Barack Obama is the first American president who has made history simply by being elected. His Swahili first name – which is derived from the Arabic baraka, or spiritual wisdom – means ‘he who is blessed’, and the world seems to think he is. Obama’s victory, Bono said, is the realisation of ‘the Irish dream, the European dream, the African dream, the Israeli dream and also the Palestinian dream’. Gerry Adams turned up at the inauguration, as did Doreen Lawrence. Even those who aren’t thrilled by Obama’s agenda want a piece of him. Canadians, according to a recent survey, are ‘lukewarm’ about Obama’s desire to renegotiate Nafta to protect US jobs, and they’re not keen to send more soldiers to Kandahar, but this hasn’t diminished their love of Obama or their ‘collective Obama envy’. ‘So we are in love with the guy even though we don’t care for his ideas,’ one blogger complains. ‘What does that tell you about the cult of personality?’
Vol. 31 No. 4 · 26 February 2009
Adam Shatz is to be congratulated for admitting his infatuation with Obama, but it leads him into some dangerously wishful thinking, particularly when it comes to US Middle East policy (LRB, 12 February). Obama has made a ‘beguiling’ overture to Tehran, but his promise to extend the olive branch to Iran if it ‘unclenched its fist’ carries a hint of the usual American conditions on dialogue. It is apparently Iran, not the US, whose fist is clenched in this image, and it is up to Iran (but not Israel) to renounce its nuclear programme and end its support of resistance groups in Palestine and Lebanon if it is to be removed from the ‘axis of evil’. Obama’s much heralded praise of the Saudi peace initiative was followed by a speech at the State Department on 22 January in which he urged the Arab states to normalise relations with Israel immediately, unilaterally – the only card the Arabs have in their hands to force an Israeli withdrawal from occupied land. On Israel-Palestine, Obama has sounded no different from his predecessors, deploring ‘the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis’ and insisting that Israelis ‘will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side’: the usual cant, but delivered more eloquently. Now that the Israeli people have voted decisively against what they call ‘sacrifices’ and others call international law, we’ll see how serious Obama is about pursuing a peace settlement in Israel-Palestine.