By the time many readers see this issue of Crescent International, the US presidential elections will have taken place and the results known. Failing some drastic turnaround in the last days of campaigning (after Crescent goes to press), Barack Obama is likely to be confirmed as the US’s first black president, in what is already being widely anticipated as a total and deliberate repudiation of the legacy of the presidency of George W. Bush. Last month saw the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), on which Jews repent their sins and are supposedly cleansed of them. (The day was marked in Israel this year by pogroms against Arabs in Acre and other towns). In the US, the change of presidency will be treated by many Americans as having a similar effect: yes, the Bush administration has committed many errors in the last few years, but the (expected) anointment of a successor promoted as the precise opposite of everything the neo-cons stand for will be taken as wiping the slate clean and representing a new start. This is a rewriting of history that Muslims must not make the error of accepting.
The reality is that even if Obama is inaugurated in January, and liberal America leads the world in celebrating the passing of the neo-con era, the change will be one of image and style rather than substance. What Americans have increasingly rejected in recent years has not been the arrogance, duplicity and aggression of the Bush administration, but the failure of its strategies. Had the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive aggression against perceived enemies proved more successful in Iraq and Afghanistan, the election of a neo-con successor would have been assured, regardless of the fact that the wars were based on lies — to the American people as much as the rest of the world — and that America is hated all over the world as a result.
The assumptions that underpin the policies of the neo-con era, particularly the US’s right to rule the world in its own interests and to legitimise that rule by the fiction that it is acting in the interests of the whole world, are shared by all American politicians, and will not change. All that an Obama administration will do, as demonstrated by his unprecedented support for Israel (criticised even by the US state department) and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan (which he has described as “a good war”), will be to try to pursue the same agenda more effectively.
Much has been made of his pledge to “talk with Iran” instead of isolating and attacking it; but the key there is what he will be saying and what his objectives will be. In that again, there will be no change; his object will be undermine and subvert the Islamic state and erode its independence, gradually bringing it back into the “international community” of nations under USoverlordship. Similar changes of approach may be seen towards Hamas, again because the policy of trying to isolate and destroy it has failed; Obama has made it absolutely clear that he will be as pro-Israel as Bush and Clinton before him. In both cases, what the Bush administration tried and failed to do through years of political pressure and threats, an Obamaadministration will try to do by softer diplomacy and inducements. It will make a change, no doubt, but is hardly cause for celebration.
But the Bush years cannot be written off as an aberration, a regrettable period of madness prompted by the shock of 9/11. Bush was elected before 9/11, supported by many Muslims who were angry at the aggressions of the Clinton years: the support for Israel, the starvation and repeated bombings of Iraq, the attacks of Libya and Sudan, etc. The problem theworldhas is not neo-conservatism, but American hegemonic imperialism; and that is a fundamental element of American dealings with the rest of the world throughout its history and will not about to change any time soon.
The celebratory mood of change that will accompany a likely Obama victory should not blind Muslims to these realities; the sense of shock and disappointment that will be felt around the world if John McCain manages to overturn the odds after all – if, for example, America suffers a convenient terrorist attack in the run-up to the polls — would in fact be better preparation for what the world can expect regardless of who is elected to succeed George W. Bush.
Some Americans at least have become aware in recent years that their country is now regarded by most of the rest of the world as a threatening and hostile world power. Their object will be to soften its image while protecting their interests, by exercising “soft power” rather than “hard power”. And some in the world will find it convenient to support them in this and pretend that America really has changed. This is a mistake Muslims cannot afford to make. We must be absolutely clear: whoever wins the election on November 4, America’s war on the world will continue, and so too must Muslim resistance to it.