Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Obama’s Global War on Terror

“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.” 
Rabindranath Tagore 

There is much about Obama’s leadership or lack thereof that I remain critical of; by no means am I a fan. In fact, in my eyes he has thus far failed the test of leadership, feeling more like an erudite college professor and less like leader of the Western world. Given his predecessor's shoot from the hip mentality and the unmitigated disasters that followed, it was clear when Obama took office that America’s moral high ground, diplomatic clout and financial muscle were all in shreds. It was not so much that America was no longer a global superpower, but that the world had changed dramatically while America seemed to have moved backwards. America seemed to have lost its way with two messy long wars and the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression. She felt rudderless, leaderless and isolated on the world stage. By this time it was also clear that the overthrow of Saddam had no relevance in fighting the war on terrorism and had made the world a less safe place. However, one thing Bush was right about is that there was a global war on terrorism; and every nation needed to get involved. But Bush was incapable of leading the world and bringing them on board to fight this common threat, instead choosing to distract and further divide the world with an unnecessary war and with his 'my way or the highway' attitude.

Obama has been called an apologist because after he was elected he chose to show a softer and more cerebral side of American foreign policy. Being the only President who has actually lived abroad, perhaps he uniquely understood that the need of the hour was to apologize for America’s many misguided foreign policy endeavors, especially in the Muslim world. However, what he did not seem to grasp is that apologies alone would not rid us of the real evil we are facing. In trying to contrast his legacy from his war-mongering predecessor, he also went too far in the other direction, choosing to lead from the back. He failed to understand that America still needs to lead, and that pushing allies to take the lead is not the same thing. It has taken him a while to understand that you cannot right the wrongs of the past; you can only chart a course for the future that avoids the same failed policies and pitfalls. So instead of a wiser, nobler and morally stronger America he has until now offered an awkward, embarrassed and trepidatious America. Syria is a case in point where, while right to not intervene at the outset and not unilaterally, he should have acted once Assad crossed his own “red line.” America setting an ultimatum and then failing to act sets a very dangerous precedent.

It is the rapid rise of ISIL that has finally woken Obama up to the fact that war, while still a last resort, is going to be necessary. I believe he will not make the same mistakes that Bush did in America’s last global war on terror. Obama understands two things that his predecessor was unable to grasp. First, in the 21st century America is no longer the unequivocal superpower with the economic might it once had, to go it alone, and expect the rest of the world to fall in line based on diplomatic pressure or threats to cut US aid. Today there are many nations who can play benefactor and use their own cheque books to help countries resist US will. Second, he understands that no country can bestow democracy upon another, and especially not through a military invasion. The people of that country must be willing to fight and die for their freedom, much like they did in India, South Africa and will in Tunisia and Egypt in the years to come. All American military intervention can achieve, like it did in Iraq, is to put a temporary Band-Aid on a dangerous power vacuum that it leaves behind. To this end, he is aware that almost all the countries in the Middle East are run by dictators (many supported, armed and propped up by America). These countries have no civil institutions, public infrastructure or independent judiciaries that are the necessary bedrocks of democracy and take generations to build.

Even today Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are the largest financiers (some state funded but mostly by private individuals and religious institutions) and potent breeding ground for terrorists. The fact is that all these countries have brutal and oppressive regimes with no press, religious or personal freedoms. In all three countries, successive US administrations have supported dictators, giving them carte blanche and billions in military aid. So it is not hard to imagine why the average person on the street does not feel thankful to the American people for their generosity – and is it any wonder that they produce the largest number of terrorist recruits? Obama is acutely aware that this type of US intervention, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, has failed miserably. So instead of choosing to apply the definition of insanity, he decided to stay on the sidelines in Egypt, Syria and most of the other North African internal conflicts. If Obama attacked Syria with the aim of removing Assad (not the same as punishing him for crossing the red line) we would likely have ended up with a messier Iraq, with the same sectarian strife, or at best an American puppet administration which would have been more hated than Assad.

Obama’s strategy to use US military support as a bargaining tool to get rid of Nouri Al-Maliki, and replace him with a unity government in Iraq, was absolutely correct. Whether this new government will succeed or not is hard to say, but it certainly has a much greater chance based purely on the proportional representation it now has from all three sects. More importantly, by doing this Obama took away the most potent recruiting tool ISIS had - discontent Iraqi Sunnis.  Al-Maliki had been systematically removing Sunni’s and replacing them with incompetent cronies in an effort to create a Shiite dominated Iraq. Now, with US air and military support, the new unity government has actually re-enlisted the same disillusioned army men who ran at the first sign of trouble from Sunni dominated Mosul, and a strong Kurd army is fighting to save a unified Iraq and not just defending Kurdish territory.

So while there is no doubt Obama badly fumbled and delayed in leading this fight, now that he is in it, he has also shown a shrewd understanding of the region by getting support of the most important allies he needs to fight this war. The US-led coalition launched with active participation from the militaries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Bahrain, as well as publicly stated support from the governments in Oman, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon and Qatar. So far the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Belgium have also contributed fighter jets and other allies are lining up to offer everything from training to equipment. In contrast, when Bush and Cheney rushed into Iraq there was a sum total of four countries in their collation that had active military involvement. The US with 148,000 and the UK with 45,000 troops provided the lion’s share. Australia contributed 2,000 and Poland 194 soldiers (Source: Wikipedia). Not a single Arab nation sent troops and no other major European or Asian power was involved. In fact, America's oldest allies like France, Germany, and New Zealand were strongly opposed to the Iraq invasion.

This is the fundamental difference in Obama’s global war on terror. Obama understands not only that America must lead this fight, but also that unless America can get the Arab and Muslim world to recognise the threat posed by this cancer and actively participate in it we cannot win this war. The only question that remains is whether Obama will have the resolve to send in US and Arab ground troops that will no doubt be needed to finally defeat this enemy and finish the military aspect of this war.

NOTE:  This article was updated on 9th October, 2014.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections on Two Thousand and Eleven

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” 
Albert Einstein

Two thousand and eleven feels like it will be remembered largely as the year in which humanity’s integrity and honour fell by the wayside and everything in the world seemed to be off kilter as a result of the great precipice created in our world. It was a year filled with company destroying financial revelations, country-crumbling debt crises, leadership failures and big economic disappointments. It was a year when honesty and transparency seemed in short supply, everywhere. Many of the revelations were sadly, not so much shocking as simply removing the thin veil that barely hid what we already knew to be true for some years now.

It was also the year when some of the most oppressed people in the world stopped fearing their governments and started to rectify this equation to finally make government fear the people. The Arab street locked arms, raised voices, gave lives, but in the end succeeded in striking down the tyrants that used fear, torture and censorship to shackle them for decades. It was the year of the Arab Spring or Awakening, as the longstanding and brutal dictatorships of Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia all fell and the ones still left standing are on the brink of revolution. All this ignited by a single act of frustrated defiance by Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller, on the streets of Tunisia. He set himself on fire to protest police corruption and continuous harassment by government employees, and his martyrdom set in motion a chain of events that the most brilliant analytical minds at the CIA, Mossad and Pentagon had not foreseen in any of the scenarios they have spent their lives exploring and building. There were even simmers of discontent in China with the short-lived Jasmine protest and now we are seeing it engulf mother Russia. Last weekend saw the largest demonstrations held in the streets of Moscow and other cities since the fall of the old Soviet Union. People came out in the hundreds of thousands to protest voter fraud and demand the resignation of Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, the great democracies of India and the US also saw their share of people power, albeit without much turmoil or disruption so far. In India, Anna Hazare’s movement to create Lokpal or citizen ombudsman bill to fight corruption was passed by the Lower House this week and is currently being debated in the Upper House. The bill was first introduced in 1968 but never managed to see light of day. In the United States we saw the beginnings of a something that had all the power and popular support to grow into a force with clout and sway. But sadly, Occupy deteriorated into a homeless-filled, feckless orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol. The day Occupy announced that it would be a leaderless movement is that day I believe America stopped caring about them and went back to burying their frustration in their office cubicles. However, the discontent with Capitol Hill and Wall Street is not going away anytime soon. It will continue to fester across the nation until some real and meaningful change takes place, and some real prison sentences handed down for the fraud perpetrated by many executives.

Even as the world seemed starved and desperate for leadership nobody was able to step up to the plate and deliver. Instead it seemed the opposite was true with the Former Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, being sentenced to seven years in prison for raping a former employee while he was president. The former French President, Chirac, was found guilty of corruption and given to a two-year suspended prison sentence for diverting public funds and abusing public trust. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, had to resign after he had sex with a New York hotel maid. His wife stoically stood by him even as he admitted to having had consensual sex with the maid. Meanwhile Europe was in turmoil with the constant fear of the impending disintegration of the European Union and Euro zone hanging over the markets like a dark cloud for the better part of the year. Every day we heard about another country on the brink of default on their loans, from having lived beyond their means for more than a decade. It was not just the smaller and developing economies of Iceland, Ireland or Greece that faltered, but also the fully developed and large ones of Italy and Spain that are teetering on the edge of that debt cliff. Had one of these big countries gone it would have taken the whole Euro zone down with it. They say that in the times of great crisis, great leaders emerge; I guess they got it wrong. Instead of leadership and fortitude, we had Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy pussyfooting around the problems, relying on German coffers to shoulder Europe’s’ self-created woes, and finally asking private banks to write-off loans and thus share the public burden. The one good thing that did come out of this was that Silvio Berlusconi had to finally resign, giving the Italians a fighting chance to keep their country alive with the “developed world” label still intact. It is also true that while the US’s troubles are much deeper and more worrying, the dollar was saved not by anything the US Federal Reserve or the government did to shore up investor confidence, but by the fact that the only other option – the Euro did a phenomenal job of making itself look worse and even less secure than the weak dollar.

Back on the sub-continent, Indians witnessed the uncovering of one scam after another. Dirty politicians, unscrupulous businessmen, even corrupt officials in The Indian Space Research Organization. Sadly even the once revered Indian army was not left unsullied. Each new scam unearthed was bigger, more daring and conducted with greater fearlessness and abandon than the last one; in the end leaving no Indian institution unscathed. It seems that the ruling Congress Party had made a decision to make hay while their electoral sun shone, and pretty much everyone from Sonia Gandhi to the bottom layers of the party had their hand in the taxpayer’s cookie jar. It was only after a prolonged public outcry, major media coverage and really bad International press that a single arrest was made. One has to wait and see how many years these cases drag on and if there will ever be a single politician prosecuted for any wrongdoing. I still see all the disgraced politicians smiling and looking shameless and plucky, as if they know of enough skeletons in other closets to ever be prosecuted by their peers. We shall see.

In America, too, it was the year of uncovering scams pulled off by all the major retail and investment banks, as well as unethical if not illegal business practices by many large and iconic companies. Curiously, though, not a single corporate executive was prosecuted or even indicted for this wrong doing. Instead settlements were made with all the companies, forcing them to pay seemingly large fines but also allowing them to admit “no wrongdoing.” Perhaps I am a little slow but I don’t understand this logic – you commit a crime and instead of prosecution you agree to pay a large sum of money; which happens to be no more than 25% of the total amount you illegally and unethically made, and you get to say you are not guilty of doing anything wrong – how exactly does this serve as punishment and more importantly as a deterrent?

I guess we could look back at two thousand and eleven and conclude that the Mayan prophecy about twenty-first December two thousand and twelve being the end of the world, could quite possibly be true. Talk to anybody and they will tell you they think the world feels like it is going to hell faster than we can say the word. I am sure every generation felt this sense of hopelessness and despair at some point in their journey; what we also know is that each of these generations managed to find a way through the Plague, Hitler, Hiroshima, Jallianwala Bagh and Apartheid. So while our world has for some time now felt tilted towards the majority of people seemingly driven entirely by selfishness, greed and unethical behaviour, I want to offer an alternative point of view on the Mayan prophecy. This prophecy maybe correct about the end, but not in terms of the four horsemen or fire, brimstone and volcanic ash, but as an end to a chapter. Perhaps this year will mark a new beginning, closing this long and dark chapter of unethical behavior, lack of regard for our fellow human beings and the selfish rot that seems to have overtaken the majority of people and begin to shift the balance back. Maybe we have sunk to our depths and it is time to rise once again; finding within us the very same things that have made us more united and more connected than ever before in the history of the world. The same kindness and compassion of neighbours that saw America through the Great Depression, the solidarity and selfless resolve that drove the mighty British out of India and a strength and never say die resolve that ended Apartheid. Perhaps this is what the Mayan Prophecy foretells and for what two thousand and twelve will be remembered.