Thursday, June 5, 2008

Obama's First Blowback?

If, as I have just suggested, the rhetorical stance of Barack Obama's Presidential campaign is (or at least can be) "about restoring connections rather than healing divisions," then one way he can make a case that this is more than hollow rhetoric will be to apply his precept to not only conditions in the United States but also the situation in the Middle East. Unfortunately, as I reported yesterday, his "AIPAC debut" seemed to have a lot more to do with shoring up votes than with either restoring connections or healing divisions. As a result he may well have had his first serious encounter with the blowback effect, which Chalmers Johnson introduced to the American public in the October 15, 2001 issue of The Nation (which is to say in the immediate wake of 9/11), about three years before his Blowback book appeared:

"Blowback" is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the US government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people.

If Obama's intent had been to charm the "Jewish vote," then it did not take long for Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri to go on record with a quote (cited in yesterday's post) about other (hopefully unintended) consequences of his remarks. As I wrote, that quote was harvested from an Al Jazeera English report. Early this morning that report was followed up with reactions from what we recognize as the more "official" Palestinian government:

Arab leaders have reacted with anger and disbelief to an intensely pro-Israeli speech delivered by Barack Obama, the US Democratic presumptive presidential nominee.

Obama told the influential annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Council (Aipac): "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."

His comments appalled Palestinians who see occupied East Jerusalem as part of a future Palestinian state.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera on Thursday: "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 ... he has given ammunition to extremists across the region".

"What really disppoints me is that someone like Barack Obama, who runs a campaign on the theme of change - when it comes to Aipac and what's needed to be said differently about the Palestinian state, he fails."

"I say to Obama ... please stop being more Israeli than the Israelis themselves, leave the Israelis and Palestinians alone to make decisions required for peace."

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, rejected the statement, saying: "We will not accept an independent Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital.

"I believe that case is clear."

He said: "Jerusalem is part of the six points that are subjects on the negotiations' agenda.

"And the whole world knows that East Jerusalem, Arab Jerusalem and Holy Jerusalem were occupied in 1967."

Obama may thus have strengthened the connection (if not healed the division) between the de facto government in Gaza and the de jure representative government of the Palestinian people; and that is precisely the sort of blowback that Johnson had in mind in terms of the CIA interference in Iran, which ultimately led to the Iranian revolution that remains a major thorn in the side of American foreign policy. It is unclear what this will do to the potential electoral vote count, which at least some of his staffers are probably being paid to study on a day-to-day basis; but it can only damage how he is seen by those polled by Al Jazeera, who appeared to view him as the best possible candidate for healing the damaged relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. Now to be fair, my guess is that the doubts that this sample space had about John McCain (who was even more aggressive in his AIPAC "performance") still remain; but all this will do is reinforce a prevailing opinion that relations with the next Administration will probably be as dismal as those with the current one. Still, it is not too late for damage control from the Obama camp; but my question is whether nor not (like the CIA in 1954 Iran) they are aware that there is damage that needs to be controlled!

No comments: