Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama’s Middle East speech: Strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore

Obama gave a speech on the Middle East today, at the State Department.

YOU’RE WELCOME, BILL: “I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles.”

HEH, HE SAID... OH, NEVER MIND: “I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.”


AND IF THERE’S ANYTHING THAT BARACK OBAMA IS AGAINST, IT’S VIOLENCE AGAINST MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN AS A PATH TO CHANGE. HE HAS A NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, YOU KNOW. “He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change.”

THEY’RE NOT “COOL” AND “WITH IT” AND “DOWN WITH THE KIDS” ANYMORE: “But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance”.

I’M PRETTY SURE “THE VAST MAJORITY” OF PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST ARE SAYING RIGHT NOW, “FUCK YOU FOR IMPLYING THAT WE ALL USED TO BE TERRORIST SYMPATHIZERS WHO HAVE NOW COME TO OUR SENSES, JUST FUCK YOU”: “By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end”.

GEDDIT, SPARK, GEDDIT? He tells the story of the Tunisian street vendor dude who set himself on fire. “Sometimes, in the course of history, the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change”.

BUT ROSA PARKS WASN’T ACTUALLY ON FIRE AT THE TIME, WAS SHE? “In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a king, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.” I’m just thinking that encouraging people to express their discontent by setting themselves on fire may not be such a good idea.

EXCEPT IN BAHRAIN AND YEMEN AND SYRIA AND SAUDI ARABIA AND... “But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore.”

AT LEAST, NOT IN WORDS. WAIT, WHAT? “In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, ‘Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.’”

YELLY, SHOUTY DIGNITY: “In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, ‘After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.’”

OIL OIL OIL ISRAEL OIL ISRAEL OIL: “For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.”

WHAT’S GOOD FOR AMERICA IS BY DEFINITION GOOD FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD: “We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them.”

BECAUSE IF THERE’S ONE THING THE US HATES, IT’S AGGRESSION ACROSS BORDERS. WAIT, WHAT? “As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders”.

OH, THOSE SUSPICIOUS, SUSPICIOUS MIDDLE EAST PEOPLE: “failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense.” Suspicion!

WHAT THE UNITED STATES OPPOSES: “The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.” Unless they’re Palestinians, obvs.

HOW MANY IS THE RIGHT NUMBER? “Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have been answered by violence.”

WHAT THE UNITED STATES HEARD: “But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.” Actually, they called “Hey, we have oil!” It’s like when they say that women being attacked should yell Fire instead of Police.

LEGITIMATE AND CREDIBLE: O. says the Libyan “opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council.” Just as he kept saying that Qaddafi lost legitimacy without ever saying when and how he’d ever acquired legitimacy, now he fails to explain the process by which the Council acquired its legitimacy.

WHAT THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT MUST DO: “The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests”.

He accused Iran of “hypocrisy” for aiding Syria’s repression of protests. If there’s one thing Obama hates, it’s hypocrisy in... oh, you get the idea.

He does say that Yemen’s President Saleh “needs” to follow through on his lie that he will step down. And Bahrain should knock off the repression too.

BROADER LESSONS: “Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict.” What is the great example of how sectarian divides need not lead to conflict? Er, Iraq. “In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy.” So our model for the future is, oh dear lord, Iraq.

A BLOGGER? DOESN’T HE KNOW BLOGS ARE DEAD? UH, WAIT... “We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard - whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger.”

That’s Benjamin Franklin, writing Poor Richard’s Blog

WOMEN! WE TOTALLY SUPPORT WOMEN IN THE MIDDLE EAST. “For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.” It’s just basic mathematics. Which girls in the Middle East aren’t taught.

HOW MANY IS THE RIGHT NUMBER TO WAKE UP WITH FEW EXPECTATIONS OTHER THAN MAKING IT THROUGH THE DAY? “Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day”. Sorry for harping, but that “too many” thing just annoys me.

CAN WE PUT THAT IN OUR GAS TANKS? “The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.”

NO COINCIDENCE: “It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google.”

THINK OF THE CHILDREN: “For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.” So that’s what the Arab-Israeli conflict has meant: Israeli (note the use of the term Israeli when he really means Jewish Israelis) children in danger from bombs and rockets and being hated by mean kids, while Palestinians are, um, humiliated. Funny, I could swear I’ve read about lots of Palestinian children being shot and blown up too. Maybe I imagined it.

Some people think the stalemate will go on forever. Obama disagrees. Phew.

“For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” I guess he means the attempt to get the UN to recognize Palestine is, for Obama, an effort to delegitimize Israel.

SHARING AND CARING: “As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.” What shared history? Which shared values?

And then he launches into the fairly timid remarks that will be the only ones American politicians and pundits will be talking about: “But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth: The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. ... The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” And he wants “borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps”. This is pretty much the least he could possibly have said.

NO OF COURSE PALESTINE DOESN’T GET TO BE SECURE TOO: “So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.”

BY ITSELF: “As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -- by itself -- against any threat.” Although we might send Joe Lieberman along.

“The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.” Wait, didn’t you just say “every state has the right to self-defense” just two sentences ago? Also, sovereign and non-militarized is pretty much an oxymoron.

KINKY! “Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened.”

WELL, TECHNICALLY THEY WERE CHANTING, “PEACEFUL, PEACEFUL, OW, I’VE BEEN SHOT, PEACEFUL...”: “For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. ... In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, ‘peaceful, peaceful.’”

UNSETTLING: “For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.” So the Middle East is just like two of our longest, bloodiest wars, so that’s okay then?

BIG FINISH: “But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.”

(Update: Robert Fisk: “And then we had to hear what America’s ‘role’ was going to be in the new Middle East. We did not hear if the Arabs wanted them to have a role.”)

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