Such a wild time, still! Since coming back from Cairo and Amman almost two weeks ago, I’ve been on the road speaking quite a bit, in between trying to sort out notes, ideas, contacts and more from my extraordinary trip. I thought I would just take a minute to catch you up on some of what I’ve been working on.
This morning, of course, President Obama made his much-awaited “big speech” on U.S. policy towards the Arab Spring. It didn’t, unfortunately, reflect much of a policy change. I did an interview with The Real News on the speech. And at the end of this note I’ll include a short piece I wrote on what Obama should have said – about the policy he should be implementing.
Much has centered on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Many of you may have seen the first piece I did on the assassination, written from Jordan just a few hours after President Obama’s announcement. Also while still in Amman, I did some analysis for my friend Laura Flanders’ GritTV show. The San Francisco Chronicle called me for ideas and quotes about how the killing of bin Laden might affect Obama’s re-election prospects. A particularly grisly part of the discussion; but it did give me a chance to talk about the urgent need to use this death of the terrorist leader to finally end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Once I came home I had a fascinating conversation with Paul Jay at The Real News – also on the bin Laden killing, but this time I had enough time to talk about what justice really could mean – and the history of international justice, including the famous statements of former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who talked about “victor’s justice” in his role as a Nuremberg prosecutor. The Real News folks actually found footage of Justice Jackson, speaking in Nuremberg at the trial of Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering to use in the interview.
Just this past Monday, while in New York en route to speak up in Boston, I had the chance to do al Jazeera’s “Inside Story,” focusing on that incredible New York Times expose of Blackwater founder Erik Prince creating a huge mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates, a step towards his hoped-for “empire in the desert.” One more horrifying legacy of Bush’s privatization of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And finally, for those of you who knew my great friend, mentor, colleague and co-conspirator Len Weinglass, I was in New York last Friday to speak at his memorial. Lenny passed just a few weeks ago, after a short bitter illness. It was a wonderful gathering of old friends and colleagues, a great celebration. The video of the memorial is here, or if you want to read a slightly-expanded version of what I said at the memorial, click here.
As always, so many thanks for your support.
A Few Thoughts on Obama’s Middle East Speech
A transformed U.S. role in the region will have to go beyond soaring words and even additional economic assistance. It will require an entirely different policy based on support for popular bottom-up democracy, acceptance of new indigenous definitions of social and economic justice, and respect for local decision-making – even when reality doesn’t match Washington’s illusion of what the “new Middle East” should look like.
Obama’s speech failed to match the extraordinary events of the Arab Spring with a transformed U.S. policy in the region. Beyond some new economic commitments, the speech was far longer on soaring rhetoric of democracy and freedom than it was on real policy changes.
The announcement of significant new economic assistance, particularly $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt, will be important; but its significance is already undermined by the U.S. imposition on the newly democratizing country to accept the kind of “free trade” policies that have been so disastrous in other parts of the developing world.
And beyond the Arab Spring, the much-hoped for change in policy towards Palestinian-Israeli conflict was nowhere to be seen. President Obama’s closing words, “People should govern themselves” apparently do not apply to Palestinians.
And apparently Obama’s claim that “every state has the right to self-defense” applies only to Israel, not to any future Palestinian state. He defined Israel as “a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people” which means accepting the apartheid laws discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel. And he identified “the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people,” repeating George W. Bush’s explicit rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees forcibly displaced between 1947 and 1949 from their homes, in what is now Israel.
President Obama is wrong. The principles he outlined – which are the principles of U.S. diplomacy and Israeli demands – are not the “foundation for negotiations.” The only foundation that will work is that of international law and human rights. Until then, the Arab Spring will not come to Palestinian and Israeli winter.
Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with David Wildman of the new Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer.