Beliefnet
Deepak Chopra and Intent

Anyone who has admired President Obama’s idealism all along should come away
inspired by the high-mindedness of his “Arab spring” speech. It served to
reassure his liberal base that he wasn’t solely continuing the Bush policy
in the Middle East (i.e., kill every terrorist, ignore human rights, let
Israel drift, keep the oil flowing). It put the conservative Israeli regime
on notice, along with some minor allies like Yemen and Bahrain. Those were
the points that might cause the powers that be to feel nervous for five
minutes. The rest of the speech, a lofty high five for reform in the Middle
East, was more problematic.

Obama referred to his 2009 Cairo speech that extended an olive branch to the
Muslim world, reversing Bush’s belligerent “clash of civilizations” stance.
Lofty as those declarations were two years ago, the intervening time has
been one of inertia. Guantanamo remains a thorn in our side; Iraq
continually totters; Afghanistan remains chaotic; Pakistan is a client state
bought off with bribes basically because they have the atom bomb. In the
face of such inertia, what can ideals do? If asked whether they would
support freedom movements in Saudi Arabia, for example, in exchange for
gasoline at $6 a gallon, the average American would jump ship on lofty
ideals.

As in so many areas, such as health care, immigration, and energy policy,
Obama combined visionary- in-chief with professor-in-chief. He’s good in
those roles, but a global President needs a global nation to follow him. I’m
not sure that we are really there yet. Reactionary politics held sway in the
2010 election; the economy teeters precariously; people feel like drawing in
their horns. Even in good times it would be hard for any visionary to
reverse the right-wing trends that have dominated American politics since
the Reagan era. In other word, without an American spring, the Arab spring
is still on its own. This country will keep supporting despots and royal
families in the Middle East; we will demand the free flow of oil, which is
the same as capitulating totally to the oil oligarchs that hold the world
ransom; and we won’t stop being the world’s largest arms dealers.

It’s not idealism that is at fault here; it’s self-contradiction. You can’t
be at peace and war simultaneously, reactionary and visionary, friendly to
reform and despots. Obama needs to thread his way through these
contradictions. Given his character, I believe that he’s trying. His
idealism rings true. But countless idealists have broken their heads against
hard realities. The best hope I can take away now is India, a place that is
thriving even though the government is corrupt, bribes are a way of life,
vast millions are illiterate, religious intolerance simmers beneath the
surface, elites jealously guard their privilege, and gender inequality is
shockingly rampant. Obama mentioned all those things in his speech, and it’s
heartening to realize that the dispossessed people of the world, starting
with so little, facing such heartbreaking obstacles, can still rise. The
silent power of idealism may be able to accomplish more than hardened
realists realize. Let’s hope so, especially at this uncertain moment.

Deepak Chopra on Intent.com
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