Arabs, and Barack is the New America, and we like one another.

Barack Obama spoke and the Arabs swooned. That’s what they told us, anyway. The blathering hagiographers churned out “analysis” after “report” describing the new foundation for peace in the world. Here’s the word: Barack Obama is a cool guy who gets things, not least among them that the Arabs are people, too. Never mind that Hosni Mubarak is a tyrant, Obama validated our existence!

For what it’s worth, this Arab didn’t buy it.

The first year-and-a-half of the first black president’s tenure has been an epic disappointment, underlined by a long series of moral outrages. We can claim to not have known how things would turn out. But in truth the president’s moral vacuity was flagrantly displayed for all to see even before his election. We are responsible for our own self-delusions.

It was easy for us to believe for a while. We were shown pictures of Obama and his wife dining with the Saids. We said to one another, “This guy gets it; look, he’s sitting next to Edward Said.”

But then Barack delivered the AIPAC speech. In it, he tripped over himself, flailed wildly and fantastically presented his Zionist credentials. He leapfrogged George W. Bush and brazenly proclaimed:

“Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

That’s when we should have known that Obama is not good for Palestine, Obama is good for Obama. His record has borne that out.

After all, it was while campaigning that candidate Obama cynically evoked his daughters to justify Israeli death-dealing in the Gaza ghetto:

“Israelis must not suffer a threat to their lives, to their schools … if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.”

I distinctly remember feeling sick during the Gaza massacre in 2008-09. The images of mass destruction and the sure knowledge of human carnage plunged me into a melancholy shade of rage. I silently pleaded with the president-elect to say something, to spare a single life with a word. But true to form, president-elect Obama stayed mum. He was playing politics.

But it was worse than that; Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned, and Obama played golf while Gaza burned.

Judge Richard Goldstone was tasked with investigating the Gaza Roast. His unhappy work produced damning evidence implicating both Israel and Hamas in war crimes. The expedient American president didn’t like what recognition of the report would mean for his party. After all, one can’t alienate a key Democratic demographic or the Israel lobby. So Susan Rice was deployed to prevaricate:

“We have long expressed our very serious concern with the mandate that was given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining the Council, which we viewed as unbalanced, one-sided and basically unacceptable. We have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report.”

I used to think that Obama was a marionette whose strings were pulled by different members of the lobby, as appropriate. But the recent Flotilla massacre has compelled me to revise my view of this politician. After taking time to gauge the populist outrage, the White House tried to distance itself from its client state. Obama reportedly advised Netanyahu to avoid violence — that’s what they’re telling us now.

I don’t buy it.

But I do think that Barack Obama is not beholden to the Israel lobby. AIPAC is not to blame for Obama’s right-wing Zionist policies (remember, the Gaza siege exists with his blessing). What’s emerged is that Barack Obama is a calculating politician, which is not so incredible. The grand arc of his year and a half in office has been an unwavering focus on his own self-interest and political preservation. So when the lobby is strong, support it, and when Americans are outraged, distance yourself.

We now know enough about the president’s behavioral patterns to begin to weave a coherent narrative. The Wall Street fiasco, the BP oil spill, the approach to Palestine/Israel, Jeremiah Wright, Charles Freeman, the Afghanistan escalation, the Pakistan drone war, and a host of other cases demonstrate Obama’s “leadership” style. The three steps we’ve seen repeatedly are: wait and see; spin favorably; and act minimally to avoid doing anything that might stick come elections.

Our new understanding can help us calibrate our strategic focus. Basically, Barack Obama’s only passionate cause is his own reelection, not human rights or the rule of law or the environment. The silver lining in all of this is that by linking our votes to human rights or the rule of law, we can influence the president.

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American freelance journalist living in Beirut. He was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.