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(Thanks soadhead.com for the image)The hope of change in Obama’s foreign policy has rather spectacularly collapsed. In Cairo Obama appeared to articulate a radical shift in the nature of politics in the Middle East:

“I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.”

But on the anniversary of his first year as President a whole spate of articles appeared on how Obama has carried on the foreign policies of the Bush era. He has been labled by some as George W. Obama.This has been regrettably true. On Palestine Obama promised change:

And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

On Iran Obama promised change:

Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.  The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

This is to name but two. And these two statements did not live up to what his administration has delivered.

Well respected commentators have called on his Middle East Advisor to resign due the complete lack of purpose and clarity on the Middle East peace process. The recent announcement that the US will deploy a missile shield in the Gulf shows the continued belligerent policies towards Iran.

Foreign Policy often involves a lot of movement but, much like a fountain seen from a distance, remains remarkably constant. Why is this? How is it that Obama a man so remarkably different from Bush has been unable to change the foreign policy of the US? Is it simply the nature of power? Obama cannot really move in this region in the right direction without radically altering the whole region. Is this too much to bear?

But did we not expect too much? Yes, Obama did fed that beast of expectation to delirious levels. Would it have been different if  he focused solely on a couple of particular issues instead of trying to establish a global agenda? Is that the problem with our globalised age. That the greatest idol of the modern age had to give all things to all people at all times and ended not knowing where or how to start? Creating a vacuous nothingness.

Obama is not Bush but he is not a political radical either. He is a leader that is part of the same system as Bush, a system that has a foreign policy that cannot be changed by the President alone and not without great political ramifications at home. He still remains a hope for the potential for change in the region but we know now not change itself. For change itself you have to alter the source to stop the continuous flow.

I have had the luxury of being able to read quite a lot lately and for those interested here is a quick review of some of it:

1. Ried-Henry, Simon. Fidel & Che: A Revolutionary Freindship, 2009

“Condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me!” Fidel (Hezbollah will surely be taking notes from Fidel)

Simon is an old tutor of mine at Queen Mary, so was excited for him to see his book in a bookshop in Beiurt! The book is great. Simon writes in beautifully descriptive way that brings the book to life. Not only do you learn that Che was a poet of great quality but such is the detail the book you even get to know his favourite Tango (‘Adios Muchachos’ by Carlos Gardel; in case you were wondering). While, giving minute details the book is never lost in it. The strange thing I found about reading about these two characters is that I came to like Fidel more than Che, even though it is Che with the ideals and Fidel is a kind of benevolent pragmatic megalomaniac. Also I found it fascinating that Fidel did not base the revolution on communism but it became a kind pragmatic political solution.

But Che is just so frustratingly cold as a character, he behaves disgustingly to his women and he is essentially a self obsessed loner with a vision to save the world. The only person he seems loyal to is Fidel, and of course Marx. The detail of going to Bolivia is also revealing and shows the limits of Marxism in understanding the power identity politics. Although Che was able to transcend identity politics with Fidel in Cuba when he led his own force to Bolivia he could not get the peasants to trust him, he was seen as an outsider and as such was eventually killed.

There are so many parallels with the situation in Cuba at that time and the Middle East today, especially with Hezbollah. The link is emphasised by the fact that Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury is quoted at the front, a book I am currently reading, about Palestinian refugees and their exile to Lebanon. I guess there are always commonalities in those that resist and attempt revolutions. But the use of history through symbols and historical figures is strikingly similar with both Hezbollah and Castro.

2. Obama, Barak. Dreams from my Father, 1995

This book gives a fascinating insight into Obama’s world. He does not talk a lot about his intellectual influences, which is a shame because I would love to know who gave him the idea in 1983. Obama makes it appear like the idea fell from the sky. This book really made me realise what Obama has achieved. Not only is only the first black President but he must also be the most left leaning since President Hoover or Roosevelt? His community organising is  a call for workers of the community to unite! “Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens…Through organising, through shared sacrifice, membership has been earned!” I mean even if this man was a certified WASP it would be amazing if he was elected President!

He also gives some fascinating insight as to why he became quickly disillusioned with black nationalism.”[Rafik]…was less interested in changing the rules of power than in the color of those who had it and who therefore enjoyed the spoils. There was never much room at the top of the pyramid, though; in a contest framed in such terms, the wait for black deliverance would be long indeed.” Then what he goes on to say speaks really highly for this region. “It was the distance between our talk and out action, the effect it was having on us as individuals and as people.” This makes me think of Hezbollah and how they always ensure that their talk is always close to their action, and self-consciously so. In some ways it is so obvious that action to the purpose you talk about gives you dignity. The unrealistic expectations that your everyday politician gives you, for whatever reason, may also be cause for the political apathy.

While, I have also been reading a bit of fiction to quickly sum up:

Hage, Rawi. Cockroach, 2008. An angry book. A Marxist post-colonial look at the world. An angry nameless young man gives us a swirling tale of the depravity of powerlessness. A good read but I found it a bit one dimensional. You are a pissed of exile, OK but I need more than that.

Salih, T. Season of Migration to the North, 1969. This is what Cockroach should have been. This is a beautiful book and is rightly part of the vanguard of post-colonial literature:

Yes, I know that in the rough wisdom that issues from the mouths of simple people lies our salvation. A tree grows simply and your grandfather has lived and will die simply. That is the secret. You are right, my lady: courage and optimism. But until the meek inherit the earth, until the armies are disbanded, the lamb grazes in peace beside the wolf and the child plays water-polo in the river with the crocodile, until that time of happiness and love comes along, I for one shall continue to express myself in this twisted manner.

Meanwhile, there is a great bibliography that has been created by Qifa Nabki over at his blog http://qifanabki.com/lebanon-bibliography/