Thursday, January 30, 2014
Daily Times Editorial Jan 31, 2014
‘Dispensable’ nation? In an annual ritual, US President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. While most of the address focused on domestic issues, including the president’s vow to redress some of the woes of ordinary citizens within the limits of unilateral executive authority in the face of an obstructionist Republican-dominated Congress, for the rest of the world it was the cryptic remarks on foreign policy that pricked up ears. The president agued that as the US’s Iraq war has ended (although the civil war has not) and the Afghan war, the longest in the US’s history, winds down, the US must move away from a permanent war footing to give diplomacy a chance to resolve some of the world’s toughest problems. As examples the president quoted Iran’s nuclear issue and the Syrian civil war. However, Obama also cautioned that danger remains and the US has to remain vigilant in the face of changing global threats. In this context he referred to the fact that although al Qaeda had been considerably weakened in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, the terrorist organisation’s affiliates had spread their tentacles in countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali. He should have added Libya (as a result of the US-led intervention to overthrow Gaddafi) and Syria (because of the US-led west’s support for anti-Assad forces that by now include the most fanatical of the al-Qaeda spawn). Obama’s logic was that US leadership of the world and its security can no longer depend on the military alone. All elements of power, including diplomacy, should be employed. He promised to actively, aggressively pursue terrorist networks through more targeted efforts and building the capacity of foreign partners, and added that he would not hesitate as commander-in-chief to use force to protect the American people, but only if truly necessary. As examples of diplomatic ‘success’ Obama quoted US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts that brought about the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and once again exploring Middle East talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum. He announced that he had placed “prudent limits” on the use of drones since the US could not be safe if people abroad believed the US strikes within their countries without regard for the consequences. That will come as some solace to those in Pakistan fundamentally opposed to drone strikes against terrorists that they believe cause unacceptable civilian deaths. Obama called on Congress to further loosen the conditions attending release of Guantanamo’s detainees so that the prison could be closed. He also promised reform of the massive surveillance the US has been carrying out and that has aroused controversy amongst friendly countries as well as US citizens. With three years to go for his tenure, President Obama has an eye on his legacy, like most presidents before him. However, history may not remember that legacy kindly. Obama cane to office presenting himself as a transformative president, arousing high hopes all over the world that the US would turn a new page and leave behind the Bush era policies. From the Cairo address in which Obama promised to reach out to the Muslim world, through his interventions in Libya and Syria, to the present State of the Union address, the view of perceptive observers that Obama, whatever his intentions, would not be able to reverse the momentum of the US’s polity being held in thrall to the defence, security, foreign policy establishments, with the military-industrial complex lobby continuing to push for more wars to keep the armaments industry running. If it were not for the 2008 global economic meltdown, the unintended consequences of continuing US militarism and interventionism all over the world may never have assumed the importance they have. The US may be the predominant military power in the world by a long shot, but it is increasingly being revealed as a military colossus with (economic) feet of clay. Foreign wars that in the past fuelled the profits of the armaments industry and led economic growth and prosperity are increasingly becoming a chain around the US’s feet in the middle of arguably the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. That may mean the US’s declining ability to act as the world’s self-anointed policeman of the world, a role it assumed after WW II and during the cold war. Other US fallacies such as ‘manifest destiny’, ‘indispensable nation’, ‘the American (21st) century’ may well be finally laid to rest along with Obama’s disappointing presidency that has proved unable to resist foreign invasions, forcible regime change and even touting support to terrorists in Syria, not to mention its continuing support to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and repression against the hapless Palestinian people.