"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Ali Mazrui’s Prophetic 2009 Advice for Obama on Syria

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ali Mazrui’s Prophetic 2009 Advice for Obama on Syria

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

For those who may not know him, Professor Ali Mazrui is a prominent, well-regarded US-based scholar of Kenyan descent who has been named one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals. He is the Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at New York’s Binghamton University. His 1986 television series titled “The Africans: A Triple Heritage” is regarded as a classic.

Amid the current hoopla over President Barack Obama’s plan to declare a war against Syria in order to bring “peace” to it ( reminds me of the late irreverent American comedian George Carlin’s quip that “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity”) I couldn’t help recalling Professor Mazrui’s astonishingly prescient counsel to Obama on Syria—in 2009.
Professor Ali Mazrui

About a month after Obama’s first inauguration as president of the United States, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, interviewed Mazrui about Obama. (Democracy Now is a popular, liberal syndicated American news analysis program).

Even after referring to Obama as “the most powerful single black individual in the history of civilization… that’s ever walked planet earth,” Mazrui didn’t allow the triumphalist mood of Obama’s victory to blind him to the realities that confronted the president.

First, he told Goodman that he agreed with an African-American activist who had written that Obama could end up providing “US Empire with a black face.”  Then he adds:  “People are swallowed up by the position they occupy. I would hope [Obama] would help reshape the position he occupies—the presidency of the United States…. The only thing I hope he will avoid is initiate another military conflict for the United States, because since the 1930s, every single American president has initiated a conflict—either large-scale war or some kind of confrontation with another country involving weapons. …My hope is that he will break the tendency for American presidents to feel the way to be presidential and commander-in-chief is to be ordering army into action on another society.

“At the moment, I am not optimistic that he will necessarily be just a peacemaking president with the conflicts that are on. So my dream was he would be the first president not to stop the conflicts—not that he will be the first president not to preside over a war because he is inheriting two wars anyhow, and with one of them, the Afghanistan, he is not planning to end it really; he is planning to escalate it for a while. So that is disappointing.

“I hope he wouldn’t start a war with Syria. He would be mad if starts a war with North Korea. In general, I hope he won’t start any war and break this idea that the commander-in-chief has to be engaged in an actual war to be a credible president of the United States.” (Watch the videos below).


When Mazrui said he hoped Obama wouldn’t start a war with Syria in 2009, Syria was relatively peaceful and stable. The so-called Arab Spring hadn’t even started much less spread to Syria. And, as far as I know, America’s relations with Syria weren’t so tense in 2009 as to provoke anxieties about a possible war with the country. Why then did Mazrui single out Syria and North Korea as countries Obama should never start a war with? I frankly don’t know. His counsel could well have been based on some information he was privy to.

But the advice seems even more relevant now than it was when it was given in 2009. Obama survived his first term without initiating any war with any country; he only maintained and, in some cases, escalated the wars he inherited from former President George Bush. But will he disappoint Mazrui and start a war with Syria, and thereby join the long list of US presidents since the 1930s who have always had a need to affirm their presidential machismo by fighting often pointless wars with other countries?

Well, Obama’s unanticipated decision to seek the approval of the US Congress before striking Syria (after initially threatening swift, unilateral strikes) may well be his backhanded way to buck the trend of presidential war-mongering. Many analysts say Obama’s request is unlikely to be approved by the Congress. We are waiting to see how accurate this prediction will be, but poll after poll has shown that most Americans oppose a war with Syria.  As a September 3, 2013 Washington Post survey puts it, “there is deep opposition among every political and demographic group in the [country].”

As most people know, however, this is way beyond Obama. It is about America’s insatiably bloodthirsty military-industrial complex which, to put it mildly, profits from war and chaos in other parts of the world. A Democratic Congressman by the name of Alan Grayson, who represents the State of Florida, captured it well when he said, “nobody wants this [war with Syria] except the military-industrial complex.” As anyone who has watched the movie “White House Down” would tell you, the military industrial complex would stop at nothing, including planning the assassination of the president, to make the case for war without end.

In spite of all the odds and dangers it would entail, Obama still has a chance to give some materiality to the “change” slogan that was the signature of his campaigns for the US presidency. If he manages to avoid a war with Syria—and does not start any war with any country throughout the rest of his presidency—he could at least somewhat EARN the unmerited Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009. 

Most importantly, he would go down in the annals as the only US president since the 1930s who hasn’t initiated an attack against any country. That would make Professor Mazrui, his late father’s compatriot, proud.




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