it was not on the scale of President Sadat's surprise visit to Jerusalem
or President Nixon's visit to Maoist China, but President Obama's
greeting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas
was certainly noteworthy.
contrary to the arrogance often associated with the US elite, President
Obama did not wait for President Chavez to come and see him.
Instead he crossed a lobby to greet Chavez. Second, Obama
was unapologetic for this action in the face of right-wing
criticism for his having taken this step. This latter point
cannot be overstated in light of the outcries from conservative
pundits who believe that the US should isolate, if not overthrow
the likes of Chavez.
Obama is determined to change the image of the USA, that much is
certain. He wishes to break with the ignorant and cynical
approach toward foreign policy associated with his predecessor,
George W. Bush. What is far less certain remains how substantive
the foreign policy changes will be.
the same time that President Obama was exchanging pleasantries with
President Chavez and also promising to improve relations with Cuba,
the Obama administration renounced any intentions of sending an
official delegation to participate in the United Nations' conference
to review the 2001 Durban, South Africa process to address racism
and xenophobia. Here was a grand opportunity for the new president
to commit the USA to rejoining humanity by grappling with the impact
and implications of the centuries of racism, colonialism, national
oppression and intolerance, and the USA decided to take a pass.
While the Obama administration hid behind the Israeli government's
disingenuous criticism of the Durban process for allegedly being
anti-Jewish, the deeper fear in the USA and Western Europe has been
that the review process will raise the question of US and European
accountability for much of the misery that the global South has
suffered since 1500, and the need for reparations.
Obama should be applauded for dismissing the political Right in
recognizing that something is to be gained by improving relations
with Cuba and Venezuela. At the same time, his failure to
address race and racism during his presidential campaign--except
when compelled to by circumstances--creates a self-imposed limit
on his mandate to advance consistent change and consistent democracy.
US relations with the rest of the world means more than the President
becoming a global icon. Rather, it must mean that the USA
is as accountable to its own people and the people of the world,
for its history as any other country, be it Turkey with respect
to the genocide against the Armenians, Morocco's colonization of
the Western Sahara, or Indonesia for its multiple genocides in the
20th century. For the USA, the matter of accountability is
not just about the slave trade, the system of slavery, the genocide
against the Native Americans, the seizure of northern Mexico, or
the persecution of early Asian immigrants, all of which took place
more than a century ago. It is also behavior that is far more
recent, including the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, the uncritical
support of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians and, just
so we do not forget, the fact that African Americans, Native Americans,
Chicanos, Puerto Ricans and many Asians in the USA remain subject
to structural racist oppression, a part of our every day lives.
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University
of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor
in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.