Joshua Frank: Obama and the Middle East

By Joshua Frank

So I guess we know what the buzz is going to be for the next, ah, year or so. It looks like Barack Obama, the rookie Senator from Illinois, is going to run for president. He has received a plethora of accolades from key primary states in recent weeks for his (alleged) tenacity and willingness to shoot it straight — not unlike the great bamboozler before him, Bill Clinton, who seemed to fool most everyone into believing his words actually meant something.

The gift Obama has is unique but potentially dangerous. A taste of his personal appeal: "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions,” he said in a video on his website. “And that’s what we have to change first."

What are the problems the Senator plans on tackling? Certainly not the big one: U.S. policy in the Middle East. While assuring us that he supports the troops in Iraq, he’s made it quite clear he won’t bring them home, and instead has pressured the White House to come up with a plan on the matter of their own. How Obama, or anyone, can possibly believe that the Bushites could come up with a worthwhile strategy for Iraq is beyond me.

On Iran Obama also serves the status-quo with the kind of hawkish zeal we are used to seeing in most Republicans. He’s admitted he may favor surgical missile strikes on Iran and Pakistan if that’s what it takes to fight the war on terror. And Obama even boasts that Bush hasn’t taken a hard enough line on the foreign menaces.

How about Israel? Well, according to Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, Obama may be to the right of the Democratic mainstream when it comes to the occupation of Palestine. As Abunimah told Philip Weiss of The New York Observer, Obama is a “master triangulator” who knows that “pissing off the (pro-Israel) lobby is not the way to the top”. Oh, and I almost forgot, Obama even embraced Israel’s brutal bombings of Lebanon last summer — the type of complicity we’re sure to see continue if he’s successful in his evolving political career.

Beyond that, Obama voted in favor of the pork-swollen Pentagon budget last year, with its beefy handouts to Halliburton and the rest tax and waste crooks. So I’ll stop right there and ask, just what in the heck is the big stinkin’ deal about Barack Obama? Aside from not being Hillary Clinton, Obama has little to offer the antiwar movement or proponents of an alternative U.S. strategy for the Middle East.

Unfortunately we aren’t likely to hear much of this as the campaign 2008 comes to a head. What we’ll have instead is the standard horse race where the pundits place their bets without wagering the consequences of either candidate’s victory.

Barack Obama may indeed talk big about “change” and “priorities”, but that’s all it is: talk. The main concern this year and next will be Iraq and the Middle East. If Obama can’t offer up an alternative solution to the mess we’ve helped create in the region, he doesn’t deserve our support.

-Joshua Frank, co-editor of, is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and edits

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