The Unusual President


Last year the United States elected an “unusual” President.  He is black with African origins and grew up without a father in a modest social class. He is also special because he took office after eight long years of Bush’s reign. He promised Americans and the world that he can change things can take a different approach than the one followed by his predecessor.  Obama kept both the skepticals and the dreamers holding their breaths and waiting eagerly to see the achievements. Recently, the Nobel committee decided to award the peace Nobel Prize to this “unusual” president. Of course, the analysts, observers and peace activists are divided whether Obama deserves this prominent prize or not. My intention here isn’t to discuss this issue. I would like to go beyond the symbolism of the Nobel Prize and figure out how this president can fulfill his promises and how he can keep his detractors silent. The decision of Obama to close the Guantanamo Camp was a courageous one if we compare it to the stubborn attitude of the Bush administration. However, it seems that he was not able to go further than this. His administration is unable, at least so far, to find a solution on how to bring detainees at the camp to courts with full due process and open trials. Recently, it became clear that the infamous Camp will not be closed by the end of the year due to all the fierce resistance from many senators and congressmen who have objections to accepting those prisoners on US soil. But what about all the horrifying tools and techniques used by the Bush administration to fight the suspected terrorists? For instance, the extraordinary rendition policy initiated by the Clinton administration which was intended to outsource “rough interrogations” was not banned by Obama. Indeed, he believes that this measure can be used exceptionally. Justly, this policy, when formulated, was supposed to be used sparsely and on exceptional cases but it ended up to be widely used under the name of the “war on terror”. According to the CIA, about 100 to 150 terror suspects have been captured and sent to jails in foreign lands such as Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria — all of them identified by the State Department as torture states — under the express authority of President George W. Bush. And what about the “reverse rendition” that consists of snatching an individual from one country and sending him to Guantanamo, is it also an exceptional measure? Obama didn’t say a word about it yet. Waterboarding is also another interrogation technique, for years defended by the Bush administration as not constituting torture. Don’t we need here some clarifications from the current administration?  In fact, the Obama administration banned the use of waterboarding but we didn’t hear of any official, soldier or government agent, prosecuted for having used the technique. How can we claim to ban a procedure while we don’t try to correct what went wrong with it?

But beyond the war on terror, let’s examine the situation of the Arab countries and their political situation. The speech Obama gave in Cairo, where he promised to build a new page with the Arab and Islamic world, wasn’t followed by concrete steps to implement this new vision.  The Obama administration is still supporting all the Arab dictatorship regimes without any exception. The promise of helping the establishment of real democracies and the emerging of  truly transparent institutions in those regions still remain a dream of many in the region, oppressed by many years of repression, police states and corrupt regimes supported by Washington.

Can Obama really bring a wind of change and distinguish himself from the Bush legacy? Is he really an “unusual” president ready to implement his eloquent speeches through concrete policies or is he going to be remembered as a weak president who wished to change things but couldn’t? Time only will tell.

October 15 2009.


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