Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama's Two Faces

"We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions," Senator Barack H. Obama told Berliners in a July 24 speech to an estimated 200,000 cheering Germans.

"That was really what Germans wanted to hear and it was very well received," said Stormy Mildner, a senior researcher at the German Institute for International Security Affairs. Polls indicate that 76% of Germans favor Obama to become the next president of the United States.

More recently, however, Sen. Obama spoke to Candy Crowley of CNN in the US, who asked him if “there’s anything that’s happened in the past 7 1/2 years that the U.S. needs to apologize for in terms of foreign policy?” Obama's response: “No, I don’t believe in the U.S. apologizing. As I said I think the war in Iraq was a mistake. We didn’t keep our eye on the ball in Afghanistan. But, you know, hindsight is 20/20, and I’m much more interested in looking forward rather than looking backwards.”

The two conflicting statements made by Senator Obama raise several questions as to his real feelings about what has transpired in the last 7 years since the tragedy of Sept 11, 2001. Is he giving contradictory messages depending on who the audience is and what they want to hear at an given moment? Is he sincere about his message of "Change"? Shouldn't change begin with an open and honest acknowledgment of what is wrong and how it must be changed? Does he not believe that the Bush administration's assault on basic human rights and the shredding of the US bill of rights have created many victims in US and abroad who have been terribly wronged? Shouldn't the US government apologize to them? Or is it too risky for him to even mention that in a interview with CNN? Is he afraid to give fodder to his conservative critics who would challenge his "patriotism"?

While Senator Barack Obama has been benefiting from his opposition to the unpopular war in Iraq and winning kudos for wanting to unconditionally talk with America's enemies, he has also been sounding more and more hawkish on Pakistan, a US ally. Governor Mitt Romney summarized it well last year when he said that Obama is essentially "saying he's going to sit down for tea with our enemies but then he's going to bomb our allies." Is Sen. Obama planning to end one war(in Iraq) and start another, more dangerous and longer-lasting war in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Did Obama explain the implications of this new war for Germans, NATO allies, and the world? Does he expect Germany to contribute thousands of more troops for his new adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

What happened recently when the Obama campaign quickly dumped Chicago attorney Mazen Asbahi as director of Muslim Outreach also raises serious questions about how genuine Obama's "Change" message is. Asbahi and James Zogby, president of Arab-American Institute, are not radicals by any stretch, and yet they are targeted because of who they are: Muslim-American and Arab-American. It's a big mistake to push away the moderates in this battle against the extremists within Islam. Extremists on both sides of any battle draw strength from each other by pointing to the excesses of the opposite side. Attacking and marginalizing the Muslim moderates only helps the extremes in the West and the Islamic world and perpetuates the ongoing man-made "clash of civilizations". In response to the expected assault by the pro-war right wing pundits and commentators, the weakness shown by the Obama campaign represents a huge obstacle in the way of the "dialog of civilizations" needed to bring real "Change" from the madness that has characterized the last seven years of the Bush administration. How will President Obama pursue this all-important dialog if he caves in so quickly to the purveyors of hate in America?

Unless Mr. Obama and his campaign answer the fundamental questions raised here, it will be hard for most rational and thinking people to believe that Obama's talk of "Change" is sincere. Instead, all of his carefully crafted "change" messages will appear to be merely politically convenient slogans to win the upcoming elections. To demonstrate that he is genuine, Obama must stop being an overly cautious captive of his political handlers and show moral fortitude to bring about real "Change" in America and the world.


Anonymous said...

Obama is definitely better than McClain.
I am increasingly liking this guy. I don't think he ever mentioned bombing Pakistan as such.All he said was when there is sufficient "actionable" intelligence, he will authorize special operations or surgical air strikes. This statement is really important, becoz so-called "tough" Rumsfield canceled a special ops strike against a high value targets guarded by Al-queda "Black Guards",in the last minute.Pak military-intelligence establishment is a leaking bucket,so US cannot anymore share high value targets and let somebody in the middle-ranks pass it on to Al-Queda-Taliban elements. If the intel is collected from human sources,their lives will also get compromised.Every week or month, one or the other high-ranking Al-queda-Taliban leaders are picked-off by Reapers with hellfire missiles.So when Obama says Pak-Afghan is definitely worth attention,it indeed is a responsible statement.It would be a lot easier if Pak establishment "gets it", instead of playing double games.A narcissistic Jimmy Carter is not what US wants right now,it needs a visionary leadership..who drinks tea when it has to and goes to war when the situation warrants..and not flinching to act either way..becoz of ideological or egotistic baggage.

Riaz Haq said...

Obama makes me very nervous because I see him as an inexperienced novice who can potentially do incredibly stupid things in his zeal for "Change" to make things significantly worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year Obama said there was "misreporting" of his comments about invading Pakistan, that "I never called for an invasion of Pakistan or Afghanistan." He said rather than a surge in the number of troops in Iraq, there needs to be a "diplomatic surge" and that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within a year. These statements came after Obama was heavily criticized for naivety by analysts and critics alike.

"Once you have made that kind of operation, everything connected to the United States, even more than before, is believed to be the enemy," Terisita Schaffer, a US expert on South Asia said. "You've probably created a safe haven that works even better than before."

Anonymous said...

Obama is definitely a good communicator but he appears to be talking about change that is politically correct for him. Here is a recent 'change' ( that I came to know about that makes me nervous. I don't think that WE have a choice...

Riaz Haq said...

Lately, there have been some arrests of American-Muslim and Pakistani-American youths on suspicions of terror. The Internet has been identified as a tool for radicalization and proposals made to deal with it. Here's an interesting post by Reem Salahi in HuffingtonPost on this subject:

Yet even in cases where agent provocateurs were not employed, the reality is that the government and media have too long treated Islam and Muslims as a homogeneous, non-dynamic, suspect group. Whenever a Muslim engages in a criminal act, the individual is always qualified by his religious background. Very rarely do we see similar treatment of non-Muslims. For example, I have never read an article describing Timothy McVeigh as the Christian white man. But nearly every article on Nidal Hasan qualifies him as a Muslim and Palestinian within the first few sentences.

As a consequence, Muslims are forced to account for the (negative) actions of a fourth of the world's population. Ironically, I have never been congratulated for the positive actions of other fellow Muslims. The acts of a few bad apples or even a few misguided youth become the norm and not the exceptions. Put differently, it would be like suspecting that every White high school student was prone to commit a massacre as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers at Columbine High School, did.

The reality is that the discourse on radicalization and homegrown terrorism is fundamentally racist and Islamophobic. It is based on seeing Muslims as the "other" and viewing our actions through an "orientalist" lens which frames any Muslim's questionable action as terrorism. Hence, a Muslim overstaying an immigration visa or improperly filing taxes or even paintballing becomes evidence of terrorism and radicalization, justifying the government's infiltration of our mosques, surveillance of our youth groups, and mapping of our populations. Maybe, just maybe, Muslims don't need to be understood by a different rubric than other populations. Further, by framing Muslims as terrorists and as the internal enemy within, the government and media have alienated and disenfranchised many law-abiding Muslims who seek nothing more than to actually live "unremarkable" lives.

Those in the media, in the government, and in Muslim organizations who have jumped on the bandwagon, you have missed the boat. Muslims and Muslim youth are not intrinsically prone to radicalization through the aid of the internet, just as White youth are not intrinsically prone to commit massacres or lynch ethnic minorities in solidarity with the KKK. Rather, the problem is the media and the government's continued vilification and the consequential disenfranchisement of the Muslim community. It is the government's infiltration of mosques and community centers with informants and agent provocateurs. It is the FBI's prolonged fishing expeditions and false prosecutions of many innocent Muslims. And it is an ever-worsening foreign policy that wastes away our tax dollars on killing innocent civilians throughout the world. So please stop parroting the misguided construct of homegrown terrorism and Islamic radicalization as the problem, when the real problem is xenophobia couched in politically correct terms.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by a former NY Times correspondent Chris Hedges published by on Dec 28, 2009:

Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.

This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements—who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism—have discovered that his fate is their fate. Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at or On Martin Luther King Day, this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.

The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.

Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.