A dispassionate reading of Obama’s presidential memoirs

Hussein Shobokshi

Published: Updated:

The first of two volumes of former US President Barack Obama's post-presidential memoirs was recently released holding the title “A Promised Land.” The book covers his early political career, his 2008 election campaign, and the night of the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Part two of his memoirs will be published later on.

The book quickly topped the bestseller lists, after selling around 900,000 copies within a few days. Many have found the title of the book very striking, since the ‘promised land’ holds a deep connotation to Christians as it appeared in the Book of Deuteronomy of the Old Testament on Prophet Moses and his followers.

It also holds a special significance for Americans in general and African Americans in particular. For many African Americans, the phrase is linked to a historical incident, specifically the last farewell speech delivered by the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, in a church in Memphis, Tennessee. “I've Been to the Mountaintop” is the popular name of the last speech the social activist gave before his assassination.

In his speech, King says: “I've been to the mountaintop … I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” When it was announced that Barack Obama had won the US elections, his supporters recalled King's speech, and considered what happened to be a realization of what Martin Luther King had foreseen.

As the first African American president to hold office, Barack Obama’s presidency was widely celebrated as a monumental milestone in US history. At the time, this was considered a promising victory not only for Americans, but for people worldwide, due to the symbolic meaning it carried in terms of the global fight against racism.

The 768-page book recounts various political events and incidents; however, as an Arab reader I was particularly interested to read what he wrote about the turbulent period in the Arab world, which has come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” On this particular issue, the most important thing to note was how Obama chose to write from the perspective of a political analyst, retelling stories after enough time has passed, and not as an impartial and truthful narrator of history.

For instance, he recounted his negative personal impression after his first meeting with the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, claiming that he was out of touch with reality due to his old age, unfamiliar with the demands of his people, while relying heavily on his entourage. Therefore, Obama expected that this situation could not be sustained for long and decided to take action by helping those who sought change. This, of course, is wildly inaccurate.

All those who are familiar with the region’s political history are fully aware that this state of unrest was sparked during the era of George W. Bush and the prominent neoconservatives in his administration. We all know that the real instigator of many of the crises that afflicted our region started with the criminal project launched by former US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which sought to spread ‘creative chaos’ in the Middle East.

One of its outcomes was the invasion of Iraq under the pretext of spreading democracy (during which the US cooperated with Iran, so that its agents in Iraq would not stand against the invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime).

Perhaps one of the first indications of the implementation of the “creative chaos” project would be the insulting speech delivered by George W. Bush in Sharm el-Sheikh, during the World Peace Conference, in which he aggressively criticized Egyptian politics along with President Mubarak's regime.

At the time, President Mubarak exited the hall in protest, and never visited Washington again. Mubarak was pleased with Obama's election and his eagerness to visit Cairo to address the Islamic world from the Arab League's headquarters. However, he became apprehensive when he learned about Obama's insistence that Mubarak was not attend the speech.

The two leaders later met in what was described as a cold lackluster meeting which signaled a farewell to Mubarak's rule in every sense of the word. It is safe to assume that Barack Obama was completing the creative chaos project, as his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was launching her democracy and development program, a program that focused on liberating people through the use of modern technology.

Obama’s apparent idealism was entirely unconvincing, since it failed to explain letting the Syrian people be a prey to Iran and the Assad regime, as a consolation reward in exchange for the Iran nuclear deal. For this reason, the Syrian crisis will remain Barack Obama's unforgivable political sin, and it will remain to be seen as a stain on his legacy.

As Obama righteously expressed his concern for people’s “liberation,” he continued to completely disregard the Palestinian people and their grievances against Israel. No one can deny that the Palestinian cause did not receive any serious attention during the Obama era.

America's strategy of ‘creative chaos’ has resulted in catastrophic consequences and it should have never been embraced in the first place. Chaos can never be creative, and no solid foundations can ever be built so long as the region continues to be in a state of disarray and turmoil.

We now know that mixing religion with politics will only generate violence, extremism and terrorism.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

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