Obama's Mother and Pakistan

Obama's Mother and Pakistan

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Young Barack Obama the Second was 25 years old when his mother traveled to Pakistan for her Ph.D. fieldwork. She was a unique woman, an American who married two Muslims from very different backgrounds, and learned languages most Americans have never heard of, including Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. Stanley Ann Dunham was a woman with compassion for the Pakistani people who had seen their troubles with her own eyes and studied ways that they could be helped.

She could never have imagined that her own son would one day be directly responsible for hurting the people she had worked so hard to help.

On May 1, as President Obama looked into the eyes of Americans and the world to announce the bizarre end to an even stranger manhunt, we looked back into his eyes and for the first time ever, there was no trace of Stanley Ann.

His gaze, glazed and haunting as it complemented the equally opaque proclamation of the assassination of a defunct enemy, sent shivers down our spines. It looked like Barack. It sounded like Barack. But it was of an ilk many Americans had thought they'd voted out of office in 2008.

Yes, his predecessor, George W. Bush, started the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yes, his predecessor handed over billions of dollars in aid that go almost entirely into the hands of corrupt politicians and military officials in Pakistan, instead of the people who need it. And yes, his predecessor explained these wars as a hunt for Osama bin Laden.

But Barack Obama upped the ante on every one of those fronts. He didn't help Pakistan -- he made it worse. And while it is not exactly the job of the American president to help other countries -- even if being the world's only superpower would suggest some responsibility on moral fronts -- it is at least the job of the American president not to put his public in danger, the kind of danger that arises out of perpetuating wars and further agitating religious extremists.

True, Obama hasn't been all wrong on foreign policy. To his credit, he has so far avoided “bomb-bomb-bombing” Iran as McCain surely would have tried and the previous administration would have done if it hadn't been bogged in the quagmire of myriad other disasters. He is making his way out of the Iraq war he once opposed. His administration has also been highly supportive of the Arab revolutions as a new method of transferring power in the region. And no one is surprised by his strategy in Afghanistan -- that war was extended under Obama as per his campaign promise.

But every war he has avoided has been replaced with another conflict, and his administration has even somehow managed to avoid calling them wars. He is now supporting a full-out war in Libya and what were once remote-controlled drone attacks in Pakistan have become ground operations by U.S. troops on Pakistani soil. The military operations taking place in Yemen and Bahrain, and elsewhere among the Middle East uprisings have tacit U.S. approval, or in the case of the recent attempted assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, direct U.S. military involvement.

Most people understand that the pressures of the top job and a need for re-election can be overwhelming. But very few of us accepted that the shady areas of political morality would be anything more than a sanctuary for the son of Stanley Ann.

She didn't raise him in highfalutin Connecticut or on a sprawling family estate in Texas, after all. He was a little biracial boy whose mother was extraordinarily fascinated with the world beyond her borders and carried him in her journey to appreciate that world.

Her life was spent on fomenting understanding between cultures and peoples, on learning and educating others about how civilians in all societies can help each other overcome the failures of their governments. She was the primary influence on the mind and manner of a young boy whose father was not in the picture and whose grandparents were far away for many years.

Barack Obama is the first president of the United States who knows from experience what life is like in other countries and what life in the United States is like, not only for an ethnic minority but for an immigrant. According to a new biography of Stanley Ann by Janny Scott, Obama himself even visited Pakistan on his own in 1981, just before his 20th birthday, to meet with a friend of his from Occidental College.

In the days since the Bin Laden announcement, as the official story has undergone several manifestations, more civilians have been killed in Pakistan following a U.S. drone attack, the war in Libya has continued to escalate under America’s watch, and U.S. government officials have instigated plans for heightened security protocols that infringe on the free movement of Americans in their own country.

It seems clearer than ever that Barack Obama has either forgotten his own journey or decided to discard it for the sake of power.

Perhaps it is better, then, that Stanley Ann isn't here to see.

Shirin Sadeghi is Host of New America Now. She is a Pakistan expert and weekly columnist for Pakistan's national daily newspaper, Pakistan Today. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/ShirinSadeghi