Obama names Ford

Finally, after leaked names and anonymous diplomatic sources and wide spread reporting (including some of my own for The Nation), Obama has formally nominated Robert Ford as the first US ambassador to Syria in five years.

More news to come, I hope, to support this bit of optimism. Let’s hope he is confirmed and the Senate doesn’t grandstand too much on the overdue diplomatic thaw between Syria and the US.

1859 Photo of the American Vice Consul to Damascus, Mikhayil Mishaqa, via MidEastImage.

‘Bill Clinton is Syrian’ and other tales of Obama’s speech from Damascus

The traffic flowed through Damascus last Thursday, peaking as always in the early afternoon. There was little buzz about President Obama in Cairo, and given all the packed taxis and microbuses clogging the street, it was a typical day in Damascus – and no special arrangements to watch the speech.

“Of course I know,” taxi driver Adnan replied when asked about Obama’s visit to Cairo University. “He was in Saudi yesterday.”

The oil-rich kingdom is hardly popular here, owing to its mass accumulation of crude cash, its support for Sunni fundamentalism, and its closeness with America.

“Obama goes to Saudi, he goes to Egypt. He goes to Turkey and soon enough he’ll go to Israel,” Adnan complained. “But he doesn’t come here.”

Before an American ambassador returns to Damascus, before US sanctions are lifted, average Syrians will likely continue to ignore gestures of American oratory and reconciliation.

More of my recent HuffPost.

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“Obama’s ambiguity”

Sons are not responsible for the racism of their fathers. But they do have a responsibility to let others know that they disagree vehemently with such sentiments. This is certainly the case for individuals in public service, particularly the man President-elect Barack Obama has chosen as White House chief of staff. Yet, Rep. Rahm Emanuel has not said a word regarding the troubling statement his father made to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv.

In a recent interview, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel asserted that his son’s appointment would be beneficial to Israel. “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel,” the elder Emanuel said, according to the Jerusalem Post. “Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

The public has a right to expect Mr. Emanuel to reject such raw racism especially given the historic resonance of Mr. Obama’s victory. It’s especially important for Arab and Muslim Americans who came through the election campaign feeling they are the last group of Americans who can still be publicly denigrated.

Mr. Emanuel – whose father fought with the Irgun, the pre-state Jewish militia that carried out terrorist attacks on Palestinians and the British in the 1940s – has a hawkishly pro-Israel record. He has never publicly distanced himself from his father’s contribution to the dispossession of more than 750,000 Palestinians, nor criticized Israel’s frequent attacks on Palestinian communities that have killed and maimed thousands of civilians.

In June 2003, Mr. Emanuel signed a letter criticizing President Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. “We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror,” Mr. Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats, wrote to Mr. Bush. The letter asserted that Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense.” Such killings violate the Geneva Conventions, and the State Department’s human-rights report specified that there were more civilian bystanders killed in Israeli assassination attempts than actual targets in 2003.

Ali Abuminah in the Washington Times (?!). I guess if the Left can’t help them, Palestinian intellectuals have to play ball with that part of the Right that still beholds William Buckley but stopped subscribing to Fouad Ajami or Richard Perle.

In other news about the President-elect: Galilee Bedouin claim Obama as lost member of tribe

Obama apparel and opinions

They’re selling Obama T-shirts at the knick-knack tourist shops on Qaimaria in the Old City now. Alongside grey “University of Damascus” tees (“since 1923”) and tees with the Iraqi flag now hang red tees and white tees and blue tees with Obama in raised white lettering across the front, in Arabic and English. They’re hot commodities, and the vendor who otherwise sells overpriced scarves must know the value of the shirts: he’s charging 450 Syrian lire now, almost 10 dollars. A friend on his way of the country bit the bullet and bought a few; a good welcome-home gift from Sham for friends in America. The shirts might say something about Obama’s popularity here; wearing his white and blue Obama tee, my friend was the target of plenty of warm hellos and congratulations in Damascus and especially over the weekend in Beirut. Every news stand from here to there is plastered with magazine and newspaper covers of Obama’s serious or beaming face (okay, they’re more numerous in Beirut). There were slurred high fives from night-lifers in Lebanon Saturday night, offering the typical line of Bush destroying America’s standing but Obama offering more than superficial redemption. One bartender said Obama’s election was the first time that he thought Americans had finally “made the right decision.”

“I’ve been following the news in the States since the early 1990s, since the first Gulf war. And I’ve been following the NBA.”

His dream was to move to LA and finally see a live game.

“I love the NBA, the Lakers, Kobe, Shaquille O’Neal. He plays where now? Arizona?”

“Yea, Phoenix.”

“Ah, the Suns.”

“What about the Celtics?” I had to ask. My brother scored season tickets high up near the roof of the new Garden last year just before the playoffs. We took in a few Celtics drubbings although both of us missed Game 7.

“I hate Larry Bird. I hate the Celtics. I follow the NBA for a long time: Jordan, Magic Johnson, Dr. J. But I hate Larry Bird.”

I didn’t argue, took another sip of my drink. At least he liked Obama, and here, now, in our time, isn’t that what matters?