Revolution #169, June 28, 2009

Obama in Cairo:

A Speech of Lies to Enforce a SYSTEM of Oppression

Part 2

The following is the second excerpt from an article, which is being serialized in Revolution, on Barack Obama’s June 5 speech at Cairo University in Egypt. The first excerpt, appearing in issue #168, included the sections “The Muslim World” and “Crude Stereotype or Dead-On Characterization?” The full article is available online at Obama_speech-en.html.

Defending—and Extending—American Wars

Obama then moves on to defend U.S. aggression in all its forms.  He begins by invoking the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to justify U.S. aggression in the region. 

To be clear, the 9/11 attacks were utterly wrong and should in no way be defended or justified, and al Qaeda itself is a reactionary force in the world whose influence must be combated.  But invoking these attacks can neither wipe away the far more heinous crimes carried out by the U.S. leading up to them, nor does it justify the murder now of far, far greater numbers of people by the U.S. military.  Yet Obama can invoke nothing but the specter of 9/11 to justify the military aggression taking place across the region.

Obama goes on to say that while the war against Iraq was a "war of choice"—in fact, it was an illegal and criminal war, a crime against humanity according to international law—the Iraqi people are "ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein."  In short, far from apologizing for the war, he justifies it.  Let us pause for a minute to reflect on the fact that over one million people have died as a result of the two U.S. wars against Iraq and the imposition of "sanctions" that deprived Iraqis of clean drinking water, needed medical supplies and facilities, etc. over the course of more than ten years.  Let us pause for a minute to reflect on the war between Iraq and Iran during the 1980s, in which the U.S. encouraged both sides, in an effort to get each to bleed the other—a war which resulted in an estimated one million deaths.  Let us pause to think about the over four million Iraqis displaced by the current war; the countless women and girls driven into prostitution; the terrible, almost unfathomable toll in ruined and shattered lives.  Now a new form of rule, no less subservient to the U.S. and no less exploitative and oppressive than Hussein’s, is being hammered into place.  To blandly intone that the Iraqis are "better off" is obscene.

Obama also gives what the Wall Street Journal called a "robust defense of the war in Afghanistan."  The Journal particularly welcomed Obama’s promise that "America’s commitment will not weaken."  As we have covered in this paper, this war is bound up both with "maintaining respect" for U.S. military power in the world—power which is essential to backing up its plunder and exploitation—and, in the case of Afghanistan, is also connected to very critical geopolitical and economic interests (see "The U.S. in Afghanistan: A War for Empire – Not a 'Good War' Gone Bad, Part 1," "The U.S. in Afghanistan: A War for Empire—Not a “Good War” Gone Bad, Part 2: Seizing on September 11 to Launch an Imperial War" and "Pipeline of Greed: U.S. Imperialism and the 'Great Game' for Caspian Oil," as well as other articles analyzing U.S. imperialist interests in Afghanistan at  And, as we have also documented, it is a war in which the U.S. way of fighting of necessity involves terrible suffering and death among the people.

Justifying Israeli Domination

Obama next proceeds to what he calls "the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world."  Obama makes sure that everyone first understands that "America’s strong bonds with Israel" are "unbreakable."  He then invokes the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews in World War 2 in order to lend legitimacy to Israel.

Obama casts this as "a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive."  He calls on people to not "see this conflict only from one side or the other."  Instead, "both sides" must "live up to [their] responsibilities under the Road Map"—that is, the plan developed by George W. Bush for "peace" between Israel and the Palestinian people (essentially a plan for surrender by the Palestinians).

No.  The oppression of the Jews by European rulers—oppression which lasted centuries and which reached a culmination in the Nazi holocaust—terrible though it was, cannot through some alchemical magic make legitimate the attempt by some European Jews to then dispossess and oppress a whole other people.

And no, this is not a "stalemate" between two equally aggrieved peoples.  On one side is Israel, a settler state originated by the Zionist movement which arose in Europe among European Jews, and which was supported, bankrolled and finally backed up with force by a variety of imperialist powers, most notably the United States.  That movement carried out a vicious colonial war, replete with massacres and the razing of hundreds of villages.  The state which grew out of that war not only killed thousands and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people through the war itself, but has ever since carried out ruthless oppression against them.   Most recently, this was evident in the ruthless and criminal Israeli attack on Gaza—one which featured, again, the murder of whole families and, in a new and truly grotesque twist, the forcing of children to stay in houses with their murdered mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, starving and traumatized, lest they be murdered as "possible terrorists." (See, for example, "Shelled family recounts Gaza horror," Al Jazeera, (1/12/09) available at YouTube.  This is not a matter of how one "chooses" to "see the conflict"—it is a matter of what is true, and what is false. 

Over and over again, Obama demonstrates his mastery of the art of euphemism.  This is clear for instance in what bourgeois commentators have agreed was Obama’s "great concession" in the speech: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.  This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.  It is time for these settlements to stop." 

No again.  These settlements—ALL of them, not just the future settlements which Obama says should stop—are war crimes, expressly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.  And they are war crimes on top of war crimes in the real sense that the whole founding of Israel was totally unjust and criminal, as outlined above.

Obama also calls on all parties to adhere to the "Road Map"—the U.S. plan to end the "conflict" by setting up a fragmented network of territories occupied and administered by Palestinians, but militarily, politically and economically dominated by Israel—he insists that "Palestinians must abandon violence."  But this call to end violence is applied only to Palestinians and not to the Israelis, even though Israel carries out violence on an almost infinitely greater scale. 

To say this to the Palestinians is outrageous.  It is as if someone came into your house, and killed much of your family, and chained up you and the few surviving fellow family members in the basement for years as they moved their family in, and retaliated for the mildest peep of protest with even more violence, murder and abuse; and then when you try to break out of the basement, you are told by the robber’s older brother that you are being too violent in your protest and resistance.

Pimping off of—and Viciously Distorting—the History of Black People in the U.S.

This part of Obama’s speech contains one of the most astounding lies of the whole speech (though there are many contenders for that title).  Insisting that the Palestinians must renounce violence, he says the following: "For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation.  But it was not violence that won full and equal rights.  It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding."

To this, there can be but one reply: Are you fucking kidding?!?

First of all, Black people today do not have "full and equal rights."  As we document and analyze in our statement The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need, the oppression of Black people is not a thing of the past but a pillar of the system of today, with inequality and oppression pervasive in the spheres of employment, education, housing, imprisonment, and health, as well as in the sphere of culture and ideology more generally.  Nowhere is this inequality and oppression more glaringly manifest than in the pervasive police brutality and outright police murder directed against Black youth—with the most recent well-known outrage being the murder of Oscar Grant, Jr. on January 1 this year—shot point-blank in the back as he lay restrained on the ground.  Obama has not seen fit to even mention this murder; in fact rarely if ever does he mention murders of this kind other than to justify them, as he did in the case of Sean Bell, when Obama very vocally instructed people to "respect" the not guilty verdict rendered on the cops who killed the unarmed Bell.

It is also true that outright chattel slavery no longer legally exists in the U.S. and that many legal rights have been won over the past 50 years.  But these were hardly won by renouncing resistance, resistance which in many cases included revolutionary violence in the face of counter-revolutionary violence.

Let’s start with slavery.  First, there are the over 200 slave rebellions in American history.  Nat Turner, for one, was very determined but you couldn’t really call him peaceful.  Or take Frederick Douglass.  Douglass, like much of the movement to abolish slavery, adhered at first to non-violence.  But, as the force of white supremacy continued to ever more stubbornly assert itself, Douglass, along with much of the rest of the abolitionist movement, came to a different view.  With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Douglass wrote that  "Slave-holders..., tyrants and despots have no right to live.  The only way to make the fugitive slave law a dead letter is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers."  The following decade was marked by increasingly violent struggle, including a virtual civil war in what would become the state of Kansas and then John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal Harper’s Ferry, Va.—an attempt by Brown to start a widespread slave insurrection.  Brown was tried for treason and hung, though much of the abolitionist movement, including many great writers and intellectuals of the day, upheld him.

Which leads us to the Civil War.  Mr. Obama, was the Civil War not violent?  But was it not instrumental in ending slavery?  Playing a key role in this were Black soldiers in the Union Army, who died in twice the proportion of their white fellow soldiers.  Lincoln was very reluctant to allow Black enlistment and even after doing so at first prevented them from serving in combat battalions.  But Lincoln’s desire to win the war eventually forced him to allow Black soldiers to fight.  Even still, Lincoln stubbornly refused for a year and a half to grant Black soldiers equal pay, giving them only half the salary of the lowest ranks of white soldiers.  As one notable defender of Lincoln recently wrote, "Only after blacks threatened mutiny (and after several were hanged for protesting the unequal pay) did blacks in uniform get their due." ["Lincoln’s Black History," Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, June 11, 2009]

Nor does this bizarre version of history stand up to recent times.  There were literally hundreds of rebellions in the major cities of America during the 1960s, in which thousands and thousands of people went up against police forces, National Guard and even the regular troops of the U.S. Army.  By 1966, the non-violent strategy and orientation of Martin Luther King—which contrary to mythology were never universally taken up in the civil rights movement even in its earliest days—had been rendered irrelevant.  The concessions that did come in employment, education, and other arenas came fundamentally as a result of the heroic resistance and struggle put up in urban streets, and the threat of the embryonic revolutionary movement of the times growing into one that could actually contend for power.

For a number of reasons—and we urge readers to go to The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need for a fuller explanation—this struggle did not "go all the way."  Today, while there has been improvement in the situation for a small section of Black people, for many the situation is much worse.  Contrary to Professor Obama, the lesson that must be drawn from this epochal struggle, by Palestinians and everyone else, is NOT that the system works, or that any movement must adhere to non-violence  but that resistance is essential to not being ground down to what Marx called a "level mass of broken wretches," and this resistance must be waged as part of a movement for revolution if the masses are to actually achieve REAL emancipation.

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