Many readers no doubt saw my contribution to the TAC symposium on the State of the Union, which included this Daily Show dialogue on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that cannot be repeated often enough:
Jon Stewart: Could something like this happen again?
John Oliver: No Jon, this was a completely unique set of circumstances, a perfect storm unlikely to be repeated. Their economy was in tatters, looking abroad they had very few real friends left in the world. But even those would have amounted to very little were it not for their disastrous decision to invade and occupy Afghanistan.
Stewart: But the Soviet Union at that time had an inexperienced, charismatic leader, who promised change and reform . . .
Oliver: He even won the Nobel Peace Prize.
I have always been highly critical of the notion, all his failings aside, that Barack Obama is “Bush-lite” or even worse than Bush. A particularly severe judgment in this connection came in an otherwise excellent roundup of the revolutionary wave in the Middle East by Helena Cobban:
I mean, how unfair is it that he gets to be the president who has to preside over a retraction of US power spurred to a large degree by the decision his predecessor made in 2002-03 to launch a war that Obama himself clearly opposed at that time? On the other hand, Obama did not have to continue and indeed intensify the clear pro-Zionist partisanship that GWB (and before him, Clinton) had manifested– which is what he did. That was a choice Obama made. He could have made different– and much, much wiser– choices on the core issues regarding the Palestine Question. He could have reframed the issue from the beginning as one of fairness, decency, human rights, and international law– and he could have spoken seriously and directly to the American people, using the unique “bully pulpit” that the presidency provides, about the need for our country to pursue a policy based on these important values. But no.
I have said previously that intentionally or not, Obama is giving Israel the rope to hang itself, and if, as I believe to be more likely than not, it is intentional, it is because it was simply the least bad of the options before Obama when he came into office. What would getting serious about the two-state solution have accomplished in the immediate aftermath of the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto Gaza? Abbas had already lost whatever legitimacy he ever had with the Palestinians long before. An earnest effort by the US to strengthen the hand of the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis Israel in negotiating a genuine two-state solution, in the year 2009, would have led to just as much blowback for the US as the alternative.
The larger issue here is that the effort by pro-Palestinian activists to frame this as a question of “human rights and international law” is both counterproductive and counterintuitive. After all, we are talking about the same international law by which Israel justifies its very existence, by which Bush justified the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and by which all manner of dangerous nonsense is presently justified toward Iran.
Mike Dougherty’s excellent piece on the situation makes the bold claim that El Baradei is another Chalabi waiting to happen. I expressed my qualified skepticism on the messageboard, in any event I have seen enough reports of Muslim Brotherhood rank-and-filers feeling the same way. I assume El Baradei is shrewd enough to have calculated that he can succeed as the pleasant face of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government to the international community, but if he fails it will be because he is too much a creature of that community in which so much of the solidarity movement for Arab freedom is far too deeply invested.
But lest anyone get the idea that Obama has in any meaningful way “intensified” cravenness to Israel, to say nothing of Zionist partisanship, let us remember that John McCain said in the presidential debates that America was duty-bound to prevent another holocaust – that is, obligated to declare war on Iran to prevent or avenge “crimes against the Jewish people”. He would have surrounded himself with men and women committed to this odious lie.
Anyone who believes Obama would do the same is deluding themself. If not because of Obama’s inherent goodness, because he is a realist who does not have the pathologies that McCain or Hillary would have brought into the White House. If Obama would have ideally liked to reform rather than dismantle the imperium like Gorbachev and Dubcek before him, like Gorbachev he knows that even if he wanted to he simply does not have either the military nor financial resources to do so. That it is difficult to conceive of exactly what a McCain/Palin administration would be doing differently, to say nothing of Brezhnev or someone like him in 1989, only makes the possibilities more ominous.
Undoubtedly, if and when Egypt and Jordan are governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, there will be enormous domestic pressure for Obama to give Israel a war guarantee. And yes, it is difficult to imagine how Obama could resist this other than by simply fudging the issue. Yet even under these circumstances facts on the ground may already be such that Israel is forced to begin a South Africa style transition whether the US and AIPAC like it or not.
Let me be clear – for Obama to be in this role is nothing to be proud of. And yes, for the American empire to be finally getting its comeuppance is a tragedy. But still, we are so far along at this point that our attitude should only be one of good riddance.