Not even Obama should have that much power

By Farish A. Noor

Now that the level of euphoria over the victory of Barack Obama has settled somewhat, it would pay to consider some of the ramifications of his recent victory as the latest occupant of the White House and by extension the most powerful man in the world.

In the lead-up to Obama’s victory, much was said and written about the man’s promise and hope of a new America; an America that would be proud of itself, confident in the world and able to address the challenges of today. There was much talk about the restoration of American pride and prestige and to regain the moral credibility that was squandered away after two terms of Bush junior in office.

But before the dust had settled and the last piece of confetti touched the earth, there were already disturbing revelations about the man and what he might or might not do as the President of the United States. Obama’s appointment of Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff did not bode well with many who know of Emanuel’s strong ties with Israel and the pro-Zionist lobby in the USA. It is also well known that Emanuel’s father, Benjamin Emanuel, was a member of the Irjun gang in the 1940s and in an interview with the press had bluntly stated that his son would try his best to ensure that American foreign policy under Obama would be pro-Israel and seek to secure the safety and security of Israel at all costs.

Perhaps those who were supportive of Obama were themselves glued to the TV screens and mesmerised by the image that he had created for himself, as the embodiment of hope and a new future for America and the world. But there precisely lies the problem: that living as we do in this unequal unipolar world where the power relations between the developed North and the developing South are so stark, the future of the United States as the sole hegemon in the world today is intimately linked to the future of the developing world as well. If America coughs, the whole world is affected, but never vice-versa.

We should not forget that the historical forces that have led to Obama’s victory are the very same forces that have created the military-industrial complex of the neo-imperialist America we see today. Obama’s victory in the US Presidential elections was seen and cast by many (particularly non-American outside observers) as a sea-change in American politics, a radical shift that has interrupted the continuity of American political discourse and culture.

While it cannot be denied that the election of an African-American has its sterling points as far as race-relations in the US are concerned, we should not again fall into the trap of internalising and taking on board what are really the problems and historical baggage of America as our own. If Black African-Americans have an axe to grind, it is with the same white middle-classed establishment that put them in their place, but not with the rest of the world. Latin America, Asia and Africa were not responsible for the 400 years of American slavery or racial politics, and for us to rejoice at this victory would be to live vicariously through the lives of others.

Asia’s own relationship with the US, on the other hand, has changed little since the days of American expansionism into Asia following the end of World War Two and the collapse of the Western European empires in the East. It was the US that propped up a host of pro-Western dictators all across Asia at the height of the Cold War; and it was thanks to successive American governments that Asian dictators like Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto and the Colonels’ regime in Thailand lasted so long.

Furthermore contemporary American history would indicate clearly that despite the superficial ideological differences between the Democrats and Republicans in the US, successive US Presidents from Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Reagan to Bush have pursued American interests first and foremost, promoting and defending exploitative capitalist tendencies across Asia and the rest of the world at the expense of human rights and real, meaningful democracy. Jimmy Carter went to town with talk of human rights and his use of democracy as a bargaining chip in the dirty game of political conditionality, but it was the same Jimmy Carter who did little to curb the excesses of the dictatorships in the Philippines and Indonesia, as the latter were firmly pro-Western and pro-American in their orientation.

So for Mr Obama to make that grand leap to overturn the decades of uneven and unequal relations between the USA and Asia would require more than pretty words and sweet discourse. No, Mr Obama, we don’t need another lecture on human rights and democracy from you, and you don’t even have to wear the Batik shirt like Nelson Mandela. What we need from Obama and America at the present is the recognition of America’s place and status as a fair partner and equal player in the game of international relations, without the US reverting back to type and strutting around Asia with a big stick in hand and a carrot in the pocket.

Can Obama, or anyone for that matter, really undo and reverse the development of the military-industrial complex that has developed into this unwieldy juggernaut with a life of its own? Can any American President really curb the excesses of American multinationals as they devour the last remaining resources of the world, as in the case of US oil and gas companies currently sucking up the last mineral resources in sub-Saharan Africa or mining in the state of Bihar, India? Can one man overturn all this, without at the same time democratising his own society and educating the people of America about their role in the world and the human cost they are inflicting on the rest of humanity and the environment?

Unless and until these measures are really taken in earnest, our worry is that Obama’s victory is simply a case of a repetition of the same and a return to the hegemonic order of old. Every single American President has talked about regaining the pride of America and its place in the world. That pride, however, has come at the expense of the humiliation of other nations and societies, and America stands tall in the world only because it has cut other nations down in size. A fresh-faced Obama speaking the language of human rights may be refreshing indeed after eight years of Bush and his neo-Fascist discourse, but the wind of change wont be blowing until we see the tanks and warplanes of America retreating back to the shores of the USA…

  1. #1 by All For The Road on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 8:35 am

    The people of America had spoken in voting Barack Obama to be their next President. He will officially take office as President of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth on 20 January, 2009.

    Most Americans expect much from him to take the country to greater heights and make positive changes for the betterment of its people and possibly, the world. We wish President-elect Obamat the best of luck in his governance and endeavours.

  2. #2 by trublumsian on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 9:32 am

    Farish Noor surely you’re not an 800W electric burner – fast to warm, faster to cool. you hail the novelty of a black american winning the presidency but u didn’t let the last confetti to fall to heap doubt. so emanuel exudes more “jewishness” than others but doesn’t obama himself spell defiance for a group that is known to be the oppressed? and, protecting the interest of the country is the president’s no. 1 obligation. being nice to others can be an important 2nd. 2nd nevertheless. obama has long insisted invading iraq was a mistake. he still wants to bring the troops home in 16 months, but he is clever enough to know any withdrawal will have to be done without worsening the situation. yanking a pierced arrow from the torso is the last thing one should do.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 10:22 am

    Well, Iran was faster to get cool on Obama before Dr. Noor. Some people just don’t get it how unrealistic some of their ideas are. BUT put it another way, the ideal that Dr. Noor talked about here, many was in Ron Paul’s republican nomination bid. At least the hope of a Dr. Noor’s ideal is possible with US as a leader, the complainants on the other hand are hopeless complainers and fall far far short even with their ideas…

  4. #4 by shortie kiasu on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 10:57 am

    Yes the American had changed and spoken, but others should not go overboard in adulation, that is dangerous.

    As said the proof of pudding is in the eating.

    Obama is just another of the brilliant presidents of the USA. The history will judge him in his performance as the chief executive of the most powerful and the richest nation in the world.

    He alone, like past USA president, cannot perform, he needs the best team he can muster in order for him to do the best he could. He also needs the support of both Houses of Congress and the Senate to see him through.

    So every body should be back on earth now and face the reality, the real test has yet to begin.

  5. #5 by Loh on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 11:27 am

    USA has been doing what they are doing because they can. At least the country treat their own people more fairly than what other countries do, and that is why African-American can become President.

    American is home to immigrants, and their system of government, with whatever flaws that remain attract talents around the world. Obama shows that migrants of short history, or rather descendent of migrants of short history are free from hindrance to pursue American dreams. Americans might be using the ideals of human rights and democracy as a pretext to pursue its own selfish national objectives, but it also demonstrates that these are the core value of the society which makes Americans strong.

    America is blessed with natural resources, but what added the wing to the tiger are human resources provided to it from around the world. Might is right cannot be promoted without justice taken into consideration. But we know the environment around us where might derived from number is used to the extreme, and we are contributing to the strength of USA in human resources that we supplied through more the push than the pull factor.

    Even Mencius of 2000 years past advised of the merit of developing a state through migration, and those days, there were no emphasis of trained personnel. As knowledge-based economy has become ever more important it becomes good practice to encouraged intake of trained and educated manpower. But Malaysia has been promoting emigration of talents because of its discriminatory policies since the advent of NEP. The cost of alleviating the sense of jealousy said to be the motivating factor of social unrest is mind boggling.

    The powers-that-be in bolehland are still very concerned about how to stay powerful than to be bothered about the disproportionate influence USA has over the world, in comparison to its population. If all other countries choose to remain week, there is no way USA would not use its might to its advantage. To counter USA influence, the countries around the world should first put their society in order. For Malaysia, it should follow the basic principle to treat all its citizens equal and provide them fair opportunities to excel without restriction because of race or religion. The week and those needing helps did not come to this world on request. They should be provided assistance to live their lives, and they should be made to work for their bonuses.

  6. #6 by draken001 on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 12:43 pm

    If I remember correctly, the writer was all positive about the historic victory of Obama not too long ago. Now, so soon, he is having some negative vibes about this African-American who will take office in the White House to become the most powerful man in the world. Is it because of the the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as the Chief of Staff and the Jewish connection that has got his goat? Would it be prudent to give it more time to see how things go before one jumps the gun and shoot at shadows?

    By any reckoning, you can blow hot and cold in your writing, but it’s surprising that one can change his tune at the drop of a coin especially when the show has not really started yet. A movie reviewer needs to watch the show first before passing judgment.
    Oh well, we will have to wait and see.

  7. #7 by k1980 on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 2:14 pm

    Hang on, old boy. obama may yet appoint osamaladen as his Secretary of State, and mullah omar as the Secretary of Defense. Then Israel will really,really tremble…

  8. #8 by draken001 on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 4:58 pm

    sorry, looks like Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner to be Secretary of State. This is not a joke.

  9. #9 by rubini on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 6:01 pm

    Fraish Noor, u are quite wrong to say really curb the excesses of American multinationals as they devour the last remaining resources of the world, as in the case of US oil and gas companies currently sucking up the last mineral resources in sub-Saharan Africa or mining in the state of Bihar, India?
    The individual states do that to themselves out pure greed & corruption, the same as in Malaysia. One man may not change the world as it is but one man can surely influence the change needed. Petroleum in Malaysia is state owned, but does not Petronas invite foreign companies drill oil in Malaysia. The world looks upon America, Americans look upon themselves & not the world. That is mistake of rest of the world overtly depending on Americans to defend them. FromWW2, Korean,Iraq,Afganistan, americans died for the rest of the world but do we learn anything from that?????

  10. #10 by ctc537 on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 7:43 pm

    The Americans constitute less than 5% of the world’s population but consume more than a quarter of the world’s natural resources. It is also the leading technological nation.
    Obama is just another US President, like Bush 43, Bill Clinton and Bush 41 before him. It is naive for people in Africa, the Islamic world and even Asia to harbour the hope that America will care for the well-being of the world simply because Obama is Black, not White. Even in America itself, some Black do not consider Obama as their first Black American President. Many Blacks think that the first Black American President should be Bill Clinton, since he has done so much to improve the well-being of African Americans.
    So, can Obama do more for African Americans than Bill Clinton did as President? Anyway, race is not an important factor in American politics like what it is in our country. Remember, America is 232 years old now but Malaysia is only 51.

  11. #11 by One4All4One on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 10:49 pm

    Let’s not get carried away by our own fantasies, unfounded fears and bravado, and pseudo-philosophy, so-called intellect, or race-based parochial ideologies.

    We really, really have to look into ourselves first before we heap adulation or criticism on others. We have to ascertain our motives and reasons to do so. Else we would be making a mockery of ourselves and could be looked at with disdain or even be considered as being hypocrites or bigots.

    We are quick to praise and adulate when things are in our favour or in line with our ideas, hopes, grain of thoughts, likings, practices, background, beliefs, or, to some people, when a similar skin colour is in view.

    On the contrary, when things are not in one’s favour or in line with his/her wishes and those mentioned above, we criticise and hurl unthinkable and unacceptable curses and idiotic nonsense.

    Such is the state of people among us.

    In this day and time when one is suppose to be learned, enlightened, exposed to up-to-date and balanced information and knowledge, there remain many, many people who are stuck in the dark ages as far as their mentality and demeanour are concerned.

    What can you expect when you are still judged by your skin colour, your ethnicity, your gender, your religious beliefs, your social background, your origins and ideologies?

    What can you do when the social and political systems are race-based, hijacked, perpetrated and perpetuated by opportunists and bigots, “overlords” and “little napoleons”, who would not bat an eyelid to manipulate and commit crimes and offences to further their agendas and parochial interests?

    The victims would invariably be the simple folks ( not matter who they are ) who work hard and toil till their last days to raise their families and to put simple foods on their tables?

    The rich are getting richer not because they worked harder or are smarter. Just that they know who, what and where to squeeze and milk unashamedly that they get their riches.

    Such is the world we live in. We did not inherit it. It is manipulated by some and their cronies who are opportunistic and wicked enough to lay claim to all and sundry.

    Something must be done to correct such unacceptable and unthinkable situations.

    Unless and until a meritocratic, democratic, fair and equitable and a universalistic and intellectual approach is installed and taken, there would be no end to the failings and mockery.

    Honesty, sincerity, sensibility, morality, accountability, integrity, impartiality, creditability, and all such virtues have to be emphasised continuously in our schools and homes and work places to inculcate truthfulness and fairness in all of us.

    I rest my case.

  12. #12 by riversandlakes on Friday, 21 November 2008 - 11:59 pm

    Uncle Lim, what is this malapropos article doing on your blog?

    Like millions all over the globe, I am a BIGG fan of Obama’s. I don’t know who Mr. Farish is but Obama is a historical event of our times. Do feel free to stop at any time from adding YOUR wishes to the Obama administration. It’s overflowing already.

    He is to become the leader of the free world. It has its own perils. USA still is the leader in this part of the world and elsewhere. Can any other country honestly claim to be able to step into those shoes? Whose attention is North Korea’s Kim craving for with his endless rogue nuclear sabre-rattling?

    Perhaps Mr. Farish is anti-Semitic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being pro-Zionist. Israel still remains by far the most solid ally the USA has in the turbulent Middle East. What would you have the Jews do? Let themselves be eradicated by the Arabs? Why do you so conveniently forget about the Camp David Accords?

    On Rahm as Obama’s Chief of Staff, “did not bode well with many” is considered weasel words. It does not reflect well on your article nor your personal integrity as such.

    Asia’s “export-driven” economies (all of them?) are so dependent on the Western markets. Can you truly blame Uncle Sam for these dictators? Quality government depends on quality people. Democracy takes time to take hold on the people. The Malaysian voter takes over 50 years to realize its power. Yet still the old powers that be think political suppression is still the way.

    Get a real education, Mr. Farish.

  13. #13 by vsp on Saturday, 22 November 2008 - 6:28 am

    For argument sake, suppose if Mamak Mahathir were to become the most powerful person in the world, would you think that he will not turn out to be a Hilter-type of ruler?

    During his time as premier, there was talk about making Malaysia powerful, his attempt to quickly industrialized the country, to increase the population to 70 million people, the purchase of military hardware, the projection of Malaysia’s image throughout the third world to the effect that he was idolized by many third world’s rulers.

    One of the destabilizing effect of his policy was to sent Malaysian advisers to countries such as Fiji, Mynmar, Zimbabwe, etc to implant made-in-Malaysia apartheid policies. The result was devastating. Look at Fiji for example. Fiji mirrored the situation in Malaysia. The Indian there, the biggest contributor to the economy of Fiji, was so marginalized that the country now resemble a basket case in race relations. In Zimbabwe, the same deplorable result took place. Mynmar? so sad…

    My point here is that whoever took over the position of the most powerful country in the world would not hesitate to look after its interest first. It’s a matter of degree of how benevolent or malevolent you want to be.

  14. #14 by monsterball on Saturday, 22 November 2008 - 11:01 am

    Why are some smart ass keep talking and teaching Obama what to do and what not to do…with no shame at all.
    Why are our so call experts …keep focusing on Barrack Obama…when we don’t seem to have a simple solutions for our own backyard problems.
    USA is trully a 100% democratic country and Malaysia is a Dictatorial country.
    How can one being dictated…have so much time to talk about others….unless the writer accepts UMNO government and is a racialist hypocrite himself…..a good student of Mahathir?
    His has made his point…and my point is..are you a busybody or practicing your political degree with no sense of proportions…or practical experiences??
    Back home..we are having a sick government….yet we want to talk about others..especially USA?
    Why not teach Malaysians what to do.

  15. #15 by k1980 on Saturday, 22 November 2008 - 12:00 pm

    In 1986, former Swedish PM Olaf Palme declared: “Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated.”

    So does the NEP, it cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated.

  16. #16 by One4All4One on Saturday, 22 November 2008 - 1:12 pm

    In our country there are faults which if uncorrected and unchanged and left to their own devices would not augur well for the next level of progress the nation desires.

    It is just as if one lives in ignorance and refusal to accept new realities vital and essential for the paradigm shift needed for the way forward.

    Religious belief being one.

    If one refuses to accept and reject outright new teachings and revelations without truly and sincerely learning and acknowledging them, one is doomed to the status of those who would be deemed to be ignorant and unbelievers who could cause themselves to fall back on even their very own religious practices.

    One cannot dissociate oneself from the Truth and Revelation of the day if one truly subscribes to the practices and beliefs of Religions and Revelations.

    But to limit and encroach upon the religious freedom of individuals is tantamount to restricting the exposure and denying the learning of God’s Religions. The restriction imposed unilaterally is more of a socio-political instrument rather than a strictly religious demand.

    Barack Obama has the privilege of the religious freedom which are enjoyed by a segment of our people. That makes him different.

    God gave man the freedom, ability, faculty and right to learn and accept His Teachings. Without the freedom to do so would have inhibited the ability to discern and cohabit with all our fellow brethren.

  17. #17 by rotiplata on Sunday, 23 November 2008 - 2:55 pm

    let vote for our brilliant mr. lim kit siang as our next next prime minister !

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