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Obama's 'Not Bush' Nobel not good

I understand why Tony Kevin wrote his column in praise of Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone progressive, liberal and leftwards breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of two long Bush Administrations. As Kevin wrote, he got this award because he's 'not Bush'.

Yet there are many other people in the world who are 'not Bush', and they have not been awarded a peace prize for their efforts. Does Obama have much else in his favour?

At this point, Obama's supporters can't do much but point to his soaring rhetoric, particularly his election campaign based around hope and 'change'. For all his promise of change, after half a year in power, we can see that there have been many areas of continuity with previous American governments.

We can put aside the question of Iraq for now: I have my doubts the occupation is really ending, as I've written before. Obama has already decided on a surge to Afghanistan, and is now considering whether he wants to send even more troops to Afghanistan. Kevin says this is his 'biggest problem' with Obama. This statement seems to attach too-limited import to the escalation of a war: shouldn't this alone rule out Obama winning a Peace Prize?

Yet this is not all that can be said against Obama. Bush was immensely unpopular in the Middle East for his support for the puppet pro-Western tyrannies that litter the region. Obama once challenged Bush for precisely this policy, because he recognised it played a role in the terrorism that is considered such a threat to the West.

Obama boldly declared that if Bush wanted a fight, we should 'fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Egyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells'.

That was in 2002. Seven years later, Obama decided that these governments weren't mere 'so-called allies' anymore. He proceeded to give his speech in Cairo, and as Kevin notes, it was a highly symbolic speech.

Before the speech, he refused to criticise Mubarak when asked if he were authoritarian, describing Mubarak as a 'stalwart ally', and a 'force for stability and good in the region'. Egyptian dissident Hossam el-Hamalawy noted in the New York Times that Obama sent a 'clear endorsement' of 'the ailing 81-year-old dictator who has ruled with martial law, secret police and torture chambers', who also receives $1 billion in annual foreign aid from the US.

Obama took the opportunity of his visit to the Middle East to also praise the 'wisdom' and 'graciousness' of the Saudi King.

It is also wrong in suggesting Obama has ended the bombardment and blockading of Gaza. It is true that the bombing ended before his inauguration, though Seymour Hersh revealed in the New Yorker that he supported the flow of weapons to Israel during the slaughter. Regardless, the blockade — which the Goldstone Report suggests may qualify as a crime against humanity — continues, with American support.

Why does the blockade continue? Suppose it was considered reasonable to refuse to negotiate with Hamas. This does not in any way justify denying Gazans food, water and electricity. Yet this is the policy that Israel pursues, with American support, under the pretext of 'boycotting' Hamas.

How can this boycott of the elected representatives of the Palestinians under occupation be reconciled with the claim of the Nobel Committee about Obama's preference for dialogue and negotiations?

It should also not be overlooked that US pressure caused Mahmoud Abbas to attempt to withdraw PA support for the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council. Under popular pressure, Abbas reversed himself. This means the US will soon be vetoing resolutions against Israel, just like the Bush administration once did.

What will then happen to his image in the Muslim world? We've already seen how popular he is in Pakistan, where the New York Times reported that the US was so hated because of its drone attacks (which have killed hundreds of civilians) that 'Pakistani authorities have refused to allow American officials' to deliver aid to displaced Pakistanis, because they don't want to be 'associated with their unpopular ally'.

Meanwhile, in what most of the West hasn't noticed, but Latin America certainly has, the US has quietly supported the military coup in Honduras. Oxfam, meanwhile, has complained about the US, along with other rich countries, blocking progress on a fair deal in climate change negotiations.

I share Kevin's hope for change from the Bush era. Sadly, Obama's not the change we're looking for.

Michael Brull is a featured blogger on the Independent Australian Jewish Voices website, and his articles have appeared on newmatilda. He was recently criticised in Parliament by Michael Danby for criticising the Israeli government. 

Topic tags: nobel peace prize, iraq, afghanistan, hamas, gaza, blockade, Mahmoud Abbas, goldstone report



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Existing comments

When Obama was elected I sent an email to a friend. We met in the days of black is beautiful. Her father was black, her mother was white. Even in Boston their marriage was reluctantly recognised. He was an army hero in World War 2 but he had to belong to an all black unit. He was eventually allowed some contact with white soldiers because he was a boxing champion who fought against a white champion. He won and was quickly sent back to his unit. When he took his family down South to meet his parents and relatives they were subject to all the laws about separate drinking fountains, bus seats and all the rest. [In line with another debate going on in Eureka Street, it was only the Anglican-Episcopalians who offered them home in integrated churches].

My friend replied with one of the most joyous emails I could ever receive. Obama by standing and being elected had profoundly changed her world view and life.

For that alone he deserves a Nobel Prize.

Gerry Costigan | 26 October 2009  

Michael brull's piece and gerry costigan's comment make an interesting couplet. i am reminded of the old adage 'the best is often the enemy of the good'. it is impossible for any of us ordinary civilians to really understand the weight of conflicting policy pressures and vested interests surrounding an american president. yes, obama's policies are not perfect, and michael brull has expertly identified some of the major imperfections. i agree, these are serious issues. but we live on earth, not in heaven.

rabin was not perfect either, but he was the best political leader israel ever had - and he tried to make peace before he was assassinated.

i think we should be joyful when an american president is elected with so much moral promise, and so much innate decency, as barack obama. give the man a chance.

tony kevin | 27 October 2009  

While suturing a cut on the hand of an old Kansas rancher, who’s hand was caught in a gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to President Obama.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Obama is a ‘post turtle’."

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a ‘post turtle’ was.

The old rancher said, "When you’re driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that’s a ‘post turtle’."

The old rancher saw a puzzled look on the doctor’s face, so he continued to explain. "You know he didn’t get up there by himself, he doesn’t belong up there, he doesn’t know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there."

Nathan Socci | 27 October 2009  

Michael Brull, it is easy to be negative.

What a host of crises one man has to face.President Obama obviously is not perfect.

What I admire about Obama, is his philosophy of inclusion versus exclusion...consultation rather than stalemate..tolerance as against intolerance. Being positive rather than negative..
I believe these are great attributes he brings to the Presidency.

Perhaps not much has been achieved in some people's eyes, but to me he is a peacemaker, and utterly deserves the Nobel Prize.

How long is 6 months when faced with enormous, economic, cultural. and health problems to name a few at home, plus the global financial and power crisis .

Six months....Give the man a go!!! and pray for him.

Bernie Introna | 28 October 2009  

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