Why Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, and Others Might Be Nervous About President Obama
Juan Gonzalez: Congratulations are pouring in from around the world for President-elect Barack Obama after his historic victory Tuesday night. His diverse background is truly unique for a
president. With a mother from U.S. Kansas, a father from Kenya, a stepfather from Indonesia, and a middle name -- Hussein -- from the Middle East, Obama has sparked the imagination of people on every continent. In cities across Africa, people hailed the for electing Obama. United States
Bolaji Ilori, Nigerian Politician: For us, this is a threshold of history. It is a resurgence of hope for black man, and not just for black man, a triumph of democracy. For us, it's a lesson in this country. We are trying now -- we are struggling for open and democratic governance, for us to have flawless elections. We are happy we saw the loser congratulating the winner. For us, it's good. But for us, Obama represents a new generation of ideas, of peace in the world.
JG: In the
Mohammed Abu Awda,
Hossein Nazari, Iranian Student: My message to Obama, to Barack Obama, is that if you want your country -- actually, if you want to have a good relationship with our country, with our politicians and with our government, you have to radically change your former policies towards
JG: And in South Asia, in countries like
President Hamid Karzai: [translated] Our demand is a change in strategy fighting terrorism. It means fighting against terrorism should not be in
Arshad Hussain, Pakistani Journalist: [translated]
Amy Goodman: Today, we host a discussion on Obama's foreign policy, particularly with respect to hotspots in the Middle East, in South Asia, Africa and
We're joined on the phone and through video stream in studios by a number of people. First, Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, documentary filmmaker, John Pilger, joins us on the telephone from
And we're joined in our firehouse studio by Mahmood Mamdani. He is professor of government and anthropology at
We'll start with John Pilger in
John Pilger: Well, my response, Amy, is that really anyone was better than Bush and the Bush administration. Having experienced election night in the United States and then seeing the response here, I feel that it's time that analysis and critical thinking took over and that those of us who wish to think that way, who wish to think critically, really should start addressing the -- this rather manipulated emotional response. I don't, in any way, cast doubt on the sincerity of the way people are speaking about the election of Obama around the world, although I think the reaction that you just played from the
Michael Moore had it right when he said the other day, let's hope that Obama breaks all his election promises, as politicians generally do, because all his election promises, in terms of foreign policy, are a continuation of business as usual. And even if there is a return to what used to be called a multilateral world, I think there has to be critical analysis of the return to the pretensions of
Someone said to me -- in fact, I was talking to my daughter when I got off the plane from
JG: And, John Pilger, what sign would you look for in these early days now, as Obama begins to move into a transition period, that would indicate to you that he would be trying to break, in one way or other, from this neoliberalism of the
JP: Well, it's difficult to know. Breaking from the Bush years is going to be the first, and I suppose breaking from the Bush years means actually talking to people and negotiating. I think breaking from, let's say, the Democratic years -- the Bush, yes -- the Clinton years will mean giving us a sign that the ideological, rapacious, war-making machine that has been built over many years and reinforced, as perhaps never before during the eight years of Bush, that that ideological machine does not transcend a loss of electoral power. You see, that's really the central issue here, that a kind of ideological consensus has been built under Bush. Now, yes, Obama has been voted in, but will that vote, will that -- will a new president transcend this ideological machine?
You know, during the campaign, there was almost nothing between McCain and Obama in foreign policy. Indeed, Obama went further. I mean, he even declared
Look, in answer to your question, I think he has to -- in order to show that he is in any way different -- he has to start dismantling this machine, for example, going against his promise to continue the embargo on Cuba, to drop that; to reach out to the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and Ecuador, each of which is under attack, subversive attack by the United States; to face the reality that Afghanistan is a colonial war; and to not let the so-called withdrawal from Iraq be a sham, that it leaves these so-called enduring bases. That, any one of those, any change in one of those, would indicate that Obama is truly different.
AG: We're turning now to Mahmood Mamdani, professor of government and anthropology at
Mahmood Mamdani: Well, I think John Pilger has given a good account of the limits within which Obama will operate. And perhaps I should talk about the possibilities within those limits.
When the Cold War ended, the losing power in the Cold War, the
The most that Obama can contribute, within the context of being the president of an imperial power, is to recognize the changing world situation, to recognize that this is the end of the era of a single superpower, that the U.S. will operate amongst several powers, that the U.S. has to learn to live in the world rather than simply to occupy it.
And I think there are several indications from the campaign -- I mean, the campaign was full of extreme and contradictory promises and provocations. But if you look on the side of the promises, there are indications that this is within the realm of the possible. There is the discussion of the need to speak to the president of
There was a movement, a youth movement, to elect Obama. Will that movement dissolve itself? Will that movement build itself now around the objectives for which it organized? Will
JG: One of the big changes that surprised many people when Bush came into office was that he had opposed this whole idea of the United States getting involved in interventions for nation-building, and then he actually became a prime proponent of regime change around the world, basically following a lot of what the Clinton administration had tried to do, this humanitarian intervention, spreading democracy. Do you fear that there might be some directions of Obama in this direction? You've written about
MM: Well, look, the lesson of Bush is that when a candidate steps from the arena of electoral politics to the presidency of the
AG: Let me play for you a quote of the person closest to him, and that's Joe Biden, his vice president. Last month, in the presidential debate, Gwen Ifill asked Joe Biden about his reputation as an interventionist and his support for sending
Sen. Joe Biden: I don't have a stomach for genocide when it comes to
AG: That's the Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Professor Mahmood Mamdani?
MM: Well, I read the verbatim account of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on which Joe Biden sits, grilling Andrew Natsios, Bush's representative to
I think you're right that this particular vice president is enamored with wanting to show
AG: Let's talk also about the first position that has been named, Rahm Emanuel. I want to also go to Ali Abunimah. He is joining us by video stream from Chicago, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ali Abunimah.
Ali Abunimah: Thank you. Good morning, Amy.
AG: Let's go to that first news out of the new Obama administration. By the way, President-elect Obama, Joe Biden are getting their first top-secret intelligence briefing today by the Director of National Intelligence. But what about yesterday's announcement that Rahm Israel Emanuel, the Chicago Congress member, very close to Barack Obama, has been offered the Chief of Staff position? You, too, are in
AA: Well, I thought it was quite ironic, since a lot of racists have tried to make an issue out of Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, that the same kind of people might be happy with Rahm Israel Emanuel's middle name. And indeed, Emanuel is one of the most hard-line supporters of
But I think the important thing here is not just the appointment of Emanuel, but the greater context here, which is that from the days we knew Barack Obama as a small-time politician in
So the signal he's sending here is that that is not going to change, that people who could give him more balanced, more objective, more realistic advice that could change the course from the disastrous Palestine-Israel policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations, that that's not going to happen. And that should be very, very (worried), because a lot of progressive people, a lot of people in the Middle East, a lot of leaders, have pinned hopes on Obama being quite different on this issue, and I just don't see any evidence so far that that's going to be the case. And it worries me that people will stay silent, rather than putting on the table now and loudly the demands for a more balanced, more objective, more fair policy that could bring peace for Palestinians and Israelis.
JG: And you mentioned a
AA: I think that I am going to be very frank. I know that -- I agree with the other speakers that the euphoria and joy felt at Obama's victory is sincere and justified, in terms of people's hopes and desire for something different, but I think Obama's reaction all along to the claims that he's a secret Muslim or that he supports Palestinian rights has really been disgraceful. Rather than saying, you know, "So what if I had been a Muslim?" or "So what if I listen to different advice? Our policies have been unbalanced, and we want to take a wide range of advice" -- instead of saying that, he's really played into the McCarthyism by saying, "No, you know, I didn't know Rashid Khalidi." Well, the fact is, he was very happy to associate with Rashid Khalidi and with the broader Palestinian American community for many years.
What does it say that the sort of things he was prepared to do just a few years ago he is no longer prepared to do, that he didn't visit a single Muslim community center or mosque or associate publicly with Arab Americans during the campaign? And it's not as if, the day after the campaign, he started to send more conciliatory signals. On the contrary, there could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy.
AG: Last June, on his first day as the Democrats' presumptive nominee, Senator Barack Obama addressed AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sen. Barack Obama: Let me be clear.
AG: That was Barack Obama last June. Ali Abunimah, you write a moving piece about watching Barack Obama over the years, from when you first met him as a state senator and what he meant to you then, when you heard him speak at the
AA: Well, basically, the point I want to make is that Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most hard-line pro-Israel elements in this country, by distancing himself from all advisers, even very mainstream establishment figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, who was one of Clinton's officials who is considered by the pro-Israel lobby to be too pro-Palestinian.
And what he's done is he's publicly embraced people like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, two of the most pro-Israel officials from the
And so, he's made it impossible or extremely difficult for himself to say, "Look, now we're going to talk to a wider range of views. We're going to talk to those excluded voices that could give us advice that could actually get us out of this mess in Israel-Palestine." And that's very worrying.
And I think that progressive people across this country, you know, instead of basking in the euphoria, need to pick themselves up today and start demanding that the Obama administration immediately end the siege of Gaza. It's totally indefensible. It is a crime unprecedented in modern history that 1.5 million people are confined to a ghetto, starved, cut off from the world, threatened. This is indefensible, and there's no excuse for it to continue even for a single day under a new administration. And we should be setting the standard very high, not accepting slight hints that in a few years' time an Obama administration might accept a Palestinian state or might talk about one. The days for that are over. The situation is urgent, and we really need to see radical change. It's not going to come from Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk; it's only going to come from a groundswell demanding that the promises of change be kept.
AG: Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of the book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestine Impasse … We're going to go to
Laura Carlsen: Good morning, Amy. Yes, I've heard many
One of the most important things that they see coming out of this is that Barack Obama is not George Bush or his ilk. George Bush, of course, had one of the lowest approval ratings in
JG: What about the situation with the expanding drug war in
LC: This is the point of most concern: militarization, and particularly within the hemisphere. And here is where Obama's policies have shown little change from the Bush administration, that launched the drug war here in -- or supported it, because it was actually launched by President Calderon in
And here in
AG: Laura Carlsen, the latest news of the number two man for Calderon dying in the plane crash on U.S. Election Day on Tuesday, killing
LC: Yes. This, of course, is one of the most shocking pieces of news to come out in recent days. The government is calling it an accident, but as more and more investigation comes out, there were no emergency reports from his plane before it went down, apparently, according to the press. And so, of course, there's an investigation being made, and there's a lot of rumors going around and a lot of confusion and suspicions within the populace that this was in fact not an accident. And that would mean that the ante's been up to an enormous level in this war between the drug cartels, if it should result that they're involved in this, and the government, and that a complete rethinking has to be made before the country disintegrates into a level of violence that it hasn't known since war.
JG: I'd like to turn back to
Tariq Ali: Well, I mean, my reaction was not so different to that of other people you've already interviewed. I mean, historically, the fact that there's going to be a black family in the White House can't be underestimated in terms of the impact that will have on black consciousness in the United States. I think it's important in its own right for that reason.
As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn't promise very much, basically talked in cliches and synthetic slogans like "change we can believe in." No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, his -- what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to
Now, I think once he is in power and sees the intelligence reports coming in from
I think the key is what he's going to do in
AG: Tariq Ali, we're also joined in Washington, D.C. by the Iraqi blogger and political analyst Raed Jarrar, Iraqi consultant for American Friends Service Committee. Raed, the latest news today, at least six people have been killed, more than 20 wounded, in several bombings around
Raed Jarrar: Well, I think the Obama campaign did deliver a message to the public in the
Now, the fine print of the campaign suggests the opposite, actually. The fine print suggests that Obama will continue the same policy through leaving what he calls "residual force," the thing that both Bush and McCain wanted to leave indefinitely. So I don't have a lot of hope, based on the statements. Now, no one knows what will happen in the next few months, whether Obama will, you know, unveil this progressive face that everyone is waiting to see, or whether he will continue the same policy.
Now, on the shorter term, I think there is a major difference, that I'm happy that the Obama-Biden campaign have came out to criticize the long-term agreement. On their website, there is a very strong statement asking the Bush administration to either submit any agreement with
JG: And I'd like to come back to Mahmood Mamdani here with us in the studio. You've heard now quite a bit of skepticism about the potential in the new Obama presidency. Your thoughts? I think you're sensing a little bit more optimism?
MM: Well, I mean, my sensing is that we have to place the man within the context. I am equally skeptical of those who believe Obama is capable of everything as I am of those who believe he is incapable of anything. He'll simply be muzzled by context.
I think that, you know, this campaign began as a campaign on the question of peace. He began as a peace candidate and ended up as a redistribution candidate. Foreign policy had the front seat at the beginning and had the back seat towards the end of the campaign. So we don't really know much.
What we do know is that any president who wants to make an impact on history can only do so at a moment of crisis. And this is a moment of profound crisis, domestically and internationally. Obama's campaign announcements, I believe, give us very little clue as to what he is going to do. His appointments, I agree, give us some clue, and there is reason for concern. But at the same time, there will be returns coming in if the appointments lead to the policies that we fear they may lead to. It's a time of possibilities, and it's a time to organize and put the pressure.
AG: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Last question, though: do you think the movements that elected Obama can, without the Obama machine, remarkable online and on-the-ground organizing, what, ten million e-mail list -- we were getting texts and emails every couple of hours -- can reconstitute itself without that? Because now that will be the state. How do people show their -- express their positions if they differ from the state?
MM: Has the movement been absorbed into the state? Look, there's a remarkable difference between the youth movement of the '60s, which mainly organized outside the system, and the youth movement which has brought Obama to power, because this movement has organized within the system to reform the system. Obama keeps on saying that this movement must not go away, that change hasn't come, that this is the beginning of change. Now, will the candidate be able to tame the movement, or will the movement be able to stamp itself to some extent in the coming days?
AG: We'll leave that question there. Mahmood Mamdani and all of our roundtable, thanks so much for joining us.
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now!