U.S. President Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East last Thursday is an important political document. In it, Obama presents a doctrine of political change which is based on non-violent civil struggle for civil rights and self-determination. He believes in the strength and ability of the masses to impose change on leaders, who are keen to preserve the status quo and are reluctant to relinquish their power.
The role of the United States is to serve as a model to them, to encourage them and to support democratic movements replacing despotic tyranny, but the responsibility for change lies with the nations. If they take to the streets and demand what is theirs, they will defeat tyranny.
Obama appears in his speech to be a radical who has come to challenge the old, entrenched and unjust order. He is the theoretician of the Arab revolution of the masses, like Karl Marx who developed his doctrine in light of the 1848 revolutions in Europe's "Spring of Nations." Marx preached a class war and Obama is calling for a struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors.
Obama's historic approach sanctifies the struggle of the individuals who dared stand up to tyranny. In his narrative, that is how the United States was established, during a tax rebellion against a British king. That is how Rosa Parks became a flashpoint in the struggle for civil equality in the U.S., when she refused to give up her seat on a bus.
These are Obama's heroes: "There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years."
Now he hopes that the American example, of the nation that was "founded through a rebellion against an empire," which experienced a civil war in order to grant liberty and dignity to slaves, and which created a civil rights movement without which "I would not be standing here today," will be copied in the Middle East.
Obama rejects the two already tried alternatives to encourage political change: war imposed from the outside, or dialogue with the leaders. George W. Bush believed in the invasion and the removal of regimes by force, and the results have been terrible. America was dragged into expensive and drawn out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Obama is trying to end, and that model has not been copied.
In Libya, Obama was dragged into a conflict only after the local rebels risked themselves and stood up against Muammar Gadhafi, and is conducting it with little enthusiasm.
Similarly, there is no point in dialogue with leaders who enjoy preserving their power and will not give up on it just because Obama asked.
Following the Cairo speech, Obama was charged with indifference to the continuous violations of human rights in the region. He was not moved, and became involved only when the masses in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets.
He has a point. Assume that he would waste his time in futile discussions with Hosni Mubarak over reforms, as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had. What would that gain? The symbolic release of a few dissidents? It's not like Mubarak would have listened to Obama, discovered the wonders of democracy and handed over power to the youth in the square. Even now, Obama prefers to criticize and give advice from a distance, and is laying the cost of change on the oppressed masses.
Obama is disappointed in the region's leaders, from the Arab states and Israel, who prefer to preserve the status quo, bound to the past and turning their backs to the opportunities inherent in change. His disappointment also stems from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The leaders ignored his efforts to revive the negotiations and undermined him - Benjamin Netanyahu in his refusal to budge and Mahmoud Abbas by turning to the United Nations.
Therefore, his speech should be interpreted as a call to the Palestinians to take to the streets and bring down the occupation, which Obama considers immoral no less than the tyranny in Arab states. He offered Netanyahu and Abbas a way out, if they return to negotiations on the basis of the framework he dictated. But the chance that this will happen is near zero.
If the Palestinians want to achieve self determination and civil rights, they must behave like Tunisians and Egyptians - embark on a mass, non-violent struggle, a popular revolution. They must trust that America will back them and will prevent Israelis from shooting them in the streets.
This is the practical translation of Obama's doctrine, the revolutionary heir of Marx, Trotsky, and Che Guevara.
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