Friday, November 07, 2008

Can Najib Reinvent UMNO and Malaysia?

I am still reeling with good feeling listening to Obama's historical victory speech. It was inspirational. This speech wasn't intended just for Democrats, or Americans, but for the world.
There was a "grown up" greatness about Obama's speech--it was not a flashy advertisement, it was a thoughtful, respectful address.
At the same time, felt very much disgusted with Najib's presentation of additional economic measures in winding up the Budget in Parliament. Disgusted to see how he has no balls to open the floors for questions and debate.

The antics of BN MPs are also embarassing. 'Mengampu tidak bertempat' especially the one from Rompin, my MP. We have a 'bastard' MP from Perak. And of course, the dewan speaker is another story.

After 51 years of merdeka, we do, after all, need to grow up, and work together to help the country we all love, even if we disagree amongst ourselves. We are a nation of many differences, that is one our greatest strengths. Yes, we can.

But I do not believe that Najib can. He has failed even before he starts.

Reinventing US and the world

If you give me your vote," Barack Obama cried last Monday, 'we won't just win the election - together, we will change this country and change the world.' That is the extravagant promise he must now honour.
His Herculean task is to correct and reverse the crimes and blunders of the Bush era. To his great advantage, his historic victory will give him vast momentum and uncontested legitimacy. His enemies have been thrown into disarray. The Republican Party will probably split and may need years to recover.
Obama rides to power on a landslide which was as brilliant a demonstration of democracy as the world has seen. No other country could begin to match it. And by putting a black man in the White House, Americans have taken a giant step towards healing the racial wound that has plagued their country since its foundation.
They have also contributed mightily to bridging the racial divide between a white and prosperous West and the rest of struggling humanity - whether black, brown or yellow. Obama is thus a shining symbol of the mixed-race world of the 21st century.
If the new President is to reinvent America's name abroad and restore its battered reputation, he must undertake a radical revision of the principles and practices of the Bush administration's foreign policy.
This will mean a rejection of unilateralism, of militarism, of preventive wars, of the crude, un-nuanced 'global war on terror', and of all the horrors and violations of domestic and international law associated with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the many other black holes where America buried the often innocent victims of its savage revenge for 9/11.
The world will be eagerly watching whom Obama picks as his secretary of state and secretary of defence. These early choices - among the thousands his administration will have to make in the coming weeks - will give a clue to the policies he intends to pursue.
Most Arabs will pray that he will not bring back to office members of Bill Clinton's Middle East team, discredited by their failure to advance the peace process and by their excessive partiality for Israel.
For the Arab and Muslim world, Obama's victory means the defeat of America's neo-conservatives, those fraudulent architects of the Iraq war. It means the final end of the neo-cons' geopolitical fantasy of 'reforming' the Arab world by military force to make it safe for the US and Israel.

Together with their numerous propaganda organs - the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, The Weekly Standard and the like - the neo-cons backed the Republican John McCain. Their hope was that a McCain victory would give them a chance to finish the job begun under Bush.
These pro-Israeli hard-liners believed that, for Israel to retain its regional dominance, the Arab and Muslim world had to be brought to its knees. Hence the invasion and destruction of Iraq; hence their noisy campaign for an American war against Iran - and, if not war, then harsh sanctions to undermine Iran's economy. Judging from his speeches - and from his third-world background - Obama's approach will be radically different.
He has pledged to declare that 'America is not at war with Islam.' He seems determined to rebuild America's shattered relations with the Arab and Muslim world. He will undoubtedly seek to escape from the strategic shackles and ideological muddle of Bush's war on terror. Little wonder that Israel was just about the only country in the world where a sizeable majority prayed for a McCain victory. What should Obama's priorities be in the Middle East?
He must honour his pledge to pull US troops out of Iraq within 16 months. Rather than sending more troops into the morass of Afghanistan, he should press for an early ceasefire, followed by a negotiated end to the conflict with the Taliban, offering them a share in government provided they sever their links with Al Qaida. In the meantime, US cross-border missile strikes into Pakistan must cease, since they serve only to destabilise that country and arouse bitter anger against the United States.
Obama must address the festering Arab-Israeli conflict more urgently and more seriously than any American president before him. This means a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but it must also mean a comprehensive peace involving Syria, Lebanon and all 22 Arab countries on the basis of the Arab Peace Plan of 2002, or something very much like it.
The United States cannot solve all the world's problems on its own. It is no longer the unchallenged superpower but only one pole - if admittedly the most important one - in a multi-polar world, which includes China, the European Union, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa, and even the Arabs.
Obama seems to understand that a genuinely multilateral approach will be necessary. He must take the lead in creating a new global political architecture in which emerging powers will be given an equal voice.
Will Obama manage to make progress on any of these fronts? Judging from his campaign, his approach will be pragmatic, moderate and conciliatory. He has promised to bring Republicans into his administration. He may be a radical but he is not a revolutionary.
All those optimists in the Middle East who dream of a new America - honest, peaceable and fair, free from the nefarious pressures of special interest groups - should remember that Obama promised only 'change we can believe in.' He did not promise utopia.

Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs.

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