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Obama: Man of Kansas or Kenya?

Despite his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, Senator Barack Obama remains a galvanizing force in the 2008 presidential race. However, the belief that he would quickly garner his party’s nomination has now been suspended. After the Iowa caucuses, the notion that Hillary Clinton was assured of it has as well.

For those disaffected by her yet-to-be recanted vote in favor of the Iraq war or that designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist” organization, many Democrats are counting on Obama to be the viable alternative they have long sought. More reality-based partisans recognize that no candidate can ever become a serious contender without first pledging allegiance to the doctrines of the Democratic establishment.

These include: conceding no ground on Israel’s inherent right to do as it pleases while continuing in perpetuity the United States financial and military support of it; never repudiating the doctrine of pre-emptive war; insisting the grievances of those in the Muslim world are due to hatred of freedom and liberty rather than injustice of policy, and believing the “war on terror” embodies a coherent concept worthy of an exorbitant defense budget.

A good deal of the debate concerning Obama still revolves around racial matters. Is he “black” enough? Will African-American voters embrace him as one of their own? Is white America finally ready to accept an African-American president?

As the child of an American mother from Kansas and a Muslim father from Kenya who was reared and educated in both Hawaii and Indonesia, a much more important question to ask is: which of these worlds has influenced Obama the most? If we were to symbolically designate his Kansas side as representative of U.S. foreign policy in its traditional form and his Kenyan side as something a bit more even-handed and nuanced, toward which does he lean?

For fear it might be the latter, the party’s apparatchiks wasted no time in trying to dispel the mystique and appeal of Obama’s heritage.

They started with claims he attended a madrassa in Indonesia (which is true if they realized the word madrassa is simply the generic Arabic word for school and not necessarily where the Taliban send their kids to be brainwashed). They then hinted he may have gone to prayers at a mosque or even was once a Muslim before converting to Christianity. It was a despicable and Islamophobic smear campaign manufactured by the Democrats which largely went uncriticized.

The truth is that no one quite knows how Obama’s background will help temper his foreign policy should he become president. Other than a (quickly condemned) willingness to negotiate with the Iranians, he has not significantly deviated from the positions expressed by other candidates on Israel or the Middle East in general.

One can only hope that he would bridge the best of both hemispheres; harmonizing America’s finest values with that of an understanding, appreciation and recognition of the criticisms of those outside it. Regrettably, as a candidate vying for the highest office in the land, that is one “change” Barack Obama is unlikely to make.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

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