I started this blog over a year ago to comment on the presidency of Barack Obama. See, I had followed Obama as a freshman US senator and I admired and diligently watched his candidacy in 2008 from the never-ending primaries against Hillary Clinton to the general election campain to that unforgettable night on November 4th 2008. I actually shed some tears when Wolf Blitzer at around 11 pm EST said: “CNN can now say Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States.” I still have goose bumps just writing this down. I had hoped, maybe mistakenly in hindsight that Obama would be a different president; different from the cautious watching-the-polls-worries-about-his-re-election  mold, somebody who would challenge the economic and military establishment, somebody who would present a different face of America to the world. He has done nothing of the sort. These are some of his accomplishments so far:

He has passed a healthcare bill that while viewed as revolutionary in the US, is laughable when compared to what is available in other industrialized countries. It’s greatest value to US citizens is that it now requires the transfer of taxpayers’ dollars to private health insurances companies while demanding nothing substantial of them. They can still make substantial profits from sick Americans while adding nothing of value to the healthcare chain.

He just passed a financial regulation bill that does not prevent too big to fail scenarios and thereby leaving the door opened for a potential repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

He promised to close the Guantanamo Bay Prison but this will certainly not happen. Even if it did, other US foreign prisons such as Bagram in Afghanistan will remain open for business and renditions will continue. So will drone attacks in Pakistan and other foreign interventions in the name of “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here.”

He has made no efforts to reduce the power of money in American elections, the undeniable “Elephant in the room” preventing any meaningful progress to be made on issues like healthcare and real financial regulation.

He has done nothing for the Peace Process or for the prospect of peace in the Middle East. In fact by continually reaffirming the US attachment to Israel, he has allowed settlement expansion to proceed unhindered thereby expanding “the facts on the ground” that would stand in the way of any potential future peace deal.

He has done nothing to reduce what some have called the “Fear Industrial complex“.

He has done nothing directly to improve the lives of impoverished minorities in the US

For an American president with African roots, he has done nothing of value for the African continent with respect to improving the terms of their commercial interactions with the West. So far he even fares less than George W. Bush

Contrary to his campaign rhetoric, he has done nothing different from his predecessors to improve US relations with Iran or Cuba or Venezuela

And more importantly, he has drawn down in Iraq slightly, only to escalate the Afghan War, committing more soldiers and money to a mission that many now regard as doomed in the way Vietnam was doomed.

So, after a year and half of this presidency, I am convinced that Barack Obama will not be a transformational president.

Things can change of course, but unless a cataclysm natural or otherwise forces him to change course, at best Obama will be as conventional a president as Harry Truman or maybe Bill Clinton was. And I am not interested in staying up late to read obscure articles, gleam facts from foreign journals and read footnotes and a gazillion of political blogs for the purpose of commenting on the actions of a conventional American president. It’s been done. It is being done and one more voice will not change the course of this presidency.

So sayonara friends…

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In awarding the Peace Price, the Nobel Committee has gotten it blatantly wrong in the past. Sometimes it failed by omission. Many times it failed to research the complete body of work of the person being honored. Sometimes hope triumphed. And in some small instances, the Prize actually went to all too deserving individuals.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to Barack Obama on Friday represented perhaps a combination of all these past failures. To understand this, one has to re-examine the body of work of President Obama so far, but also the history of the Prize itself and its past winners through the lens of peace and peace-making. 

In 1938, the Prize was awarded to the International Office for Refugees. However the short list for the following year included one Adolf Hitler. Now, while this seems bizarre today with over seventy years of hindsight, the German Fuhrer was greatly popular as an international figure in 1938. He was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1938 and most of the horrendous crimes against humanity for which he is known today were yet to be committed. His desire for continental conquest was well known. So was his racism. Yet the Committee somehow saw him as a peace-loving man worthy of their shortlist.

In 1973, the Peace prize was given to both Henry Kissinger & Le Duc Tho for negotiating an end to the Vietnam War, a war they escalated into Cambodia through Operation Menu and that ended up taking the lives of over 2 million Vietnamese people. Earlier in 1971, the NY Times published the Pentagon Papers that detailed the deception campaign of the Nixon/Kissinger cabal to keep the public uninformed about their war machinations. Whether this history was considered when the Nobel Committee decided on the Prize is anybody’s guess. But as a double dose of irony, on September 11th 1973, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and the CIA would concoct a coup to overthrow the democratically-elected President of Chile: Salvador Allende. And the co-winner of the Prize, Le Duc Tho would refuse it because he did not believe the end of the war with the US meant peace for his country and continued fighting against the south vietnamese until 1975.

In 1960 the Prize went to Albert Lutuli, the ANC President.

In 1964 the Prize went to Martin Luther King, jr.

However Mahatma Gandhi was short-listed five times in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, 1948, but never won. Yet Yasser Arafat & Menachem Begin won The Prize.

In a final tidbit of historical WTF moments, George W. Bush & Tony Blair were both short-listed for The Prize in 2002. So was Hamid Karzai who the British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali refers to (jokingly, I am sure) as “The Great Puppet of Kabul.”

So this is the history that gave us this year’s selection of Barack Obama.

The Committee said it was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” But the obvious reply based on the facts of the last 8 months would be: “He has done nothing of the sort!” In a Q&A that followed the announcement, the choice was clarified as a way of nudging Obama to continue the work he started on nuclear non-proliferation and re-including the US in the community of nations.

 Right.

 If Obama is working so hard at worldwide peace-making, why was White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs waffling this week trying to explain why Obama did not seem to want to meet…of all people…The Dalai Lama. Amnesty USA even reported that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decided that China’s human rights record will not top her China agenda. Could all of this dillying and dallying have less to do with peace between China and Tibet and more to do with the $1 trillion dollars the US owes China or the commercial relations that need to be maintained there?

Many have pointed to the recent talks with Iran, the US decision to scrap a European Missile Defense system and the fact that Obama chaired a UN Security Council meeting on Nuclear Non-Proliferation. While those are worthy noises that are a breath of diplomatic fresh air when compared to the idiotic bombast of the previous occupant of the White House, they do not constitute anything worthy of an international prize. It is important to note that Iran has not stopped developing nuclear weapons as a result of anything Obama did or said. On the contrary, because of the recent threats and demands, Iran has actually developed new Uranium enrichment sites. There is also no indication that Russia has reduced its stockpiles of weapons or is prepared to do so because of any action Obama has undertaken either.

The record of the US itself under Obama is still dismal, if peace on earth is the goal. The United States is still occupying two sovereign countries: Iraq and Afghanistan. And one of the first orders Obama issued when his Afghanistan strategy was announced, was to order the deployment of 21,000 new US troops to Afghanistan. And if he is to act on General Stanley McChrystal’s recent request, many more thousands of US soldiers will be shipping out to Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months. Renditions are still taking place. Guantanamo is still open and may not close next year as Obama originally promised. But even if it does close, the Bagram prison in Afghanistan will remain open. And on the same day the Nobel Committee was rewarding Obama, it was announced that the US is preparing a $15 billion military buildup in the Pacific island of Guam.

Some have indicated that Obama’s overtures to the Muslim World have swayed the Nobel Committee. But while Obama has made two speeches in the capitals of two majority-Muslim countries (Turkey and Egypt), he has done nothing to act on any of what he spoke of in the speeches. Netanyahu is still expanding Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory without any fear of US repercussions. Women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, a strong US ally. Hamas is still being its violent self. And just as a way of extending more olive branches all around the Middle East, the US has used its position in the UN Human Rights Council to both undermine the Goldstone Commission Report on the Israeli assault on Gaza and force Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership to defer its adoption.

Finally, to those who say the Nobel Prize is a “down-payment on Obama”, one can just as well say: sometimes down payments can be for purchases that turn out to be worthless.

Maybe one day President Barack Obama will do enough to deserve this prize. We all hope so, given his power as the leader of the so-called Free World. But so far, the amazing promise that drove thousands to fill Grant Park in Chicago on November 4th last year, has only translated into Bush-Lite policies and in the words of one former presidential candidate, “lipstick on a pig.” The Nobel Committee should have spent more time examining the dirty spots on the pig’s back before falling in love with the lipstick.

Obama made his long-awaited address to the “Muslim World” today. He made a similar address to the Turkish parliament back in April, but this was THE speech that Obama promised to give even before he got elected. It was supposed to be the speech that launches “the new beginning”, the new relationship between the US and the over 1.5 billion Muslims of the world.

The reactions to the speech so far have been mixed although many have praised the gesture. One could argue that any gesture made after the bluster and belligerant “with us or against us” approach of the Bush administration would have been welcome.

So let’s dissect some of the points of the speech and weigh them against the reality on the ground.

Obama warned Palestinians against the use of violence to fight the occupation and scolded the Israelis about the continuous building of settlements. While both points are valid on their faces, they are merely words in the face of the daily tribulations of both camps in this conflict. After all, what are the Palestinians to do in the face of the daily humiliations of the occupation administered in great part with US-supplied weaponry? Should they simply offer the other cheek and hope that their oppresors will see the light? History shows us that although violence in of itself has never allowed a liberation movement to succeed, it has always been a component of the struggle from colonial Africa to India to the US  to Cuba to South-Africa. Ignoring that fact is simply choosing to float in a Hope cloud.

As for the settlements, just this week, Netanyahu was reiterating that his government will continue building settlements, this after  US Secretary of State Clinton and Obama himself indicated the US government’s disapproval of such acts. Would the Israeli government be sanctioned by having its aid withheld? If not, what will be the actual repercussions of continuing to build on occupied land and thereby establishing what Ariel Sharon used to call “facts on the ground” that will stand in the way of any future peace deal?

Obama spoke of the US leaving Iraq and not wanting “bases or claim on their territory or resources”. So why is the US building what looks very much like permanent bases all over the country (see map) and the most fortified embassy in the region? Will Obama request a repeal of all the oil laws that the Bush administration pushed Iraqis leaders to adopt? Surely economically, given its dependence on Mid-East oil, the US could not afford such a move. So does that not indicate that any exit from Iraq would merely be a departure of troops but a peservation of  some form of control that would guarantee that the Iraqi pumps remain open to US tankers? Would that be “leaving Iraq to the Iraqis?”

On the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, Obama said that “no nation should pick and choose which nations have nuclear weapons” and he reiterated the standard US position demanding that Iran “comply with its responsibilities under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)”. The unspoken part of this argument of course is that Israel has nuclear weapons, but is not a signatory to the NPT. Neither is Pakistan which also has nuclear weapons and is a US ally. So the sin of Iran seems to be that it chose to sign a treaty under which it can now be scolded for doing what other nations do and get rewarded for with US military aid.

On women’s rights,  religious tolerance and human rights, Obama merely repeated platitutes that cannot be taken seriously given the continuous US support for the regimes of the Middle East that deny those very rights to their citizens. What’s the value of hopeful words about freedom spoken by a US president in a place like Egypt where Hosni Mubarak has been waging war against hopeful freedom advocates for almost 30 years with US support? What’s the value of hopeful words when the Saudi monarchs have been stifling the hopes of women in their kingdom for generations with the complete acquiescence of US presidents? Why talk when the US president has so many levers he can pull to force action?

Obama can be praised for making the trip, appearing concilliatory and more importantly acknowledging some facts that although  known for years by all, were never publicly accepted by a sitting US president; namely the US involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected former president of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh. But to use that very American expression, “where’s the beef?”

Obama spoke eloquently and forcefully in Cairo as Obama almost always does. However, Obama the presidential candidate has to quickly morph into Obama the leader of the so-called “Free World”  and resist the use of speeches as substitutes for tangible policy changes.