For a few minutes on Sunday I wondered what would have happened if I was reading rather than listening to US President Barack Obama’s statement from Hawaii. The US president took time off his Christmas vacation to speak about the incident that occurred on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Had I not heard his voice and seen his picture, I would have thought that the speaker was none other than former US president George W. Bush. What has happened to Obama in less than one year?
Unlike any of his previous speeches, Obama spoke totally out of script by using the word "terrorism" three times in a statement that lasted only a few minutes. Until this incident, Obama had preferred to use the word "radical" or "extremist" rather than much more politically loaded terrorists and terrorism.
What made the statement sound more like a Bush speech rather than an Obama one was the reference to the aim of the anti-American attackers. Obama had the following to say: "Those plotting against us seek not only to undermine our security, but also the open society and the values that we cherish as Americans."
Obama clearly capitulated to forces on the right who have repeatedly described any attack against the US because of its foreign policy as attacks against America’s "open society" and American "values".
What has happened to President Obama?
Is it simply that he was shocked that people around the world would dare attack America and American soil despite his own pro-world point of view? Is it that he is so angry that he is unable to realise that his own decision to ratchet up US presence in Afghanistan would inevitably produce anti-American violence?
During Obama’s visit to Cairo and his speech to the Muslim world, the attitude and tone of the son of an African-Muslim leader was widely welcomed. In fact worldwide reaction to Obama’s first months in office was extremely positive about the direction he plans to take on major foreign policy issues.
Obama’s appointment of Senator George Mitchell as his personal envoy to the Middle East and his call to close Guantanamo during his first year in office were seen as positive signs of a change. Obama’s public position as well as that of his secretary of state, in total opposition to any sort of Israeli settlement activities was seen as a breath of fresh air in Washington. But those signals would quickly crumble and US foreign policy, especially vis-Ã -vis Palestine, would retract back to its tilt in the direction of Israel. This was clear with the way Obama and Hilary Clinton retracted the call for a total settlement freeze. It was also obvious when the US exerted political pressure on the Palestinian president in an attempt to quash the Goldstone report. One would have expected jurist and internationalist Obama to support rather than oppose actions of an impeccable South African war crimes lawyer such as Richard Goldstone.
A search of what happened to Obama since his early hopeful days can be found in the president’s own rhetoric.
One issue that Obama and his personal envoy clearly articulated during those crucial first months was the need for the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state. The language used in support of such a political resolution was unprecedented because of its repeated emphasis that the creation of a Palestinian state is in the "national interest" of the United States of America.
During the presidential election campaign, candidate Barack Obama attacked. Bush for what he considered the mistaken launch of the wrong war against Iraq. Obama repeatedly stated that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush took his eyes off the ball by attacking Iraq rather than Afghanistan.
Surely Obama, who has been seen worldwide as having started on the right foot regarding the Middle East, was drawn away by the healthcare debates and the internal discussions on troop deployment. Others believe that Obama has allowed some pro-Israeli staff and advisers such Rahm Emanuel and Denis Ross to manage the Palestine-Israeli dossier. Adding more troops to an unwinnable war also doesn’t help to stem the motivations for continued attacks against Americans.
Observers of the Middle East conflict insist that the continuation of the plight of the Palestinians and the injustice they are suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupiers is a source of anger and frustration for millions around the world. Candidate Obama, as well as President Obama in his first 100 days, would not have taken his eyes off the ball. Preventing further attacks against American targets will not take place with hard power. Soft power and support of justice and neutrality in the Middle East will provide much better protection than body scanners and efficient intelligence work.
If 2009 is to be evaluated fairly in respect to the issue of Palestine, it would be safe to say that Obama took his eyes off an issue that is of national interest to the US.