A New Beginning: If Only

By David Swanson

President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo probably did a world of good. It was packed with truth telling and noble sentiments. But imagine how much more good would be done if all the best parts of it corresponded to reality.

If we treated people around the world with “respect,” would we continue occupying their nations against their adamant desires? If we truly “seek no military bases” in Afghanistan, why are we building them on such massive scale? And why are we locking up hundreds of people there whom Obama hopes to keep outside the rule of law and never bring to trial (or at least he’s fighting for that power in court and recently declared that he possessed it), people who will not all die any time soon?

If we respect the Iraqi people, why must our president tell them they are better off now. Why not ask them whether they think they are better off? If we have a “dual reponsibility” to help Iraq and to leave Iraq, is it relevant that the people of Iraq reject that idea, and that we would reject it if imposed on our own nation by another? If we “pursue no bases” in Iraq and will remove “combat brigades by next August” and will “remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July” and “remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012,” why are we renaming troops “non-combat troops”, why are we redrawing city boundaries to avoid withdrawing, why are we in fact creating exceptions in order to remain in cities? And why do the Commander in Chief’s immediate subordinates keep telling reporters that the United States will never leave Iraq?

If we were “respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law” would we occupy other nations, would we use preventive detention, would we decline to prosecute torturers, assassins, and war criminals, would we object to Iran’s possible future nuclear power while refusing to acknowledge that of Israel? If we do not “accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” why do we fund them, and why do we accept every existing one? If we respected the people of Gaza, wouldn’t our president accept an invitation to visit there and acknowledge the responsibility of having paid for the weapons that caused the destruction?

Imagine if we truly supported “governments that reflect the will of the people”. Does the king of Saudi Arabia reflect the will of his people better than Hamas reflects the will of their people? And what about here at home? If the will of the American people were at all relevant, we’d end the wars, end the super-militarism, close bases, fund schools and green energy, throw corporations out of government, create single-payer healthcare, pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and so forth. I’m not blaming Obama for the Senate, but the idea that our own government reflects the basic will of its people is absurd.

The speech, of course, was better than I’ve made it sound. It’s good for Obama to have said we don’t want bases and that we’ll leave. That’s better than had he not said those things. It’s tremendous for him to have acknowledged our overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected president. It’s important that he acknowledged the good and the admirable in Muslim culture. But I do wish his interfaith closing had not kicked sand in the teeth of those of us who are not religious, and I wish the best of what he said were being acted on rather than spoken about.

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