‘Yes we can!’ was the rallying cry with which Barack Obama swept into power about a year ago. While it was not at all clear what it was that we could now do, the euphoria of getting rid of George W Bush and electing a black man President of the United States was enough to make people believe anything was possible. The sceptics were swept aside, accused of being mean spirited at a time of almost universal acclaim. And it wasn’t just in the US – from the Middle East to Latin America Obamamania was the order of the day. It might even be true that people in the US were more wary than most, although not always for the right reasons. The t-shirts went on sale almost everywhere and it all moved into a surreal phase when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for simply musing that it would be good if all countries got rid of their nuclear weapons. No plan. No programme. No time frame. Just the sentiment was enough for an optimism-starved world.
Make no mistake about it: Obama does sound good. Take foreign policy. Obama is very good at admitting past errors: ‘The US has not always been on the side of democracy in Latin America,’ he opined at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Trinidad last April. In June it was Egypt. ‘The US has not always been respectful of Islam and even-handed in their treatment of the rights of Muslim people’ was one of his admissions in a stirring speech at Cairo University. Fine words, although hardly startling revelations to anyone with even a passing knowledge of the two regions.
And it took just two dubious political players from the international Far-right to call Obama’s bluff and prove that it was, despite the fine words, business-as-usual for the American Empire. These two, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Roberto Micheletti (the public face of the Honduran military coup), proceeded pretty much as if their old buddy George was still in the White House. Micheletti pretended to negotiate with Manuel Zalaya, the legally elected President of Honduras, for his return to power but through a series of refusals and postponements always managed to avoid any substantive agreement. Zalaya remains stranded in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa as his term in office rapidly comes to an end.
Meanwhile Netanyahu also pretended to negotiate, reluctantly agreeing to a watered-down version of an already watered-down notion of a Palestinian state sometime in the distant future. Both politicians, while embracing ‘negotiation’, were busy creating what the Israelis like to call ‘facts on the ground’. In Israel’s case it was an ambitious expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. For Micheletti and Company ‘the facts on the ground’ amount to thousands of illegal detentions of opposition activists, spiced with the usual killings and disappearances and the silencing of any critical media. Hardly auspicious circumstances for upcoming ‘elections’.
The Obama Administration has become very good at clucking its disapproval. ‘It’s not helpful to expand settlements’, ‘you shouldn't really have military coups’. But as long as the protagonists involved pretend to ‘negotiate’, no significant pressure to act differently is applied. The odd diplomatic snub. A few cancelled visas. Minor threats to cut aid programmes.
There are those who say the problem is the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the other old hands from the Clinton dispensation with whom Obama has surrounded himself. Clinton was, after all, quick off the mark to say the US would respect the military-administered elections whatever the fate of the rightful President of Honduras. But it was Obama who chose this set of Beltway insiders. So the idea of ‘let Barack be Barack’ is a bit hard to swallow. It looks increasingly like Obama fits in the long line of US ‘progressives’ so busy looking over their shoulders at the baying acolytes of the Fox News network that they lose their sense of direction – purpose, even. Poll standings become everything.
But ‘no we can’t’ is a heavy price to pay for the Palestinians and Hondurans. Crisis looms. From Ramala the Palestinian Authority looks increasingly pointless, even to its own President Abbas, and legal President Zalaya looks set for a long stay in his perch of exile – the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. As the tide of Obamamania starts to ebb what is left on the shore looks very much like – same old, same old.
Related article: Human Rights Abuses in Honduras