Questions for Candidate Obama

Barack Obama

Senator Barak Obama has become a major celebrity, a truth that is now almost a cliché. His campaign has raised massive amounts of funds. He draws large and enthusiastic crowds when he appears. Often described as charismatic, he is more importantly smart and well-spoken.

Yet before I jump into his campaign I have a few questions that I first want to share with you and which I hope he will address in the not-too-distant future.

There is a way in which I cannot tell who is the real Senator Obama. For one, he has not carved out — at least as of this writing — any cutting edge issues where he is taking the lead and defining the terrain. Second, and to some extent more troubling, he permits people to see and assume in him what they want to see and assume. I have said to many of my friends that this situation reminds me of an episode from the original Star Trek series where there was a creature that appears to the viewer the way that the viewer would like to see it.

I am, to add to this, very uneasy about some of the Senator’s foreign policy pronouncements, particularly with regard to the Middle East. To his credit, he opposed the Iraq invasion and had the courage to say so. Yet over the last year he has displayed a peculiarly uncritical stance when it comes to Israel and has all-but-ignored the plight of the Palestinians. This past summer when Israel launched its massive and deadly assault on Lebanon, the Senator was quite vocal in his support. He seemed to miss the Israeli use of illegal cluster bombs and the lies the Israelis offered for their unapologetic destruction of entire Lebanese civilian communities.

Further, the Senator seems to ignore the atrocious conditions being faced by the Palestinians who, after all, are occupied by the Israelis in violation of United Nations resolutions. This occupation is worsening with the creation of what some people describe as the “apartheid wall”, and I simply call the ‘wall of death,’ that the Israelis are building as they carve out the land that they wish to control in perpetuity.

Compounding this odd situation, the Senator seems to want to be a “hawk” when it comes to Iran, describing that country as a threat to Israel and the USA. Here again I remain perplexed. Iran does not have the military capability to hit the USA. There is absolutely no proof of Iran advancing military nuclear ambitions. It is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Everything else is speculation. Israel, on the other hand, has not signed the treaty; possesses nuclear weapons but will not acknowledge that fact; and assisted apartheid South Africa in developing weapons of mass destruction. India, to use another example, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; has nuclear weapons; has those weapons pointed at Pakistan (which has its own weapons pointed at India); has fought several wars with Pakistan; and yet received nuclear support from President Bush and the US Congress. I cannot find any record of Senator Obama suggesting a tough stand against either of these countries, irrespective of his particular concerns with the Indian nuclear deal. Perhaps I did not Google long enough?

So, I think that we need to understand the Senator’s thinking. After having what many observers described as a friendly relationship with Arab Americans over the years, the Senator appears to have yelled “abandon ship” and jumped into an anti-Palestinian and anti-Iranian life boat.

The uncritical support for Israel displayed by most US administrations since, at least, the June 1967 Arab/Israeli War has not only cost the USA global credibility but undermined most prospects for peace in the Middle East. The hope for many of us has been the rise of a Presidential candidate committed to seeing the world as it is, and transforming the relationship of the USA from being a global bully into being a global partner.

I am not ready to write off the inspiring Senator from the great State of Illinois, but no matter how hard I try, I keep thinking about that creature from Star Trek.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international activist and writer. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and can be reached at papaq54 at

This article will be run in papers affiliated with the national Newspaper Publishers Association, and is republished with the author’s permission.

Related Links

  • How Barack Obama learned to love Israel, Ali Abunimah (4 March 2007)