The election of Barrak Obama to the office of president of the United States has generated tremendous elation and enthusiasm in the U.S. and around the world. The rise of Obama has been accompanied by the rise of hope and anticipation that a new and better world is about to begin. Some Obama enthusiasts have gone further and argue that Obama’s election has signaled a fundamental change in the U.S. and we are about to see the dawn of a new era in the country. Much to dislike of Obama enthusiasts, I will argue that such hopes and arguments are not only naïve and foolish, but also potentially dangerous. (I do acknowledge that the election of a black man as president of the United States is in itself a monumental accomplishment in itself, but this is beside the point here.)
There are also those who believe that Obama is America’s Gorbachev. This is a wishful assessment. Obama’s mandate is not to “restructure” the system he is presiding over, which was the case with Gorbachev. (Perestroika, Gorbachev’s main motto, literally meant restructuring. He used it to denote “mass initiatives,” “the consistent implementation of the principles of social justice,” and “socialist self-government,” among others.) As I will argue later, Obama is incapable of effecting a fundamental change. Rather, what he is capable of doing, and will actually do, is something more modest, that is to say, something along the line of managing and fixing some of the damage done by the Bush administration at home and abroad.
Under George W. Bush, the credibility and standing of the United States suffered a major blow in the eyes of the people and countries sympathetic to America. Obama is here to restore their faith in the United States. More importantly, Obama is here to tackle, or at least manage, some of the economic problems that three decades of neo-liberal economic policies and unbridled free-market capitalism have delivered to America’s doorsteps. A growing number of people in the country are beginning to lose their confidence in the viability of the system, and something needs to be done about it, and done very quickly.
Moreover, Obama is not a new Franklin D. Roosevelt either. Nor does he find himself in a situation similar to the one encountered by Roosevelt. For one thing, Obama is not facing a country with fifteen percent of its workforce on strike. Furthermore, there are no vivid signs of turmoil and anti-capitalist sentiments or movements brewing in the country, at least not yet. All Obama can, and will, do is to re-introduce or re-implement some weaker forms of some of Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms that neo-liberal restructuring of the economy has undone or undermined in the course of the last three decades. The other point worth mentioning here is that while Roosevelt was a center-left progressive — or perhaps behaved as one in part because he faced a militant and powerful workers movement in the country — Obama is a center-right politician who projects himself as a left-leaning progressive.
In some respects, Obama is a carbon copy of Bill Clinton. One indication of the similarity between the two is the composition of the cabinet Obama has put together and the people he has surrounded himself with. Positions in his administration are filled mostly with conservative Democrats, Republicans, and people from Bill Clinton’s administration. Another sign of the similarity is that just like Clinton, Obama has the political savvy and astute ability to mislead left-leaning and progressive-minded individuals into believing that he espouses their views and is committed to their values.
The main difference between the two has to do with the circumstances under which they arrive at the White House. When Clinton began his term, the neo-liberal re-organization of the economy, which had begun with Ronald Regan and had continued under the first George Bush, was in need of being consolidated into a comprehensive system of legislations and public/economic policies. Moreover, the project of establishing legal structures needed to advance the interests and aspirations of transnational capitalism (often dubbed “globalism”) was at the top of the political agenda in Washington. Clinton met both of these challenges. The ratification of NAFTA, dealing the final blow to welfare and other entitlement systems, and the passage and implementation of a whole host of deregulatory and anti-union policies and legislations are the main legacy of the Clinton era.
Another difference between Obama and Clinton is that the former comes to power at the time when some of the disastrous results of the neo-liberal adventures that were formalized into laws under the latter’s administration are beginning to show their ugly and monstrous heads. Obama has the misfortune of facing the monumental task of managing the consequences of Clinton’s “achievements” and Bush’s failures.
Obama is the man! He has come to the rescue! He will fix the problems and make things right again. He is the embodiment of “hope” and will “change” things in Washington. These exuberant and naïve sentiments about Obama were on the air in the country and abroad around the time of his election — and have not subsided yet. Obama’s campaign grasped the depth and breadth of citizens’ despondence and dissatisfaction with the American political system very early on during the Democratic primaries and masterfully crafted the vague message of “hope” and “change” and offered it to the electorate. The message was presented, to quote Noam Chomsky, as “a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes.” However, as Chomsky is quick to point out, “One could search websites for position papers, but correlation of these to policies is hardly spectacular and, in any event, what enters into voters’ choices is what the campaign places front and center, as party managers know well” (Z Magazine, Feb. 2009).
In conversations with some of my friends in Iran, I find myself bewildered by the extent of their credulity and naiveté about the whole Obama fanfare. Much to my dismay, I find that they are not alone in this. After eight years of suffering at the hand of George Bush’s America, a large majority of the people around the world have psyched themselves into believing that Obama is a qualitatively different president and that a new era is about to begin in the U.S. under his leadership. It seems to me that a lot of people around the world, especially the younger generation in the developing countries, have become intoxicated — or to put it bluntly, duped — by the Obama euphoria. They have bought into his so-called message of “change,” which is jazzed up and hyped by the Western media and fanned by the intellectual and cultural cheerleaders of American corporate interests around the world.
My sense is that the majority of the people in the U.S. do not share the enthusiasm of much of the world. The core enthusiasts of the Obama phenomenon in the U.S. consists mainly of some broad sections of the educated and forward-looking middle-classes in the 20-40 age-group who were horrified by Bush’s presidency and see Obama as a breath of fresh air.
Against this euphoria about Obama, I would argue that the differences between him and Bush, or any other former president, are quantitative rather than qualitative. As was the case with Bush, Obama in his position as the head of the American state will also sit behind the wheels of the American capitalist system and has to drive it to where it needs to go. Bush was a terrible driver; he caused too many accidents; killed and maimed too many people; damaged the engine; gave a lot of people motion sickness; and angered a great many conscientious people in the U.S. and around the world. Obama, on the other hand, is a smooth operator; and he seems to be an excellent driver as well. He will, or at least he will try to, drive the American system to its desired destination in a safe and enjoyable ride.
What has taken place in the U.S. with the election of Obama is not a fundamental or qualitative change of any sort, but merely a cosmetic one. We no longer have the hubris and arrogance of a crass and vulgar emperor who told the world that ‘America makes the rules and the world must go along with them.’ What we have now is an educated, intelligent, well-mannered, reasonable-sounding, and well-spoken man. With Obama’s election, all of a sudden, America does not look as ugly as it did just a few months ago.
The point is that this change of face does not alter the structure of the forces, nor does it change the nature of the interests, that make America what it is. The objectives of American capitalism under Obama leadership will remain as they were before him: reaping super profits in the U.S. and around the globe, and dominating the world for strategic interests and supremacy of the global free enterprise system. Obama cannot change these objectives, even if he wanted to.
What he can, and will, do instead is to use his political acumen, intelligence, cool and calm demeanor, and his command of words (in short his “magic”) to make these objectives appear acceptable, “reasonable,” “natural,” and un-threatening — even “moral” — to those who do not belong to the tiny class of transnational super-rich elites and their servants. Obama will use his magic to make us believe that the needs and interests of this tiny minority represent those of humanity, something that Bush could not even begin to put into words.
Moreover, unlike Bush who was a ruthless and tactless aggressor, Obama will be more like a shrewd general who knows when to act like a wise statesman and when to wage war. He will resort to intimidation, bullying, and eventually war, only when all else fails. He will speak softly, make tactical retreats now and then, and would be willing to give concessions here and there in order to secure the interests and domination of the global free enterprise system that the U.S. has been leading for a long time.
As far as the Middle East is concerned, especially the Persian Gulf region, America’s strategic objectives will remain what they have been for the last three decades, that is to say, to destroy post-revolutionary Iran, and achieve full supremacy in the region. As Chomsky once argued, Iran’s sin is that it not only refuses to take orders from Washington, but worse, it dares to challenge U.S. hegemonic domination in the Middle East. This sort of behavior is completely unacceptable and unforgivable in the eyes of the architects of U.S. foreign policy. America must be obeyed, and those who refuse must either be broken (e.g., the case of Saddam) or be bought (e.g., the case of Gaddafi). Iran is the only country in the region that is sabotaging, and standing in the way of, the U.S. strategy of attaining absolute and full control in the Middle East. (Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas’ opposition to the U.S. would collapse rapidly if post-revolutionary Iran were neutralized.)
Bush’s policy of breaking Iran (“regime change”) did not succeed. His bullying tactics failed to intimidate Iran into submission. Given that American power in the Middle East has been weakened in recent years, and that it is still trapped in Iraq and is sinking deeper in the quagmire of Afghanistan, Obama would be willing to grant some concessions to Iran. However, this would only come about if Iran would be willing to accept the unquestionable supremacy of the U.S. in the region.
Obama will definitely try a conciliatory tone in his approach, at least for a while. Like a shrewd general who would first try to lure and trick his smaller opponent into giving up before he resorts to intimidating and bombing, Obama will soon start the diplomatic game of luring and tricking Iran into accepting the U.S. terms for a détente. He will hope that this would be an easy game to play and Iran would be cheap to buy. If all fails, without a doubt, Obama would be willing to hit Iran. The frightening thing here is that he would encounter much less resistance than Bush would have faced had he attacked Iran. The euphoria around Obama has deluded most people into believing that since he is a fair-minded and reasonable person, he can do no wrong; and if he decides to bomb Iran, it must be the case that there are no other options.
Now, in light of these, what should be the response of Iran to the challenge posed by Obama’s election? In the last few years, Iran has played its cards at the diplomatic table extremely well. I would argue that Iran must stick to its game plan. Iran should not revise its strategic goals; nor should it scale them down. In particular, it should not retreat, not even a millimeter, on the issue of the nuclear energy.
In response to the cosmetic change in Washington, Tehran must come up with its own version of a cosmetic change. Iran should start speaking in a softer tone of voice. It also needs to cut down on needless and wild rhetoric and appear more reasonable than it has in the past. Moreover, it should try harder to master the political art of spinning and learn how to play the game of public relations which the American political class is an expert at. Iran must become flexible enough to retreat here and there, make tactical concessions from time to time, but never retreat or concede on its strategic interests.
Iran does not need the United States, albeit a détente will be beneficial to Iran. Provided that Iran can continue to deter military aggressions against itself, as it has done successfully so far, the status quo in the Middle East is worth maintaining. The status quo allows Iran to pursue its strategic objectives. Stated alternatively, it does not curtail Iran’s ability to maintain its political independence and its superpower status in the region. True, sanctions do hurt Iran in the short run. However, in the long run, they force the country to grow more self-reliant. They also force Iran, as they have already done, to develop its own homegrown technological and industrial capabilities and infrastructure.
The question of responding to Obama aside, what worries me the most is the latest shift in Israeli politics. As indicated by the results of the latest elections, the prevailing political sentiments in the country have shifted from center-right to far-right. Having suffered two military defeats at the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas (defeat in the sense that it could not achieve its military objectives — Israel’s first set of defeats ever), and facing worldwide condemnation and growing resentment against its war crimes, Israel finds itself in a bind and seems increasingly nervous. The level of anxiety rises, almost on a daily basis, as the population of Israel and its political class witness Iran’s advances in nuclear and aerospace technologies. The Israeli leadership fears that its so-called “technological edge” in the region might evaporate into thin air in a matter of 4-6 years. This is extremely troubling and completely unacceptable to the Zionist megalomaniacs who run the warfare state of Israel.
As things stand, the state of Israel is doomed; it has reached the end of its rope. Jewish immigration to Israel has declined drastically since the 33-day war with Hezbollah two years ago. The war exposed the fragility of security and the dangers of living in Israel. As Iran tests more powerful rockets and builds up its missile stockpiles, living in Israel is beginning to look even more dangerous. The next big thing that will hit Israel will not be Iranian ballistic missiles, but the flight of capital and talent out of Israel as the direct consequence of the fear that Iran has the capability to hit Israel, and hit it hard. Moreover, the Palestinian population in the occupied territories is increasing rapidly, and in a matter of a decade or so, Palestinians will outnumber Jews in Israel. As Israel’s intransigence and cruelty toward Palestinians increases, and as fanatical Jewish settlers become more racist and violent, Palestinians lose their faith in the so-called “two state solution.”
The state of Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place. To save itself from its predicament, it has two choices. It either has to dismantle the existing apartheid system in the country, kick the Jewish settlers out of the occupied territories, and return the land to Palestinians, i.e., in short, make a serious effort to seek peace, which seems very unlikely; or start a new major war — of course with Iran — and use the opportunity to ethnically cleanse Palestinians in the occupied territories (with a combination of indiscriminate bombing and expulsions) and deal a fatal blow to Hezbollah (by bombing southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut back to the stone age). Given that by its very nature, Israel is a warfare state, the second option seems to be the more likely scenario.
My fear is that some of the Zionist lunatics in the state of Israel have already decided on taking a pre-emptive strike against Iran and have begun to press the Obama administration for support and help. Washington might be able to keep Israel on a tight leash for a while, but the mad and bloodthirsty dog might tear the leash, or with the force of its fury, drag the master along into a war with Iran.
These are dangerous times for Iran, and the best thing Iran can do is to strengthen its air defenses, expand its deterrent capabilities, and aggressively push ahead with its nuclear and missile technology programs. Iran must prepare for the worst, and yet hope that the Obama administration will make a serious attempt, or be able, to reign in Israeli warmongers and force them to pursue peace. Although the latter is highly desirable, Iran should not bank on it.
Finally, next to facing Obama’s challenge and dealing with Israel’s threat, the most pressing problems for Iran to address at this critical conjuncture are the Iranian economy and the alienation of its urban youth. In order to secure its survival and well-being, Iran needs to achieve two very important objectives, and do so very quickly. The first is to get the Iranian economy going. The second is to find a way to win the hearts and minds of its educated urban youth. Removing restrictions on social freedoms and addressing the problems with its fledgling and dysfunctional democracy will definitely help, but will not be enough.
These two objectives can be combined through developing imaginative and pioneering public and economic policies. Iran must come up with innovative and creative ways to put the energies and talents of its youth to good use. It must find a way to motivate them to devote their skills and talents to serving the interests of the country. As things are now, their energies and talents are being wasted in living unproductive and uninspiring lifestyles that preoccupy themselves with espousing and imitating the worst aspects of western culture that satellites beam down to them on a daily basis. The next 4-6 years will be crucial years for the future of Iran and should not be wasted.
Behzad Majdian blogs at <iranian.com/main/member/behzad-majdian>. This article first appeared in Iranian.com on 28 February 2009; it is reproduced here for educational purposes.