| Monday, June 08, 2009
| Change Lebanon can believe in
|George Bush's invasion of Iraq, which was supposed to touch off a democratic tide that would sweep across the Middle East, instead contributed to the election Hezbollah MPs in Lebaonon, a Hamas government in Gaza, and a growing extremism in Iran's government. Now, with Obama in office, the opposite may be beginning to take place. Writes the Guardian's Simon Tidsall reports:
Lebanon feels the Obama effect
... It would be fanciful to claim that Obama's bridge-building speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week, attractive though it was, crucially influenced Lebanese voters. But the calmer, unconfrontational tone adopted by Washington on Middle East issues since George Bush trudged home to Texas appears to have struck a chord in a country that was teetering on the brink of sectarian civil war one year ago.
Pre-election visits by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president, underscored the importance that Obama attached to the poll. Some resented these interventions as unwarranted interference. But many Lebanese, particularly the nearly 40% of the population that is Christian, seem to have approved of Washington's increased engagement; and to have heard its implicit message that a vote for Hezbollah and its allies would be a backwards step.
That refrain was underscored by exaggerated claims that Hezbollah and its Tehran backers, if further empowered, would turn Lebanon into a second Gaza. And if that was not enough, an eve-of-poll demarche by Boutros Sfeir, spiritual leader of the country's Maronite Christians, may have done the trick. He warned the country was in danger. It was clear from whom he believed the danger emanated.
By giving the nod to Saad Hariri and his 14 March bloc of Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian parties, which won 71 parliamentary seats against 57 for the opposition, Lebanon has provided Obama with his first significant regional policy success. The result is a setback for Iran, which has sought enhanced influence via Hezbollah. And it confirmed Lebanon's 2005 rejection of Syria as the master manipulator of its affairs, confounding suggestions that Damascus was inching back.
Meanwhile, the results in Lebaonon could have the effect of bringing on the isolation of ... well ... Israel:
In contrast, the rightwing Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu may view the vote with ambivalence. The prospect of the non-ideological Hariri as Lebanon's prime minister, a likely though not yet certain outcome, must be welcome in Tel Aviv. But this dash to moderation robs Israel's favourite contemporary narrative – the inexorable, region-wide advance of an existentially threatening, nuclear armed Iran – of some of its power to alarm.Meanwhile, in Europe, which has often exhibited a certain coolness toward the Israelis, stories like this one don't help:
Two Israeli officers have testified that troops in the West Bank beat, bound and blindfolded Palestinian civilians as young as 14. The damaging disclosures by two sergeants of the Kfir Brigade include descriptions of abuses they say they witnessed during a search-and-detain operation involving hundreds of troops in Hares village on 26 March. The testimonies have been seen by The Independent and are expected to add fuel to the controversy over recent remarks by Colonel Itai Virob, commander of Kfir Brigade, in which he said violence against detained Palestinians was justified in order to accomplish missions.
Both the soldiers, from the Harub battalion, highlighted the tight tying of the plastic hand restraints placed on detainees. "There are people who think you need to tighten the restraints all the way, until no drop of blood will pass from here to there," one soldier said. "It doesn't take much time until the hands turn blue. There were a lot of people that you know weren't feeling anything."
He said about 150 Palestinians, some as young as 14, were bound, blindfolded and detained at the village school during the operation, which lasted from 3am to 3pm. He was told it was aimed at preventing village youths throwing stones against nearby settler roads. It was clear many of the people detained had done nothing wrong, but they were held to gather intelligence, he said.
Hang on, does Dick Cheney work for the IDF???
Meanwhile, in yet another irony of international current affairs, it seems that a particular form of right wing extremism is making a comeback due to the economic crisis: fascism.
This is a significant moment – the fascists have come in from the cold
A few weeks ago I attended a think-tank lunch held to discuss whether the rise of the left was inevitable in the wake of the banking crisis. After some discussion, Dominic Grieve, the cerebral shadow Justice minister, intervened. "I don't worry about the hard left," he said. "It is the rise of the far right that scares me."
Labels: Europe, fascism, Israel, Lebanan, Middle East
|posted by JReid @ 9:26 PM
| Thursday, April 02, 2009
| The Obamas' European love-fest
|It's official, Europe loves the Obamas. Here's a run-down:
MO fever hits the U.K. ... but Michelle didn't curtsey, and she and the Queen got all touchy-feely...
Note: the Queen touched her first...
Barack gave Her Majesty an iPod, (she already has one) ... and Europe cares scads about Michelle's clothes! (Okay, her arms, too...)
One said: 'There was a bit of a bottleneck as all of the leaders filed out so the Queen started chatting to Michelle Obama. She appeared to look up at her and make a comment about how tall she was.
'As she did, she put her arm around Mrs Obama and rested her gloved hand on the small of her back.'
Almost simultaneously, Mrs Obama put her arm around the Queen's shoulders rather more firmly.
'The pair then looked at their feet and appeared to be discussing their shoes.
... No-one - including the ladies-in-waiting standing nearby - could believe their eyes. In 57 years, the Queen has never been seen to make that kind of gesture and it is certainly against all protocol to touch her. 'But she didn't seem to mind a bit and was smiling and joking throughout,' the eyewitness said.
Michelle and Barack go to the opera, with Michelle in her signature sleeveless. Michelle in her fave: J-Crew
President Obama and "the bros" formed the new "Frat Pack" (Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev)... though Barack didn't look into anybody's eyes and see their soul...
Is it just me, or do Chinese P.M. Hu and the Saudi prince look like the guys who sat near the cool kids table in junior high school?
Meanwhile, Obama and His Frumpiness, Gordon Brown, got down to business.
And while they are decidedly not anti-American, or anti-Obama (sorry wingers,) there are still lots of protests, though some of the protesters were civilized enough to make time for tea. Ah, the English!
Labels: Europe, G20 summit, President Barack Obama
|posted by JReid @ 9:21 AM
| Friday, July 25, 2008
| An American in Paris
|An editorial in the French newspaper Le Figaro declares "Mission accomplie"
for Barack Obama's European tour.
Barack Obama hangs with Sarko the American; part of his warm reception in Paris.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and French president Nicolas Sarkozy today called on their respective nations to strengthen trans-Atlantic ties, saying the security and environmental challenges confronting the world cannot be met without coordinated action.
The joint press conference was the latest stop on Obama's weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe.
The two men were warm in their praise for one another. Obama lauded Sarkozy's political instincts, noting that on a 2006 trip to the US, Sarkozy met with only two US senators: Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
"I would suggest that for the reporters in the room, if you want to know something about elections you should talk to the president of France," said Obama, who towered over Sarkozy. "He seems to have a good nose for how things play out."
Meanwhile, Sarkozy referred to "my dear Barack Obama," and said, "Barack Obama's adventure is an adventure that rings true in the hearts and mind of the French and of Europeans."
On the main topics of discussion, Sarkozy said the two were largely in accord.
"Barack Obama and I talked about many things -- Iran, peace in the Middle East -- and I want to say that there's a tremendous convergence of views," he said. "This was a fascinating discussion we had."
Obama and Sarkozy deftly parried attempts to draw them into uncomfortable political territory, and kept their lengthy remarks focused on French- and European-American relations and on common security and climate goals.
Politico reports that Obama is stirring "complex feelings" in France, which has a large nonwhite population:
The realty of the reaction to and resonance of Obama's visit may be much more complex, however. While many Europeans see Obama as a symbol of change in the United States, in France, where racial issues play a particularly divisive role in domestic politics, Obama has become a symbol of some French voters' hopes for their own country. “The French are looking in the mirror and reflecting on their own shortcomings when it comes to multiethnic and multiracial society,” said Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan, who is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “I think it’s safe to say that it would be almost unthinkable that a minority would be a leading contender for the presidency of France.”
France has a substantial population of nonwhite immigrants, largely from former colonies in North and West Africa, that has struggled to participate in French political life. A French group that studies diversity issues released a report in March showing that minorities occupied just 2,000 out of 520,000 city council seats across France. There is only one black member of Parliament from mainland France.
“I think that in Obama, the French see a minority figure who has succeeded in making it to the top,” Kupchan said.
After Obama secured the Democratic nomination, a French civil rights group, the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires, issued a statement decrying the absence of similar figures in French politics.
“What black candidate could stand for the French presidency with a chance of being elected that is equal to that of a white?” the statement asked.
On June 29, Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper, reprinted Obama’s entire March 18 speech on race under a headline that quoted a translation of the address: “Race is a subject that our country cannot allow itself to ignore.” Obama was referring to his own nation’s troubled racial past and present — but French readers could have taken a different suggestion from the headline.
Meanwhile, some controversy arises over the release of a prayer Obama tucked into the Western Wall in Jerusalem:
The rabbi of Jerusalem's Western Wall criticised an Israeli newspaper today after it published a private prayer written by Barack Obama and taken from the sacred site after he visited the city earlier this week.
It is a tradition for the millions of visitors to the Western Wall, one of the holiest locations in Judaism, to place inside the cracks in the stone written prayers or requests to God. The rabbi in charge of the wall collects the notes periodically and buries them on the Mount of Olives.
But Obama's prayer never got there, as a yeshiva student reportedly removed the note and gave it to the Ma'ariv Hebrew newspaper, which printed a photograph of the prayer today.
"Lord, protect my family and me," Obama wrote. "Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair.
"Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."
The decision to print Obama's divine entreaty – written on stationery from the King David hotel where he stayed – was condemned by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, supervisor of the wall.
Ma'ariv's move "damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves," the rabbi told Jerusalem's Army Radio.
"The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them."
With that, au revoir, Paris! Barack Obama has arrived in London.
Labels: 2008 election, Barack Obama, Barack's world tour, Europe, France, presidential candidates
|posted by JReid @ 5:40 PM
| Thursday, July 24, 2008
| Germany feels the love
Barack Obama addresses a crowd of
100,000 200,000 Germans
, many of whom were waving American flags and chanting "Obama! Obama" and "Yes we can!" Whoops and even ululation
went up when he mentioned that his father was from Kenya, and his address seemed very well received. Damn, the McCain folks, and the Bushies for that matter, have got to be boiling right about now. When was the last time an American besides Bill Clinton has pulled a warm crowd ANYWHERE in Europe? Sorry George and John...
From Deutsche Welle
In front of a crowd that Berlin police estimated to be as large as 100,000, Obama acknowledged differences between America and Europe, adding that "no doubt there will be differences in the future.
"But the burdens of global citizenship bind us together," he said, speaking under the central Berlin landmark of the Victory Column facing towards the Brandenburg Gate. Partnership among nations was not a choice but the only way to protect the security of Europe and the US, the Democratic Party presidential hopeful said.
Obama challenged a new generation of Americans and Europeans to tear down walls between estranged allies, races, and faiths in his soaring call for global unity.
"That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another," he said in reference to the Berlin Wall that divided the city from 1961 to 1989.
DW had previously reported on the Obama love fest
... Only around 13,000 Americans live in Berlin. So what is motivating Berliners and Germans in general to treat a Democratic presidential hopeful to such a royal welcome? He's not Bush
In comparison to US elections, German political campaigns are short, stolid and sober affairs that focus as much on party platforms as personalities. In the wake of World War II, many Germans view charismatic leadership with mistrust.
That, however, doesn't mean that ordinary Germans or the media are immune to the aura of a politician who knows how to work a crowd.
The current edition of Germany's most serious news weekly, Der Spiegel, features Obama on its cover with the only vaguely ironic headline "Germany Meets the Superstar" -- a play on the title of the German version of the TV show "American Idol."
And many German bloggers do seem to idolize the Illinois senator.
"For me he already is the American president," wrote one user of a Website about Obama's Berlin visit. "He may not be have been elected, but he's the president in people's hearts."
Jeez. The Guardian's Oliver Burkeman had some pre-speech thoughts:
And so John McCain's dastardly scheme to snatch the presidency from Barack Obama's grasp using complicated reverse psychology techniques enters its final stages. First, you will recall, the Arizona senator challenged his rival to embark on a foreign fact-finding mission. Obama did so, falling straight into McCain's trap by committing several terrible gaffes such as having a really successful trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. Then McCain may or may not have tried to seize the spotlight by using the conservative columnist Robert Novak to plant rumours that the Republican vice-presidential candidate would shortly be revealed -- which might have worked if Novak hadn't seized the spotlight himself by hitting a guy with his Corvette in downtown Washington. McCain also plotted to upstage Obama by giving a speech on an oil rig today, but that was cancelled due to storms that had been predicted for days. So, anyway, McCain's strategy is a little hard to follow, admittedly, but the upshot is that in Berlin shortly (7pm local time, 6pm London time, 1pm Washington time) Obama will speak in front of an adoring crowd predicted to number at least 100,000, generating adulatory media coverage in the US and abroad and burnishing his foreign-policy credentials -- exactly as McCain had planned all along. Join me here in half an hour or so for minute-by-minute coverage of Obama's inevitable humiliation.
Yes, but at least afterward he found a McCain guy:
And the McCainiacks have got to hate the headlines from Der Spiegel:
OBAMA LIVE TICKER
Achtung, baby! The Huffpo has some photos and a
transcript of the Obama speech.
Labels: 2008 election, America's image aborad, Barack goes abroad, Barack Obama, Europe, Germany, presidential candidates
|posted by JReid @ 2:24 PM