Sunday, June 7, 2009

US Promoting Democracy in the Middle East? I Don't Think So.

I posted the following comment on Kevin Drum's blog in response to this post on Obama and democracy:

No US president can speak of "promoting democracy" in the Middle East as long as we are allied with and propping up dictators across the region, expanding a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, failing to pay reparations to Iraq, and supporting Israel's denial of Palestinian refugees the right of return. Our overall effect in the region is utterly anti-democratic. You can't claim to promote democracy with one hand while you're holding people down and destroying societies with the other hand. Until the US ceases ALL its imperialist policies in the Middle East, it will be promoting tyranny and destruction there, not democracy. As I argued here, while Obama may be prettifying the face of US imperialism, he is preserving its core features, and the result is going to be more of the same for the Middle East (see also here). Finally, it's absurd for a US president to lecture the rest of the world about having an adequate civil society after the last eight years. It's the rest of the world that should be lecturing us.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama's Cairo Speech: Imperialism and the International Double Standard

Ali Abunimah of Electric Intifada has a great article on the speech for the Guardian that points out that "Once you strip away the mujamalat – the courtesies exchanged between guest and host – the substance of President Obama's speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy." You can see this by looking at the plan Obama laid out for individual conflicts, or you can look at the overall logic he applied to the Middle East.One way you can look at this logic is as a two-tiered system for evaluating responses to conflict: one for the US and its allies, and another for everyone else.

According to Obama, when the US is wronged, even when only a relatively small number of its citizens are affected, it has the right to respond with overwhelming force:
Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice, we went because of necessity. I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody.
Al Qaeda's murder of 3,000 Americans justifies the invasion of Afghanistan, but America's invasion of Iraq, in which many times that number died, were injured, or were forced to flee their homes, doesn't justify resistance. Those who fight back against the American occupation of Iraq are "extremists" who have to be isolated. (As Matthew Yglesias pointed out a couple weeks ago, an "extremist" is generally anyone who doesn't accept American hegemony.)

Likewise, America's invasion of Afghanistan, its support for dictators across the Middle Easat, and Israel's expulsion of Palestinians from their land and its refusal to let them return don't justify resistance, even though all these policies are far more deadly and destructive than al Qaeda's attack against America. That's a double standard for the use of military force, which is one of the essential underpinnings for imperialism, and under Obama it will continue to be official US policy, despite all the pretty talk about respect and understanding.
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