And The Middle East
By Ali Abunimah
05 November 2004
we awakened to a John Kerry victory, anyone seriously concerned about
the conflicts in Palestine and Iraq would have faced the stark reality
that Kerry offered nothing substantially different from President George
W. Bush in either situation. Yet that provides little consolation for
seeing Bush re-elected, as the desire to see him defeated had little
to do with support for Kerry. What many wanted was accountability -
to see the author of so many disastrous policies thrown out.
But a majority of
American voters handed a new mandate to Bush despite the fact that he
started an illegal war which may have cost the lives of 100,000 innocent
Iraqis (according to the latest study published in The Lancet) and more
than 1,000 Americans. This war has no end in sight. At home, Bush has
presided over an ailing economy and an unprecedented budget deficit,
while the number of Americans without any health insurance has increased
to over 50 million.
Bush owes his victory
in great part to the incoherence of his Democratic opponents, who supported
the war from the beginning and could offer no principled opposition
to it during the campaign. Kerry was the default choice and emotional
harbor for anti-war voters even though he was reduced to carping about
tactics while presenting no convincing alternatives to Bush's failed
policies. With such ineffectual opposition Vice President Dick Cheney
brazenly called Iraq "a remarkable success story" in the last
week of the campaign.
At the same time,
Bush's simple, defiant statements about "fighting terrorism"
were highly reassuring to most Americans. The campaign contained little
serious discussion of the fact that despite the public relations and
the bureaucratic reshuffling and renaming, the United States is only
marginally better protected against another massive attack by Osama
bin Laden or anyone else. Kerry may have been reluctant to appear to
be pointing to holes in U.S. security that could be construed as inviting
attacks, but his silence worked to Bush's advantage.
The election results
also confirm some long-term trends with serious implications for the
Middle East as well as the U.S. Across much of the country, Republicans
seem to be on an inexorable rise. They offer Americans a simple message
characterized by disdain for government combined with fundamentalist
religious fervor, all wrapped in a simplistic and self-satisfied patriotism
that presents the United States as simultaneously (and contradictorily)
the greatest and strongest country on earth and a country beset by teeming
enemies who present a mortal danger.
who are a huge segment of Bush's base, see U.S. support for Israel as
central to the fulfillment of biblical prophecies which they hope will
trigger Armageddon. As influential evangelical preacher and former presidential
candidate Pat Robertson recently warned, any pressure on Israel from
Bush to relinquish any part of Jerusalem would interfere with "God's
plan" and be grounds for breaking with him.
Against this background,
Bush has shifted the goal posts of the Palestine-Israel debate such
that Likudist thinking is now viewed as centrist. This was demonstrated
by Kerry's campaign which warmly endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's policies. But the bankruptcy of the discourse was brought home
in a most personally disappointing way.
Illinois swept Barack
Obama, a rising star in the Democratic party, into the United States
Senate with a stunning 70 percent of the vote - a rare Democratic gain.
Obama, whom I've met many times, has served as my local state senator
in the Illinois legislature. I found him to be an inspiring politician,
not least because he appeared to understand Middle East issues and take
progressive views supporting Palestinian rights and opposing militarism.
He participated in many events in the Chicago-area Arab community including
a 1998 fundraiser with Edward Said as the keynote speaker. I even made
contributions to his campaigns.
But following Obama's
nationally-televised address at the Democratic National Convention everything
seemed to change. In the campaign's final weeks, Obama proclaimed his
support for tough sanctions and military strikes against Iran if it
refused U.S. demands to give up its nuclear programs. According to the
Chicago Tribune, Obama now says that the onus of peace in the Middle
East "is on the Palestinian leadership, which ... must cease violence
against Israelis and work 'to end the incitement against Israel in the
Arab world." The unique fact about Obama's campaign is that he
did not need to parrot the pro-Israel lobby's standard line to get elected.
He ran effectively unopposed. Such a capable and ambitious man must
have calculated that any hope of higher office requires that he not
offend when it comes to Israel and its interests. This begs the question:
If a man like Obama will not speak frankly when it comes to Israel,
what hope is there for a change in U.S. policy coming from within the
A senior official
close to French President Jacques Chirac told The New York Times on
election night that "the most pressing foreign-policy issue for
whoever is elected president must be the Israeli-Palestinian crisis."
The official further asked: "Will there be a decision by the American
president to restart a dialogue? ... This is what we expect from the
new president. This is the cause of a lot of the anti-Western feeling
in the world."
But it is clear
there will be no serious dialogue started by the United States. Already
the Israeli government is exuding confidence it will come under no new
American pressure. The next four years then will be a transition point
for the conflict: We are likely to see the decisive defeat of the two-state
concept by the reality Israel is creating on the ground, accompanied
by sharp escalation.
If Europe is as
concerned as it professes to be, it will have to develop its own strategy.
It must be prepared to confront both the United States and Israel. This
would require Europe to show more unity and political will than it ever
has before. The extent to which this is likely will depend on whether
the second Bush administration takes a more accommodating approach on
a whole range of other vital European interests.
The rest of the
world, which lived in hope that Bush would be just a brief interlude
before a return to business as usual, must now fundamentally re-examine
its approach to the United States. Bush may represent only a bare majority
of Americans, but there is a lot of evidence that it is an ascendant
At the same time,
the millions of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq and see that Bush's
policies bring more danger to their country have to confront the reality
that electoral politics failed abjectly to provide a vehicle to advance
their interests. The Democratic Party must now enter a long period of
self-examination. It must emerge as a genuine alternative to the Republicans
or face irrelevance. But the world cannot afford to wait for that. Bush's
victory presents the opportunity and urgent necessity for Americans
to join people all over the world in building a powerful, grassroots
peace movement to end the war in Iraq and prevent further "success
Ali Abunimah is
co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. This article first appeared in
The Daily Star.