Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, reports that people in the Middle East are galvanized by Senator Obama's victory in the first round of the U.S. presidential election. Friedman has spoken to people who find it remarkable that a minority person has gotten even as close to power as Obama already has. As one source tells him, it's far less likely that any comparable "minority" could get power in the Middle East -- unless, I'd add, it's through a military coup of the kind that put a member of the Alawite sect in charge of Syria. Already, Friedman suggests, Obama's progress is improving America's image in the world.
That may be so, but if people over there believe that, because he's of a minority, or has darker skin and a friendly sounding name, that Obama will be more responsive to their concerns in crafting his foreign policy, I advise them to prepare for a disappointment. Apart from his opposition to the Iraq debacle, Obama shows every sign of a thoroughly conventional American attitude toward the Middle East. He's as quick as any politician to curry favor with the Zionist lobbies, and has gone so far as to declare Jerusalem the indivisible capital of Israel, a point that even Bush doesn't insist on. He's also hawkish on Pakistan to the point of being called rash by Republicans. He made a point during the debates of applauding a U.S. strike within Pakistan, and while you might agree that we should have a harder line on Pakistan, since that's where bin Laden might be hiding out, that's probably not what the "Arab street" and their brethren to the east are hoping to hear from a President Obama.
Friedman has probably talked to too many naive people. Obama may have his virtues, but they have nothing to do with his skin color or his heritage. Nor do his skin or his heritage automatically color his foreign policy. He didn't oppose the invasion of Iraq because he was a black man, nor would he withdraw the troops, if elected, because he is a black man. Obama has climbed up one of the pillars of the American Bipolarchy in a manner that would have been impossible, as Dennis Kucinich demonstrates, had he seriously challenged the consensus in favor of U.S. hegemony. No one watching this election from afar should jump to the conclusion that Barack Obama is really one of them; they'd be just as foolish as those Americans who'd like to agree with them.