A fresh wind…

Obama’s inaugural speech was the most exhilarating and inspiring thing a US president has uttered in living memory (and I’m over 40). Even a seasoned cynic (or realist) like myself was almost in tears by the end of it… If Obama realises even half of what he promised (or implied) yesterday, it will change the course of world history in a definite and irreversible way. I’m still not convinced that will actually happen, but even if this speech is his only accomplishment, he’s already done more to change the world than all the world’s ‘leaders’ of the past 50 years combined. It felt as if 40 years of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, the entire swing to the extreme right since the mid-70s, was obliterated in one fell sweep. And through nothing more than the words of one principled, steadfast, confident proponent of the ‘other’ side… A big part of this was the way in which ideas and concepts were framed: no patriarchal, machisto references, but words like ‘nurturing’ and ‘tolerance’. No constant mentioning of ‘terrorism’ to explain or excuse everything. No mongering of fear and hatred. Reframing ‘traditional’ and ‘family’ values in a way that makes every religio-fundamentalist or fascist-nationalist interpretation of them instantly incongruous and ridiculous. Stating things as they really are, no running away from crises but confronting them head-on, and no shying away from pointing at the culprits. Clearly asserting that the past and, until this speech, prevalent policies and concepts are mistaken, erroneous courses of action. Invoking an entirely different way of thinking about and seeing reality past, present and future. Finally, somebody applies the lessons of George Lakoff!. The spirit of ’68, of the internationalist, anti-colonial and civil rights movements were oozing from every phrase. It was, in a word, pure bliss, and as revolutionary as you could ever hope a US president to sound. One look at W’s drooping face as he was sent back in disgrace to hide in his hole in Texas was enough to realise the magnificence of the moment, the total defeat administered to the neocon project and to neoliberal reaganonomics. Bush certainly did not manage to duck this shoe… The most amazing thing is not even that the US public has elected an African-American to be president, it is that they have elected a seemingly absolute – and resolute – opponent of everything US governments have stood for in the past 30 years. And this in the last, most unlikely country on earth we had expected it from…

But will it work? How much of what the man said was sincere? And how much of what he really means will he be able to achieve? The forces and interests he needs to fight are powerful and entrenched throughout the system he wants to change. They have suffered a serious blow with Obama’s election, and another one with this forceful speech. But they are far from defeated: the battle is only just starting. The first signs today are encouraging: Obama has not only put the Guantanamo trials on hold, he has also put all Bush’s last-minute decisions on hold – since November, a long series of presidential decrees have been passed that were meant to hedge in Obama’s margin of action, especially on environmental issues and on what Obama rightly called ‘narrow interests’ (formerly known as ‘national interests’). But Obama has simply used Bush’s trick: when he first came to office, W quickly reversed most of Clinton’s decrees of the last month or so of his pesidency. Obama has apparently just done the same thing.

As for changes to US foreign policy, a change in approach is certain to happen, as in more genuine talking and less blatant bullying. Whether the change will reach further than that, remains an open question. The lithmus test will be whether, for the first time since Eisenhower in 1956, we will see a US president not unconditionally supporting – maybe even effectively opposing – zionist expansion and aggression or not. Obama’s pandering to the AIPAC meeting during his election campaign, as well as the appointment of Rahm Immanuel as his chief of staff, do not exactly offer high hopes in this regard, but I, for one, am willing to suspend disbelief until notice of the contrary. Obama’s silence on the Gaza offensive is effectively still open to interpretation…

Meanwhile, although Israel has wisely complied with Hamas’ ultimatum and pulled all of its troops out of Gaza, they are still refusing aid convoys and even Human Rights Watch entry into Gaza, amd Egypt is still refusing to open the Rafah border crossing. This means the continuation of the genocide of the Palestinians (with Mubarak’s active collaboration) through starvation and lack of medicine, essential supplies and reconstruction materials for sewage and water systems. We know Obama’s got a very busy day today, but surely he can find the time to place a few phone calls. It would certainly add some credibility to his words…

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