Wajahat Ali, April 17-19
Originally Published in The National
President Obama flew gracefully and confidently – albeit experiencing some minor turbulence – through his first 100 days as he ambitiously donned the uniform of the multicultural Superman of the 21st century.
Obama, the biracial, Hawaiian born son of a Kenyan father and a White Kansan mother adorned with a multi-syllabic Arabic name, who sowed his oats from Indonesia to California, now emerges as the ideal aesthetic leader – and much hoped for redeemer – of this brave, new globalized world fragilely teetering towards potential calamity.
Unfortunately, Obama’s hour glass only allows four years to remedy the paralyzing economic crisis at home and the smoldering fires of political and religious extremism abroad primarily fueled by the belligerent tone and myopic policies of George W. Bush’s
Trigger happy administration.
Most noticeably, Obama’s inclusive and humble rhetoric immediately sets him apart from his arrogant predecessor, whose indignant adherence to right wing fundamentalism and unilateral aggression contradicts Obama’s professed desire of mutual understanding, engagement and partnership. Unlike the profoundly anti-intellectual Bush, the Ivy league educated, former law professor Obama can thankfully name the 20 countries comprising the G20 Summit.
Whereas Bush preferred cultural isolation and vacationing endless amounts of his Presidential time on his Texas ranch, Obama’s Camelot resembles a global playground as he and his family – including the new family dog, Bo – reach out to diverse citizens at home and spurned friends abroad, such as Turkey whom Obama visited during his recent inaugural world tour.
If Bush was our Elmer Fudd – the classic befuddled cartoon character blind to his own ignorance and condemned to foolishly and unsuccessfully hunting “wily wabbits” – then Obama in his first 100 days certainly emerges as this generation’s Bugs Bunny – a cool, savvy and cocky charmer who always acts if he’s 2 steps ahead of everyone else even as he’s staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
Indeed, that shotgun is loaded as Obama seeks to amend frayed relations with alienated Muslim countries with his new policies to combat terrorism. Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya and his recent visit to Turkey highlighted the end of the polarizing “Us vs. Them” language and the beginning of dialogue and partnership. “The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam,” promised Obama, despite a recent ABC/Washington Post poll showing 48% of Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of Islam, the highest unfavorablity rating since 2001.
Having shunned Muslim American voters like political kryptonite during his campaign, Obama now embraces them by stating: “Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them.” Obama now invites American Muslims to become part of his “political family” with his recent appointments of several distinguished Muslims, such as Rashid Hussain, Dalia Mogahed, and Eboo Patel, to influential positions within his administration.
Perhaps this rhetoric is sincere, but many remain highly skeptical of Obama’s intentions in light of 8 years of the 3 trillion Dollar “War on Terror” and the humiliating memory of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, which to Obama’s credit he condemned and closed as his first Executive Order.
Furthermore, such syrupy sweet words could reflect Obama’s realization that America is currently desperate due to the costly sins of its superiority complex and therefore cannot heal its economic institutions, energy resources, and military objectives without crucial international support. His visit to Turkey was akin to a suitor passionately pursuing a jilted maiden in hopes of acquiring a dowry, in this case valuable access to Turkey’s air and land space, ideally neighboring Iraq, and reliance on Turkey’s army, which comprises Nato’s second largest army.
Regardless, Obama’s effort of reaching out to Muslims is a welcomed relief from Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” adversarial posturing. Most notably, Obama – unlike Bush – wisely seeks limited, cautious and focused relations with Iran, despite the reactionary tendencies of President Ahmedenijad. However, most Muslims and Americans realize diplomatic words require commitment and action in order to produce enlightened policy. As Fatemeh Fakhraie, an Iranian-American editor of the popular website Muslimah Media Watch, told me, “Obama’s Norooz message last March was a bright spot in Iran-U.S. relations. But decades of big talking–from both sides–leave many Iranians skeptical about whether the U.S. really plans on changing its policies in Iran. If Obama wants to get anywhere with Iran, goodwill actions are worth more than goodwill words.”
Haroon Moghal, the Director of Public Relations at the Islamic Center of NYU, agrees but counters with the following: “Winning over Pakistan is as important, if not more important, than finding peace with Iran.” Inarguably, Central Asia is the epicenter of the war against terrorism as it quickly descends into a chaotic and violent chess game comprising of rival warlords, a resurgent Taliban, a corrupt and ineffectual Pakistani military, and remnants of Al Qaeda strategically using the land and its people as pawns to cement their respective stronghold.
Obama, the harbinger of “hope” and “change,” is foolishly following in Bush’s footsteps by intensifying the pilot less drone attacks near the AfPak border, whose success rate of 6% has killed 14 terrorist leaders, but left behind 687 innocent Pakistani civilian casualties as collateral damage. As Peter Singer, a renowned Brookings scholar and author of the informative new book, Wired for War, told me, “But these strikes have also led the Pakistani news to label America “Enemy Number 1,” hardly a win in the so-called “war of ideas.” Moghal concurs and adds: “It’s worth noting that for all the positive coverage Obama has received in much of the Muslim world, his attractive personality is dwarfed, in the eyes of many Pakistanis, by the policies he has pursued and intensified.”
Instead of giving Taliban more eager recruits through bereaved family members of killed innocents, Obama should pursue a long-term strategy that engages the democratically inclined majority of Pakistan spearheaded by Pakistani lawyers, who proudly and defiantly showed their true colors in the recent “long march” protest to reinstate the judiciary sacked by dictator and former US ally General Musharaff.
If Obama continues America’s decades old policy of selfishly befriending Pakistan’s dictator and selfish leader de jour for sake of appeasing a short term foreign policy objective, while callously turning a blind eye to the festering, pro-Islamist officials corrupting Pakistan’s military and ISI, then this war is already lost.
However, in the eyes of many, Obama’s most glaring failure was his shameful silence and reluctance in vocally condemning Israel’s punishing and brutal militarism against Gaza residents; which left nearly 1,300 civilians dead in addition to proliferating an existing humanitarian crisis of epic proportions due to Israel’s nearly 2 year blockage of Gaza.
At AIPAC’s annual conference last summer, Obama promised he would “never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.” Meanwhile, incoming secretary of state Hilary Clinton affirmed “the United States stands with Israel now and forever.” The tragedy of Gaza clearly elucidated U.S. support of Israel remains unconditional, unfair and unbalanced.
However, Obama would be sorely short sighted to continue such unabated favoritism in light of increasingly critical world opinion regarding Israel’s right wing militancy and penchant for unilateral aggression, which becomes all the more terrifying considering the recent election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and appointment of belligerent hawk Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister.
The festering sore that is the Israel-Palestine conflict will haunt both United States and Israel until an honest and reasonable solution is proposed that will take into account the autonomy, dignity and sovereignty of the Palestinian people, whose continued occupation will only fuel the anger and resentment of Muslims worldwide.
Returning home, Obama’s most crucial test has been to revive the precariously faltering U.S. economy suffering from its worst bout since the Depression. As American suburbs resemble ghost towns due to an exponentional increase in foreclosures, historical U.S. stalwarts such as automaker GM prepare for a fast “surgical” bankruptcy, and banks and economic institutions such as AIG hang for dear life at the mercy of federal bailouts and interventionist policies, Obama – as Superman – has no slack or learning curve in saving this valuable sinking ship.
Although Obama’s economic plan include aggressive measures, such as the nearly 800 billion dollar stimulus package and a new plan to buy up to $1 trillion worth of bad mortgages and other so-called toxic assets, some, such as Paul Krugman, suggest this isn’t the radical “change” that is crucial and necessary; rather, it reflects Obama cozying up to the same bankrupt philosophy and ideals of those reckless Wall Street frat brothers responsible for the fiasco in the first place.
Ultimately, only time will reflect the outcome of Obama’s political and economic policies, but at least after the first one hundred days, the multicultural Superman still flies high. Let’s hope after he’s finished soaring, he returns in time to save the day.