A Letter to Barack Obama
Where's the Change, Barack?
Uzma Aslam Khan
Dear Senator Obama,
In the run-up to the 2004 US presidential election, it was said outside the United States that Americans should have the right to vote taken away from them. All those who'd been living under US-backed dictatorships should vote instead.
The reason was that for decades the World had been gathering actionable intelligence (a fine phrase, Senator, privileged by you) that a US election isn't only a US election. It's a World election. Yet, few Americans voted for a candidate, whether Republican or Democrat, for his ability to parley peacefully with the World. It didn't matter how many sovereign states were invaded, how many non-Americans were killed, or left homeless and stateless, nor how many democratically elected leaders were ousted from their countries by the United States. Americans seemed only concerned with the candidate's promises to them. So the World felt an obligation to offer aid in the shape of preemptively planting a new US president, one who'd respect the rights of others as being equal to the rights of Americans. If the American people protested and were arrested and tortured by World-backed military personnel, well, it was collateral damage, all part of the process of freedom and democracy. Sooner or later, they'd come to understand that their fate was being decided for them for their own good, and they'd be grateful.
Of course it didn't happen. The World is small compared to the United States. Besides, the non-Americans I know, myself included, don't really wish upon Americans the same fate that's been left to us. We don't want equal tyranny. We want equal worth.
The 2008 US presidential election is also a World election, which means the opinions of the World also won't matter much. Still, if those like me can't vote in fact, we can at least vote in spirit. I dare to hope (yes, naïvely) that some day my spirit--along with that of millions of others in my humble position--will matter.
Let's talk more about actionable intelligence.
Back in September 2004, as a Democratic Senate candidate, you made four revealing points in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. First, you favoured using "surgical" missile strikes against Iran if the sovereign country refused to obey the US and eliminate its nuclear energy program. Second, you criticised the Bush administration's war in Iraq not because it violated every article in the Geneva Convention and every International Law, but because it drew away attention from "greater threats" such as Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. Third, you linked Iran and Pakistan under the banner of "Islamic world". Fourth, you favoured attacking Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, if Pakistan's self-appointed president, Pervez Musharraf, was overthrown by Pakistanis who have every reason to want him gone and every right to struggle toward this goal. I quote you: "I think there are elements within Pakistan right now-if Musharraf is overthrown and they took over-I think we would have to consider going in and taking those bombs out, because I don't think we can make the same assumptions about how they calculate risks."
You didn't care to elucidate what you meant by 'elements' nor whom you meant by 'they'. Pakistan has 160 million people. I think we have a right to know exactly which one of us you meant. I think we have a right to know how you calculate risks.
Your 2008 presidential election slogan is CHANGE. How can there be change, when your views on foreign policy are no different from that of President Bush? You frequently say, as proof of difference, that you didn't vote for the 2003 Iraq War. Of course not. You weren't in the Senate at the time.
So what is different about you? What's the change? The question was put to your fans during the New Hampshire primaries in Jan 2008, and the results are posted on The Real News website. When one supporter was asked what kind of change you represent, she replied: "He comes from a completely different background. He's international. He's interracial ... He represents everything that is America and that is the World. That's what we need right now. He will change the way America is seen in the World."
To me this sums up the enormous gap between how your supporters see America and how others see America. I know some of your supporters. I've asked them why your position on North Korea and the "Islamic World" isn't seen as xenophobic and imperialistic within the United States when outside the United States, it is. I've asked them why your racist wartalk isn't called racist wartalk within the United States when outside the United States, it is. Like the supporter above, they cite your international and interracial background as proof of difference. This is almost as insulting as Geraldine Ferraro saying you are where you are because you're black. You're not a candidate for change because you're black anymore than you're ahead in the polls because you're black. You are where you are because, as far as world peace is concerned, you're not a candidate for change. If you said, for example, that the country with the most nuclear weapons in the World must first eliminate its own nuclear program if weaker countries are to do the same--well, see what I mean? You wouldn't be where you are.
Over three years have passed since your above mentioned interview with the Chicago Tribune. Some may argue that you've changed since then, that your world view has matured and you wouldn't favour military action against Iran or Pakistan today because the people of Iran and Pakistan are no less important than the people of America. On the contrary, the views you've endorsed since then are no less alarming.
In August 2007, when Senator Hillary Clinton accused you of being naïve about foreign policy, your mannish response was to reiterate your 2004 views and take them to a higher level, as it were: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan and President Musharraf won't act, we will." Suddenly, those 'elements' you vaguely mentioned in 2004 weren't only a threat if they overthrew America's man, Musharraf. You said you'd "act" whether or not Musharraf agreed!
It's worth adding that Clinton criticised you for this comment, though later the same day, she told American Urban Radio Network, "If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured." She also praised her husband Bill Clinton's 1998 attack on Afghanistan, in which Osama was neither killed nor captured. The only reason this letter is addressed to you not her is because you're winning. It's probably you against Senator John McCain, and McCain ain't gonna change. Maybe you will.
Please consider this: Pakistan has always been a US ally. It was an ally during the 1979-1988 Afghan War, when the US gave billions of dollars to the Islamic Jihad to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Militant Islamic movements are a product of the US financing of the Islamic Jihad. Osama is America's creation. You want change? Be the first US president to acknowledge this link. The United States has a responsibility to Fess Up, and a responsibility to address its past mistakes without killing more innocent civilians. It's Pakistanis who've had to watch Pakistan destroyed because of the US-funded Jihad. It's we who've been living in the debris of your Cold War.
To add insult to injury, Pakistan is also a US ally in the War on Terror. We're also living in the debris of this war. Our own internal conflicts, which multiplied during the 1979-1988 Afghan War, have multiplied even further. You want change? Be the first US president to understand these internal struggles. They include: the struggle for better health care, better education, access to drinking water, access to electricity (power cuts this winter averaged 10 hours daily), the sanctity of the judiciary, the end of military rule, greater emphasis on cultural activities--on literature, music and things that bring people peace--class equality, women's rights, minority rights, that minor thing. We need to focus on our interests no less than you need to focus on yours. Pakistanis are sick of bowing to US command and sick of putting our struggles on hold for your wars.
To add more insult to more injury: We have done your bidding for as long as we know; in return, you threaten to bomb us. Which part of terror do you not understand?
To be the first international US President who'll change the way America is seen in the World, first change the way you see the World. See it as a partner, not a client. As a common ground, not a junkyard. There is actionable intelligence that the World couldn't be more ready for change.
P.S. You look nice in Somali dress. Why has the photo embarrassed you?
Uzma Aslam Khan a novelist and an essayist. She is the author of The Story of Noble Rot (PenguinIndia 2001) and Trespassing (Flamingo/ HarperCollins UK 2003; Metropolitan/Henry Holt USA 2004) and The Geometry of God (Rupa & Co. India 2008). Trespassing was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Eurasia. She lives in Lahore, Pakistan. Visit her at http://uzmaaslamkhan.blogspot.com
(R) thedailystar.net 2008