I was walking along a street near Belfast yesterday and some schoolboys passed me on their way home. “The one I want to see is Obama!” one of them shouted, the way schoolboys do. And sure why wouldn’t he? Isn’t Obama the most powerful man on earth? And isn’t he a breakthrough - the first African-American to be elected to the White House? The man who believes in a policy of talking to one's enemies rather than attacking them.
That’s the message he’ll be bringing to schoolchildren and adults when he speaks in Belfast - put violence behind you, find new and better ways of working together. You couldn't ask for sounder advice.
Except that Obama, like a lot of other political leaders, is a hypocrite. Take one instance: his drones policy. There are no firm figures but it’s estimated that for every terrorist that a drone bomb kills in Pakistan or the Yemen, fifty innocent people have to go with him. Such drone bombs are used on a near-daily basis. Americans would argue that this saves the lives of American troops, and it probably does. Better have CIA agents in Virginia sending in unmanned drones than risking the lives of American troops, right? But think for a minute: this is defence of the US? Going to the other side of the world and sending in bombs that wipe out fifty innocents for every (presumably) guilty person?
Drones are now being used in the US for ‘peaceful’ purposes - a kind of eye in the sky. I even seem to remember that the PSNI here had purchased a number, whether to use permanently or just during the G8 conference I’m not sure. Shades of 'Big Brother is watching you'. But if you think that drones which can be armed will always be used for strictly observational purposes in the US or here or anywhere else, then you really should see your doctor.
The commentator Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times two days ago:
"Back in 2007, Obama said he would not want to run an administration that was "Bush-Cheney lite." He doesn't have to worry. With prisoners denied due process at Gitmo starving themselves, with the CIA not always aware who it's killing with drones, with an overzealous approach to leaks, and with the government's secret domestic spy business swelling, there's nothing lite about it.”
This is the man we feel honoured to have come visit us. Maybe we all should see a doctor.