Grand Occasion, Mixed Signals

Observations on President Obama’s inauguration


Grand Occasion, Mixed Signals
by Hossein Shahidi

As one of millions of people in the “Middle East”,* I have been watching Mr Obama’s progress from relative obscurity to presidency over the past two years. His triumph in spite of the color of his skin is a mark of progress in human history. His call for freedom and equality for all is most encouraging after several decades during which the United States has tried to dominate the rest of the world. To be sure, other US presidents have made similar calls, but Mr Obama’s do sound more sincere, especially against the background of the past eight years.

However, once again from a “Middle Eastern” perspective, there have been worrying signs about the specific ideas President Obama may have in mind for this region. Prior to his presidential campaign, Mr Obama was noted for his expressions of sympathy for the Palestinians. During the campaign, he was a consistent supporter of Israel.

There were further indications of his orientation when he appointed as the White House chief of staff Mr Rahm Emanuel, whose father had been a member of the armed group, Irgun, that fought for the creation of Israel, and who himself had served with the Israeli army, albeit as a civilian volunteer.

Yet another sign was Mr Obama’s virtual silence during three weeks of Israeli attacks on Gaza, which conveniently ended such that the international media’s attention would focus on his inauguration, rather than on the suffering of the Palestinian people.

And yesterday, during the inauguration, there were a series of details that made one more concerned about the policies and practices of the new administration. Inaugurations are symbolic occasions and the comments below also concern symbols. They may, therefore, be proven wrong by future developments. I hope they will be.

1.      After three weeks of war in Gaza as a result of which at least 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis had been killed, an Israeli-American violin player, Itzhak Perlman, was a member of the inauguration quartet. While Mr Perlman is renowned for his musical prowess, rather than his political views, he could have been complemented by another musician from an Islamic background.

Or perhaps, the conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim, who has both Israeli and Palestinian citizenships, could have been invited. There may well be other musical occasions to make up for what many will see as a serious error of judgment. The sooner, the better.

2.      The orchestra played past the midday point, when the presidential oath was due to have been taken. Although it was explained that legally Mr Obama was president after midday even without taking the oath, better timing would have given the impression of a much more orderly process, with every second accounted for. Precision and punctuality are among the many Western traits that people in our region have been brought up to admire and emulate. Their lapse on such a grand occasion was not impressive.

3.      In his speech, Mr Obama gave the promise of remaking the United States, including a commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law. But just before that, he and the country’s most senior authority on law, Chief Justice John Roberts, had stumbled through the 35-word oath of office that Mr Obama was taking.

4.      In his speech, President Obama mentioned various battles, including Khe Sahn in Vietnam, as occasions where “the greatness of our nation” had been “earned”. Not a very good choice, even though most people would sympathize both with the Vietnamese victims of that war, and with the young Americans who lost their lives in that most futile adventure.

5.      At the end of the speech, he talked about a scene from another battle, involving George Washington. Here, the images and the tone of his voice were similar to those used by many Shia clergymen in Iran during the mourning month of Moharram in sermons which, no matter how they begin, always end up with emotional scenes from Imam Hossein’s fatal battle in Karbala, to control people's feelings by making them cry. (I admit this point is so culturally specific that it may not resonate with many other people.)

6.      Finally, here’s another remark on the same part of the speech, from the weblog of the American weekly, The New Republic, which supports Mr Obama’s Democratic Party:

Actually, Obama was not really talking about Washington, but using GW to quote Thomas Paine from THE AMERICAN CRISIS.  Sadly and shamefully, however, Obama did not mention Paine by name.  Notably, FDR [Roosevelt] in his Fireside Chat of Feb 23, 1942, spoke of GW's retreat across NJ to the Delaware...and finished by quoting Paine, citing his name, and saying that Paine spoke for Americans in 1776 and he speaks for us today.  So far Obama is no FDR.  But just as FDR was pushed to progressive policies, so too might Obama be pushed.

The comment has led to a discussion on the weblog about George Washington which may continue for a while. Here, suffice it to say that President Roosevelt seems like a very good model for President Obama to follow. He was so popular in Iran that some forty years ago, a family friend of mine in a small Iranian town named his son Roosevelt. Now, with a pleasant twist, the United States has a president with the middle name, Hussein, which is common among Iranians and many Moslems elsewhere, as a symbol of commitment to truth and justice. Mr Obama’s first name, Barack, means blessing in Arabic. An auspicious set of symbols with which to end these observations.

As one of billions of people whose lives will be affected by many a decision that President Obama will take, and as one who would have voted for him – in spite of my reservations - had there been a global election, I wish him well in the great responsibility that he has undertaken.

* I use the term “Middle East” for the sake of simplicity, even though it is geographically incorrect from the point of view of someone who lives in the region.


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Thanks both teapot and

by Schahram on

Thanks both teapot and anonymous for sharing interest in my views, you both are right, the mullahs know what is going on,  but they have no choice but to give up in the middle term. I personally think that a peaceful approach from the west and change from within is the best way to deal with them.




Enlightening View

by Anonymous..... (not verified) on


Your informed perspective is refreshing. I agree with your analysis and I belive in Dr. Brezenski's political approach as the most effective tool for the west. I also fully agree with teapot's conclusion. The mullah's are good students and deceplined in executing their plans. There are already signs of how this new approach will have some of its own shortcomings.

I'm convinced that the only tool that can neutralize the mullah's expansion and grip on power is an intellectual base from within Iran social

Also, I cannot help but comment on eroonman's self degrading remarks that echo thoese of a rookie, but rude backseat driver.


Dea Schahram: I kind of

by teapot (not verified) on

Dea Schahram: I kind of suspected the same thing, however, the hardliner also know what you and I know and predict. I'm certain that they have made contingency plans not to allow their power to be diminished. I don't forsee them to relinquish power so easily. Luckily, the global economic Depression might leave them no other choice but to leave the scene peacefully.

Thanks for taking the time and responding to my inquiries. Have a wonderful weekend.


Mid-East Perspective is precisely the problem

by eroonman on

While you are obviously hopeful President Obama will come and save you. I think the typical Mideast perspective is what is precisely the problem. I also think that the victim mentality of the average Mideastern person runs far too high, I'd suggest it is time to reflect inwardly on what problems plague the region, and take this opportunity of generally renewed hope, and channel it into action by the Mideast people.

Then the rest of the world will respect you.

As it stands, here is a list of things the Mideast needs to work on, while it waits for Obama to ride in on imam Hossein's white horse to save them:

1) Reform Islam. Just as the Christians realized that the catholic church was corrupt and needed reformation via Martin Luther. So too is Islam in need of a little (lot) housekeeping. When will moslem people speak out against the ridiculous oppressive and barbaric customs that their religion continues to spout as part of the joke that is Sharia law? Are you serious? Women are 1/4 of a Man? Are you serious? Here put on this cloth, it'll make you less of a sinner?

2) Define your worth in the world: Is the Mideast going to be known solely for the export of 2 products, namely oil and phlegm? Or is there some other value that the people of the Mideast will aspire to? A difficult one no?

3) Accepting Israel. It has been how long now? The Mideast has not been able to stand up to it's own dictators or embrace simple freedom of speech (nevermind religion) and now you think they can stand against Israel? It has yet to do that once since it's brilliant tactical defeat in 1967? Clearly it is a matter of having the pride, but not having the courage, because it is not a matter of money or weapons. So if the Mideast has in fact surrendered to itself and now Israel, it should concede full defeat and accept the terms of losing, which are, by not beating Israel, you need to accept Israel. That's what losing means.

4) Are not Palestinians Arabs? Apparently this is a question, because with all the billions the Mideast has, it does not seem to think it necessary to help their Palestinian brothers. Many Arabs privately admit that they consider Palestinians to be ethnically and socially inferior to full blooded Arabs, and that is the reason the Palestinians are funded almost entirely by the West. And drive the cabs in Riyadh and Kuwait. When the US cut off the funds to Hamas after their election in Gaza, no Arab country stepped up to replace the shortfall. Except apparently Iran. And that has dried up ever since oil came down from $130 to $30.

So it is not helpful to the plight of the Mideast that you look to Obama for pity. Because that merely makes you pitiful. Step up! Or to put it in the words of Obama, "Get fired up and Get Going!" Redfine the Mideast. Because as it stands now, merely Hoping for Change isn't a good bet.

PS The Mideast is also famous for being lazy, so fix that too while you're at it.



by Schahram on

Dear Teapot,

(For details you may read the follwong scribd from the CFR, written in 2004 by it´s members, Brzezinski was one of them: //

There you can read exactely what is happening now.

From the view of the US, the Islamic Republic is changing anyway and is on the path to a democracy. The question is: how longwill it take? An analysis by a US Institution last years predicted a secular Iran in about 20 years. 

Of course this also could happen earlier, it depends how the relation beteween the US and europe and the conflicting parties in Iran develop.  

Clearly the US prefers to work with a stable Iran (only equal with the Islamic Republic), it does not want a regime change as in 1979.

For Iran, I think, it means the following:

1. The US wants to start official relations with the Islamic Republic. It will allowe the hardliners (the mullahs, in 2006 Brzezinski said, play no role in Iran any longer) to make business primarily with the US and a bit less with europe. If the hardliners are clever enough, they will do that. So they will be allowed to stay. The hope for the US is, that change in Iran will come with the time, and that Iran will become somekind of democracy. If the hardliners dont agree, then they will face problems in form of more severe sanctions directly against the upper 10000 of the IRI.

By the way, they don´t hope for Democracy, they just foresee it and try to control the movement. They of course dont hope it neither for the sake of the pople themselves, but maybe a democracy is easier to be conducted, because in the worst case you have to wait a few years, and a "democratic" change after regular elections can change the direction of the country. You see, how difficult it is now to change the behaviour of the Islamic Republic.!

Maybe, my personal opinion, this is a reasonable way. Because: An overthrow of the IRI would not be the biggest problem, but the question would be: who or what would follow? Chaos could emerge, a chaos without US-Players on the scene? Not again...This is, why Brzezinski preferres the slow path to democracy. We can be sure, there are enough iranians on the political scene, who want to work close with the US.

So far so good. But what, if something goes wrong? The problem is the relations between the US and europe. Europe would like to start again with Khatami, where as Ahmadinedjad seemed to be (to some extend, not fully) a british card (he would never admit that).  

So, in the case of a conflict between europe an the US, together with an emerging conflict between the so called Hardliners and so called Reformers, the rifts could become bigger, and that could accelerate the demise of the ISlamic Republic.

For the next two years we will see the US and Iran talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, partly Israel/Palestine. Areas, where they share interests. There wont be a "Big Bang", a big deal, because this could mean the end for the hardliners, and this could lead to fighting and Chaos. And: Chmenei will be more and more outed as a central figuere. this is clever by the US, so the WE-DONT-KNOW-WHO-TO-TALK-TO-era end here. this makes the IRI also vulnerable, because now the IRI has to respond to overtoure of the US under Barak Obama. (By the way: The US wants also to introduce to the people of Iran a list of incentives, to pressure the hardliners. They know the Iranian psychology. The expected reaction of Iranian people would be: Why dont you Hardliners agree to talk to the US, when they offer so much?) Foreign Minister Mottaki has spent a few weeks in the US at the end of 2008 (This was admitted by Richard HAAS, Director of the CFR on a video on their website) to talk about these developments with his US partners.

Let´s see what will happen.


Dear Schahram

by teapot (not verified) on

Dear Schahram Schamsawary:

Agreed. But what does it mean for the Iranian people and what does it mean for the IRI? Please elaborate!thanks.


It is not that important,

by Schahram on

It is not that important, what Obama wants. Important is, what Ziegienw Brzezinski, former mentor of former President Carter and now mentor of Obama, wants. His plan seems to be the encirclement of China and especially Russia (as he very successfully did 1978-1988 by buliding up the green Islam Belt by brokering a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in 1979). History is repeating, concerning this, a war in the Near east is just disturbing, this is why some kind of peace (at least for a while) is again a sincere aim of the new US government. (And by the way, this is one of the main reasons why the US intends to talk to Iran). For the people of Israel and Palastine this would mean a desirable relief. But for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan this could mean a new war, to have a reason to bring more troops to that region. 

Schahram Schamsawary


Dear Author: I think the IR

by stopthelies (not verified) on

Dear Author: I think the IR need to understand that Obama is not stupid and he can't be manipulted by lobbyists. He is meticulous when it comes to gathering data and deciphering the truth.

He will be able to see right through, CASMII and NIAC et al...As I'm sure, he already has, given his inaugural speech and his choice of Sec. of State.

Those days of manipulating the high officials in foggy bottom are over. You better join the reality-based community and present your arguments based on facts NOT half-truths if you don't want Iran to be bombed.


I have read Huckabee's book

by Huckabee Supporter (not verified) on

I have read Huckabee's book and have his autograph. I am also an active leader in the Bay Area Republican movement, so I happen to know my candidates' positions. Huckabee, just like myself is a social conservative. The Lord's path is what is right for America. America can be saved by stopping infanticide, often known as abortion, taking away rights from sinners, often known as homosexuals, and promoting a homogeneous American family image. I look forward to continuing debate with you even if we have our respectable differences.

I also strongly support Dr. James Dobson.


Dear Hossein Shahidi, If as

by Anonymous.... (not verified) on

Dear Hossein Shahidi, If as citizens of the United States, we were acutely engaged with the polifical affiars of Iran, as you obviously are with the US, one would be able to make an argument that the world could have avoided all the recent years barbaric mess.

If you take a closer look at his speech, you probably noticed that he was sorrounded by many old faces that have been assigned to high government posts for many many years now. (Diane Fienstein, Nancy Polosi, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, George Bushs, Harry Reid etc.)

These guys have been in office for at least 30 years now. So what leads you to believe that things will suddenly change? Obama was a choice they put in front of the american people through western papers and televisions, and gave him a message to deliver with his nice public speaking skills. If he wasn't one of them, he would have never made the ranks in that closed circule. What many here have yet to figure out is that when it comes to democracy, the inner circles of the elite do in fact set limits.

He is not what the majority of the american's selected. Majority of Americans are busy treding water and trying to figure out the devaluation of their net worth or the evaporation of it I should say.

Encourage and Pursue Iran's advancement in technology, sciences, Arts & literature, intellect, sports, "military" and "organization". The only thing that will deter the viking and protect Iran is a powerful and independant Iran.

I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek

If you have followed Obama, you know he's a MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

by I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek on

man (in Havana only of course!). When he was the Communist leader of the Harvard Law Review, do you know, he gave preferential treatment to 3 REPUBLICAN STUDENTS and only 1 special service to a "black, progressive, communist" classmate! ABSURD.

Apparently, Obama cannot be trusted with power. Obviously he's Fidel Castro, but with a tan and terrorist fist bumps. 

I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek

LOL Vote Huckabee 2012!!!!! YAY!!!! THe Diet Guru for Prez

by I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek on

I love this site. I love the wonderful joyous political debates and the advertisements for those sleazy Republicans. I love Huckabee. I like his diet book about "God did not make a Snickers Candy Bar. He made a peanut. Eat what God made". 

Lovely. I left iran decades ago, why? because I want ANOTHER religious imam-type leader. Yes I do! A reverend. Because you know, he's a nice white Christian Pastor. Ain't NOTHIN wrong with religious leaders as long as they ain't Muslin! 


Obama's envoy for Iran

by Anonymous123 (not verified) on

Obama appointed Dennis Ross as Iran special envoy. Ross is the co-founder of AIPAC.


moving forward

by Anonymous comentor (not verified) on

i'm just repeating things i've said along but it makes me feel better to say it again.

stopping to defend a president of TWO days is a waste of valuable time. for myself AND for obama. i'm going to follow his lead and ignore the nay-sayers and focus on moving forward. wasting time trying to explain or defend takes energy and effort that should be focused FORWARD.

you can't please everyone all the time. so i hope he doesn't even try. his efforts will and should be focused on making america stronger. i agree with the majority of the WORLD when i say that i hope the ties with israel will be loosened but they ARE ties that bind. i sincerely hope his secondary priority will involve iran directly in efforts to forge some kind of peaceful relationship.

but i do hope that everyone understands that this is a two way street. i won't expect obama or america to continue efforts that are rebuffed.


obama and the future

by a friend (not verified) on

With all due respect to H. S. I don't agree with the author regarding point number one. It is really irrelevant, because Itzhak Perlman plays with Yo Yo ma on many occasions and the fact that he was chosen to play at the inauguration has nothing to do with his background or as a sign of a concrete statement by Obama.

If you think about it the choice of the black reverend that spoke so beautifully and made some hints to various people including Bush (he was very outspoken about the War in Iraq and told Bush off at the ceremony for MLK's wife) is another indication that Obama is taking good steps. The choice of Mitchell as the envoy to the Middle East is a good one. He brokered the peace in Ireland. I think we must give the guy (Obama) a chance. In the US, everyone knows that the US policy has been determined by the likes of AIPAC and during the 8 year Bush rule by the neo-cons. It is not that easy to make changes immediately or to take a 180 degree turn. I was also disappointed in him when he was silent during the three week bloodshed in Gaza but if he chooses a sharp turn in both domestic and foreign policy he will be dumped, believe me. I am not sure if you noticed that during the concert, Bono spoke about the Palestinian people.
I do hope that Obama will take the first steps toward a resolution of the Palestinian Israeli conflict but he cannot solve the issues in the Middle East as a lone ranger. All the governments and the people involved must take an active role and be the key players, especially the Arab governments.


I think you should stick to

by Anonymous... (not verified) on

I think you should stick to cleaning up your own backyard first before criticizing others.


B. Hussein Obama (A Terrorist)

by Firstly a Republican, Secondly an Iranian (not verified) on



Please take a little time to look at this 30 second clip. I am interested to know your opinions regarding it. I view it as a clear outline of the Iranian regime and how B. Hussein Obama will treat it differently than President Bush has.

Are these quotes representative of Sen. Barack Obama?
If they are, do you support these views?

Whatever you think of this video, it is a clear example of how Sen. McCain would have had an offensive foreign policy platform, similar to President Bush's, as opposed to Obama's defensive one.

In my opinion this is what B. Hussein Obama believes. I disagree with him, and I disagree strongly, but I will not insult him. Many people, including myself, view him as under-qualified to be president. Especially when taking his 'present' votes in the IL state senate into account. He is a respectable human being, especially because he admitted his mistakes on the O'Reilly Factor, but so did Senator McCain. Sen. Obama's social policies are very out-of-touch with the rest of us living in America who are pro-life and anti-gay marriage. Obama opposed something similar to the Born Alive Infants Act in the IL State Senate. Also, Obama opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban that President Bush supported and proudly passed. Obama is for the radical redefining of marriage. I just hope Obama will not go through with his promise of ending President Bush's prodigious tax-cuts and fixing loopholes such as cell phone taxes and internet taxes, will be sure to keep our low inflation and HIGH GDP growth rate.

My final message:
Thank You President Bush

Vote Huckabee 2012

P.S. : In case you have time, these two clips are also excellent.


No change

by shirazie (not verified) on

As an Obama supporter and proud Iranian, I never expected him to make a 180 degree change on USA support for Israel.

what Jewish people need is an "Obama Like" - who tells them put the past behind you and move on. That is exactly what Issac Rubin was trying to do, but Isrealis killed him.

The crusade between the west and Mideast is 11 centuries old, we only take breaks. Consider Obama Era a break