08 June 2009

Obama's curious confusion about violence and history

Obama's speech in Cairo would certainly seem to signal a new era in American foreign policy. It sounded rather like a retreat from empire, even though the audience was required to sit in their seats for two and a half hours before the imperial president appeared. He even spared us the word "terrorist" which was refreshing. But quite aside from the overall direction of the speech, on the critical issue, Palestine, he lectured the Palestinians with some curious logic.

Palestinians must abandon violence," he insisted, "Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed." If he had just limited his remark to the Palestinians, he may have been on solid ground, but once he generalized he was in strange territory indeed, territory very much at odds with the American experience. He seemed to have completely forgotten that the United States liberated itself from Great Britain through violence. Can he possibly be implying that the American Revolutionary war was wrong and did not, in fact, succeed?

He went on to say, "For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding." Violence may not have won American blacks full and equal rights but it certainly liberated them from the lash of the whip. Is he suggesting that Abraham Lincoln was wrong and freeing the slaves was a failure?

"It's a story with a simple truth: violence is a dead end," he concluded. Well, the simple truth hasn't ended the American use of violence. They are the most violent nation on Earth, currently fighting two wars and prepared for more with dozens of military bases established throughout the world. Obama himself is a big fan of the Afghan war.

It's when he goes on to say, "Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist," that we get a a hint of what this may be all about. The Palestinians must put an end to violence, but not the United States, and certainly not Israel, the most violence-prone nation in the Middle East. Violence, in other words, is legitimate for us and our friends, but not for you Palestinians.

As far as the American contribution toward peace in Palestine is concerned, he said, "We cannot impose peace." Actually, they can. They can get tough with Israel. Indeed, that may be the only way to achieve peace in the region because Israel has little incentive otherwise. Every day it steals more land from the Palestinians and further intensifies their segregation. Obama's position seems to be the United States will not pressure Israel into making peace and the Palestinians must forego violence. That would seem to leave the Palestinians entirely at the mercy of Israel. One could be excused for thinking Obama had been briefed by Netanyahu. To the point of forgetting his own history.

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