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The Truth Behind "Core Interests" and "American Exceptionalism" - Dissecting Obama's Speech at the UN

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On September 24, President Barack Obama gave a major address at the United Nations General Assembly at its annual meeting.

This speech came at a time of fluid change in the world and especially in the Middle East. Masses have risen up in their millions, seeking a way out. Different forces with different programs--including extremely reactionary ones--have been contending. Within all this, different imperialists--especially the U.S., the West European powers, and Russia--have tried to assert their interests and their will. This has taken outright military form, as well as intense political maneuvering. So this speech by Obama has unusual importance.

Obama said many things in his speech, but two main themes stuck out. First, he laid out certain U.S. "core interests" in the Middle East and claimed the right to use military force to defend those interests. Second, he asserted that the U.S.  is an "exceptional" country which therefore has exceptional rights.

These are extraordinary claims, which, if made by any other power, would provoke howls of outrage from the media and people like Obama himself. But spoken by Obama, they caused very little comment and not even a murmur of protest in the mainstream U.S. media show, unless it was to call for even more blatant assertions of U.S. power. This itself shows how much attention is paid to getting people in the U.S. to "think like Americans" and just how deeply ingrained that it is; and for this reason alone--though there are more--it is important to dissect this speech.

Well-Meaning Friend of Peaceful Movements Seeking Change?

Early in his speech to the UN, Obama revealed some of the problems facing the U.S. in the Middle East:

"[T]he convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have too often been answered by violence--from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction continues to cast a shadow over the pursuit of peace."

Obama speaks of attempts to repress or hijack mass upheavals against the region's "old order," as if the U.S. has had nothing to do with either. In reality, the U.S. has done both.

To name but a few examples: In Egypt, the U.S. was deeply involved in the military's ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, then in efforts to influence and contain the political forces who'd risen up against Mubarak, and recently in supporting the violent coup and crackdown by the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Bahrain, the U.S. supported Saudi Arabia's military intervention in neighboring Bahrain to crush peaceful protests against that oppressive pro-U.S. regime.

In Palestine, the U.S. supports Israel's imposition of an ongoing, everyday state of brutal violent repression, which is the continuation of decades of violent ethnic cleansing on which that state is built.

As for "hijacking" mass upheaval, the U.S. seized on protests in Libya to join with a cabal of imperialist powers to literally bomb a new regime into power.

And the U.S. played a key role in transforming protests against the brutal rule of Syria's Bashar al-Assad into a gruesomely horrific civil war. Fighting between a range of contending reactionary forces sponsored by the U.S., Russia, Iran, and others has driven over a million people into hellish refugee camps. The suffering of these refugees is not what's driving the actions and maneuvers of U.S. or its rivals. Syria is a very strategic ally of both Iran and Russia, and the U.S.' apparent policy of seriously weakening that regime by fanning a draining civil war is seen as a major threat by those countries. And at the same time, the Syria situation is fraught with peril for U.S. interests as well. It has provided an opening of Islamic Jihadists. Situated in the heart of the region, turmoil in Syria has spilled over into and could destabilize neighboring countries, including U.S. allies like Jordan and Turkey. And it threatens to unravel the whole situation in the Middle East in a way that could further undermine U.S. domination.

So Obama is not coming at this as a well-meaning friend of "peaceful movements" fighting for "change" against the "old order." He's speaking--and acting--as the commander in chief of a principal architect and the main beneficiary of the "old order," a global power which has been--and still is--up to its neck in the blood of the masses of people throughout the region.

Not an Empire?

Delving into everything that Obama covered (and refuting all his lies, distortions, half-truths, and omissions) is far beyond the scope of this article. But a key focus of the speech was Obama's effort to address an acute contradiction the U.S. faces between its words and its deeds.

America's rulers claim to be friends of the people and critics of the "old order," not leaders of an empire just out for itself, but rather advancing the "interests of all," as Obama put it. "The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda," Obama said at the UN, "but it isn't borne out by America's current policy or by public opinion."

However, when Obama outlined "what has been U.S. policy toward the Middle East and North Africa and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency" he spelled out the needs and demands of an empire:

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Larry Everest is the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004), a correspondent for Revolution newspaper ( where this first appeared, who has reported from Iran, Iraq and Palestine, and a (more...)
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