On 4 June, in Cairo, the US president made a speech which all the main western capitals described as historic. And at first sight, Obama's words appeared to be a complete break from the aggressive, openly warlike policies of the previous president, GW Bush. For Obama, the time had come to turn a new page and put the errors of Bush and his administration under the heading of post- 9/11 trauma. Obama declared that the "clash of civilisations" so dear to the previous administration was over. In his 4 June speech, Obama went out of his way to say that the USA is not the enemy of Muslims, but a legitimate partner. He talked non-stop about the "occupation" and the "aspirations of the Palestinians for dignity, equal opportunity and an independent state"(Courier International, 16.6.09)
In short, he presented the US as a friend of the Palestinians. He called on Hamas to recognise the State of Israel but he did not describe this organisation as terrorist. Even more remarkable is that he compared the struggle of the Palestinians with that of the slaves in America or the blacks of South Africa in the time of apartheid.
Coming from a US president, such statements are unprecedented. And they come in the wake of a diplomatic opening which the US has been trying to make towards Iran - a country presented not long ago as a potential threat to world security.
Such a lot of change in so short a time. Yesterday it was so aggressive, but today the US has suddenly become an apostle of peace...
However, we have some cause to distrust this view of things. Dramatic experience has taught us not to believe in fine speeches by the bourgeoisie. History has shown that when capitalism talks of peace, it's really preparing for war.
The need to reorient American policy
Since the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989, the US has been the world's only superpower. Since that time its number one priority has been to maintain this domination at any cost. But after 2001, with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have seen the USA's position actually getting weaker and weaker. Getting bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq has been the most obvious and tragic demonstration of this. All around the world, other great powers have arrived on the scene to challenge US supremacy and openly declare their own interests. This has been the case, for example, with China in Africa or Iran in the Middle East. Each nation, each clique within the bourgeoisie, has been trying to defend its own interests in a context of growing chaos and disorder. The policies of Bush and Co., which tried to assert American power alone against everyone else, have not halted this process. On the contrary, they only accelerated the USA's isolation and the weakening of its supremacy. They provoked further anti-American resentment, notably in the Muslim world, including among allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The USA's Lone Ranger policy could not be continued. A large part of the US bourgeoisie understood this and Obama's administration has for the moment overcome traditional differences between Democrats and Republicans on these matters. However, the policies orchestrated by Obama will not do away with the growing tendency of the US to become isolated. The weakening of American power and the rise of ‘every man for himself' are irreversible realities today.
One aspect of this is the growing impossibility for the US to go on investing militarily in several regional wars. Not only are their military resources far from inexhaustible, notably in ‘human capital'; the world economic crisis is now confronting it with a real problem. Millions of dollars are poured each day into the American army while the country as a whole is getting poorer and poorer. Unemployment is shooting up and health cover is practically non-existent. As poverty hits a growing section of the population, how can they be made to accept endlessly increasing military expenditure?
What's more, even after increasing wages and benefits for soldiers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find young people ready to risk their skins in wars which more and more people see as a bad idea. Thus, the new orientation of US imperialist policy has nothing to do with any humanism on Obama's part. It is a necessity imposed on the American bourgeoisie. It simply expresses the fact that the USA has to choose its targets more carefully. And this choice has fallen on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This means for the moment calming things down a bit with regard to Iran and Palestine. For the US it has become imperative to get control of the situation in Afghanistan if it is to reassert its influence in Pakistan. Pakistan is a really central piece in the game, with Iran to the west, the Caucasus, and thus Russia, to the north, and above all towards the east with India and China. The last country has been constantly stepping up its imperialist appetites. This is the choice the US has to make and it's what lies behind what Obama was saying in Cairo.
When Washington puts pressure on Israel
For decades Israel has been the most loyal ally of the US in the Middle East. The links between the bourgeoisies of the two countries are very strong and the Israeli army is totally supported by Washington. In the days of GW Bush, the Israelis had acquired very broad latitude in carrying out their imperialist policies. Tel Aviv and Washington were entirely on the same wavelength. But this is no longer the case. The US administration is now asking the Israeli bourgeoisie to bow to its demands, to the defence of its own interests. This has immediately led to rising tension between the two capitals. The differences between Netanyahu, the head of the Israeli government, and president Obama, are perfectly clear. However, faced with mounting US pressure, Netanyahu has had to modify his language somewhat. For the first time Netanyahu has talked about a "Palestinian state" even if this is combined with a demand that it be demilitarised and it rejects any idea of Jerusalem being divided up to be the capital of the new state. This indicates the strength of US pressure on Netanyahu. He has had to gain time and this is what he has done. But let's be clear: this will change nothing essential. This is evident when we remember that Netanyahu has demanded that a central component of any deal is that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state. He made this a central precondition for opening peace talks, even when he knows that it is totally unacceptable for the Palestinian bourgeoisie.
We are definitely going to see mounting tensions between the USA and Israel. And there's no guarantee that this new US policy won't push Israel's new ruling faction towards hurling itself into a more warlike policy.
Prime Minister Netanyahu sees the Iranian nuclear programme as an unbearable threat to Israel. The war of words between Iran's president Ahmadinejad and the Israeli government is a visible expression of the growing tensions between the two countries. And there's no certainty that recent events in Iran offer any assurance to the Israeli bourgeoisie. The Israeli state may be tempted to confront the Obama administration with a fait accompli based on violent military action against Iran.
Even if such a perspective doesn't come to be, the Israeli bourgeoisie cannot avoid reacting to US pressure. War and barbarism are still very much on the agenda in this region of the world.