Barack Obama has pledged that, if elected President of the United States, he will travel to a “major Islamic forum” in the first 100 days of his administration to deliver the clear message that “we are not at war with Islam.”
This is a strong signal that Obama believes George W. Bush’s lethal confrontation with the world of Islam needs most urgently to be defused.
Obama has not specified where he plans to deliver his friendly message to Islam, but one can only speculate that it might be at a summit meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — an association of 65 Islamic states — or in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, or at Egypt’s Islamic university of Al-Azhar, or even perhaps in war-torn Iraq.
His bold pledge was made in a comprehensive policy speech in Washington last August, in which he denounced the catastrophic war in Iraq — a war “that should never have been authorized and should never have been waged.”
Instead, he affirmed — what he has since frequently repeated — that he would withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq, engage in talks with Iran and Syria, and take the fight to America’s real enemies, the Al-Qaeda terrorists hiding in their tribal sanctuaries of northwest Pakistan.
He also said that “When I am President, America will reject torture without exception… close Guantanamo…adhere to the Geneva Conventions… and roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate.” America , he added , “must also do the hard and sustained diplomatic work in the [Middle East] region on behalf of peace and stability.”
These views have caused considerable alarm among Israeli hawks, and among their even more hawkish American supporters. Would a President Obama, they ask with some anxiety, use American muscle to impose a resolution on Israel of the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict and bring to birth a viable Palestinian state — something Israel and its friends have always sought to avoid?
The fear of the Israeli hawks — and it is probably justified — is that whereas Barack Obama is of course committed to the security of Israel, he is not the unconditional and uncritical supporter that President George W. Bush has been over the past seven years.
In their eyes, Obama is guilty of the unforgivable heresy of saying at different times that “the Israeli government must make difficult concessions for the peace process to restart”; that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people”; and that “the creation of a wall dividing the two nations [of Israel and Palestine] is yet another example of the neglect of this administration in brokering peace.”
Earlier still — even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq which he opposed — Barack Obama denounced the pro-Israeli neo-conservatives, who were pressing the United States to make war on Saddam Hussein.
At an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002, he declared: “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this administration, to shove their own ideological agenda down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”
Perle was then chairman of the Pentagon’s advisory Defense Policy Board and Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of defense. As everyone knows, their ideological agenda was to enhance Israel’s strategic environment by overthrowing and “reforming” Arab regimes.
They were, indeed, among the leading advocates of the view that the Arab world needed to be reshaped and remodeled by the power of the United States in order to suit Israeli strategic needs.
Their analysis of the terrorism that had struck America was self-serving. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, they argued, had nothing to do with American policies towards the Arab and Islamic world. Rather, they were the product of violent Arab societies and a fanatical religion, Islam.
For the United States and Israel to be safe, Arab societies had to be reformed — if necessary by force — beginning with Iraq. Once Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been smashed and reconstituted, Syria, Iran, even Egypt and Saudi Arabia, could then be given the same treatment.
In Barack Obama’s view, such dangerous ideas have led to “a misguided invasion of a Muslim country that sparks new insurgencies, ties down our military, busts our budgets, increases the pool of terrorist recruits, alienates America, gives democracy a bad name, and prompts the American people to question our engagement in the world.” He wants to turn the page.
Israel’s hardline supporters do not like this line of argument one bit. They have even insinuated that Obama attended a madrasa when he was a child in Indonesia; that he may be a secret Muslim; that he attends a church headed by a former Black Muslim, who is viscerally anti-Israel; that one of his foreign policy advisers is none other than Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser who, like his former boss, has been openly critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
These pro-Israeli hawks do not want the United States to make peace with Islam, but rather to intensify the fight against what they like to call Islamofascism. They do not want the United States to reach out to Iran, but rather to intimidate it and, if possible, destroy its economy.
The neo-con patriarch, Norman Podhoretz, wants the United States to bomb Iran, not to engage it in dialogue. Podhoretz happens to be the father-in-law of Eliot Abrams, the hard-line official in charge of the Middle East at the U.S. National Security Council.
The key question is this: Whose policy is best for Israel: Barack Obama’s or the neo-con hawks’? At a meeting this week with Jewish community leaders at a synagogue in Ohio, Obama chided those who believed that being pro-Israel meant adopting the hard-line policies of the Likud. “That can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel,” he told them.
Israel and its friends should perhaps consider whether resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not better for Israel than the present violent confrontation; and whether defusing America’s hostile relations with Iran, Syria and Hizbullah might not be better for Israel than having these angry and threatening neighbors on its borders.
Instead of fearing and smearing Obama, Israel and its friends might consider that he just might be the U.S. president who can bring peace to the Middle East at last, and effect a much needed reconciliation between the West and Islam.
Is not overseeing Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world far better for its long-term security and prosperity than Bush’s bankrupt policies of making war on Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, encouraging Israel’s wars on Hizbullah and Hamas — policies which have done nothing but create a thirst for revenge and hate for the United States and Israel throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond?
The 46-year old Democratic Senator from Illinois, son of a black Kenyan father and a white Texan mother, is not yet in the White House. But he stands a good chance of getting there.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of “The Struggle for Syria”; also, “Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East”; and “Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.” © 2008 Patrick Seale