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Seymour Hersh: Obama 'Only Hope' for US-Muslim Ties

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The following piece is part of an ongoing series of OffTheBus reports by citizen policy experts critiquing different aspects of Campaign 08.

Barack Obama represents "the only hope for the US in the Muslim world," according to Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Because Obama's father was a Muslim, he "could lead a reconciliation between the Muslim countries and the US." With any of the other candidates as president, Hersh said, "we're facing two or three decades of problems in the Mideast, with 1.2 billion Muslims."

Hersh, who writes for The New Yorker about the Bush Administration in Iraq and Iran, spoke to my history class at UC Irvine on Tuesday. In Obama's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope he wrote that his Kenyan father was "raised a Muslim," but says he was a "confirmed atheist" by the time his parents met. His parents separated when he was two years old and later divorced.

Of course if Obama did win the nomination, one can only imagine what the Republicans would do with the fact that his father was a Muslim. We've already had Mitt Romney smiling next to a campaign sign in South Carolina that said "No to Obama Osama."

Hersh did not hold out much hope for improved relations between the US and the Muslim world. "The only good news I can bring you is that tomorrow morning there will be one less day of the Bush presidency," he told an overflow crowd in a public lecture at UC Irvine. Bush "doesn't care about" his low standing in the polls, and as a result "he's going to keep going until 11:59 a.m. on January 20, 2009."

Even after Bush's term ends, "much of the damage is yet to come," Hersh said. "The problems for the next president may be intractable."

"They say the surge has worked," Hersh said. "But do you think someday we will get an oil deal in Iraq? They'll burn the fields first. We're hated in Iraq."

As for Afghanistan, "we became more of a threat to the people than Taliban," Hersh said. We're "losing the war there," he said, and concluded that "Afghanistan is a doomed society."

Hersh said he had just returned from Syria, where he was working on his next New Yorker piece, on the mysterious bombing carried out by the US and the Israelis. "The Syrians have a much longer-term perspective than we do," he said. "They say 'we've been here for 10,000 years; we're not going away.'"

As for the short term, Hersh said, "Cheney thinks war with Islam is inevitable, so we might as well have it now." Administration plans for bombing Iran call for targeting the Revolutionary Guards. Iran's response, Hersh said, is likely to be "asymmetrical" - instead of striking back directly at the US, they will "hit the oil" in the Gulf. The result will be oil prices of "$200 or $300 a barrel," double or triple the current price.

But will Bush bomb Iran? Hersh's answer: "How the hell should I know?"