A Shambles

With Al-Qaeda affiliates wreaking havoc in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to lament that no US troops are on the scene to get in on the action.

McCain and Graham, who never saw an opportunity for US military intervention they didn’t like, continue to operate under the absurd illusion that American politicians and bureaucrats can micromanage something as complex as a foreign society. Their hubris knows no bounds, but, then, they never pay the price for their foolishness. Who pays? The Americans they cheer off to war, but even more so, the people in foreign lands who are on the receiving end of American intervention.

If you haven’t noticed, American foreign policy is a shambles. Iraq and Afghanistan are engulfed in violence, and their corrupt, authoritarian governments are objects of suspicion and hatred. The suggestion that US forces could make things better only shows how out of touch people in Washington can be.

Anyone who was thinking clearly in 2001–2003 knew it would come to this. Afghanistan has a history of driving out invaders. Only someone blinded by the allure of empire could fool himself into thinking the US government could arrange affairs such that they wouldn’t unravel the moment US personnel prepared to leave the country.

The 2003 Iraq invasion raised even more questions about the ability of policymakers to engage in clear thinking. Under Saddam Hussein, the minority Sunni Muslims ruled the Shi’ite majority, many of whom were sympathetic to Shi’ite Ira

With Shi’ites in control, Iraqi Sunnis resisted. And then came the Al-Qaeda fighters. Hence the continued violence in Iraq, even though US forces left at the end of 2011 – despite the Obama administration’s best effort to keep some there.

Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only places where US foreign policy is in disarray. Take Egypt. The Obama administration stuck with hated military dictator and ally Hosni Mubarak until the bitter end and even then tried to have his second-in-command, Omar Suleiman, take over when Mubarak was finished. That didn’t work, of course, and a fledgling democracy (whatever its imperfections) began to sprout wings.

The Obama administration praised Egyptian democratic aspirations, but when the military deposed Morsi last year, the administration sided with the coup makers – although it could not use the word coup, for that would require stopping the annual $1.5 billion payment to the Egyptian military.

The US government has no desire to end that appropriation, because it keeps Egypt in the American camp and blunts its support for the Palestinians, who are under occupation by US partner Israel. With Egypt’s military government cracking down on the civil liberties of the members of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, US policy looks more monstrous every day.

Speaking of Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be going all out for a peace agreement, but Kerry’s effort has a fatal flaw at its core. Netanyahu & Co. don’t want the Palestinians to have a autonomous state free of Israeli domination. We know this because the prime minister keeps announcing plans for more illegal Jewish-only residences on Palestinian land acquired through war. Kerry won’t condemn this flagrant undermining of “peace” talks because he, like so many American politicians, is beholden to Israel’s powerful American lobby.

Then there’s Libya and Syria – but you get the idea. US foreign intervention aggravates conflicts and puts America on the side of oppressors. No wonder it’s falling to pieces.

By: Sheldon Richman

Excerpted from: ‘US foreign policy is a shambles’, originally published on Counterpunch.org

Obama and Mandela’s Legacies

When ideas fail, said Goethe, words come in handy. As speeches go, President Obama’s tribute at Nelson Mandela’s memorial last week may easily have been one of his best.

That it was read from a script seemed to make no difference to the awesome power of his magical words or performance. It was such a refreshing change from the pedantic verbosity of President Jacob Zuma, the host, and other world leaders.

No politician has ever benefited from the power of words as Obama has. Indeed, if America, and the world, fell in love with the man with an unusual name and even more unusual background, much of the credit goes to his formidable oratorical skills. If mere words ever helped launch a career, it must be his.

The entire speech is a brilliant example of sublime oratory and clever use of language and words. It’s perhaps the best tribute Mandela ever received. It goes without saying that each word in summing up the magnificent legacy of the incomparable man that was Mandela is true. Some of the lines were absolute gems.

Addressing South Africans, Obama said: “His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy. He was a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”

“Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.

“He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.”

And here is my favourite bit out of the whole speech:

“He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.”

Powerful words there. But are words alone enough? Words are nothing if they are not backed by action. The question is, does the great orator, the master of grandiloquence believe in his own words?

Obama talks of applying Mandela’s lessons in our own lives: “With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It is a question I ask myself – as a man and as a president.”

Really? And what answers, pray, does this ‘self-reflection’ by the most powerful man on the planet throw up?

Someone who claims to be inspired by the last great liberator of the 20th century and credits his own evolution as a politician and election to the highest office in the land to the ideals of Mandela and Martin Luther King – how does he live with all the injustice and oppression around him, some of which on his own watch?

Last year, The New York Times revealed how Obama, who ran for the president on a promise to change America for the better and end its wars, gulags and other glorious practices, now personally determines a daily ‘kill list’ of faceless men, women and children in distant lands.

Once chided as a liberal constitutional professor, we are told he now applies his “lawyering skills to counterterrorism.”

US drones have wiped out thousands of lives in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere without so much as a blip on Pentagon computer screens. From toddlers in their mother’s arms to grannies working in fields, everyone is now a threat to the most powerful nation on earth.

Yet the leader of the free world has no qualms in staking claim to Mandela’s legacy. Urging the world community to “act on behalf of justice and peace”, Obama thundered: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”

I am not sure which ‘leaders’ he had in mind but I could instantly recall at least three people who are right now paying for that kind of ‘dissent’ – Bradley Manning, Alexander Snowden and Julian Assange.

While Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, the website that has set the cat among the pigeons with its repeated exposes about abuse of power in high places, the first two names are those of US citizens in the pay of the US government.

The 26-year old Manning received a 35-year sentence, not to mention the price he has paid in other ways. Assange and Snowden, after being hunted like wild animals across the globe, have taken shelter in countries with which they have nothing in common.

All this for what? For telling the truth of course and for blowing the lid off the crimes that the country that claims to champion freedom, democracy and human rights routinely commits.

Americans and the rest of the west trashed the late Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’. Given the total tyranny that prevailed under Stalin and those who followed him, the description was justified. Millions perished in Siberia; we will never know the exact number or identity of the victims.

In Stalin’s words, they will remain a mere statistic. But the Commies never pretended to be the sole defenders of democracy and freedom or staked righteous claims to global leadership.

This Sovietisation of America has not just continued under the man who captured the world’s imagination with his rhetoric and gravitas like no politician has, it seems to have gathered pace. As in those bizarre zombie flicks, our hero seems to have taken on the personality of the very monster he replaced.

One can still glimpse some of those shades of the original Obama. Like when he stands up to speak for ideals and heroes once apparently close to his heart, as he did last week in South Africa. Or when he stands up to lobbies and special interests to take the right stand, as he initially did in announcing the shutdown of Guantanamo Bay or pushing for peace and equitable justice in the Middle East.

This was apparently why the few wise, Nobel men in Norway rushed to fete him, within weeks of his taking office and without waiting for him to deliver on his promises. It’s as though there are two sides to Obama’s personality – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

And it is never easy to tell which side is which and which actually represents the real Barack Hussein Obama. One who sings hosannas to Mandela and Martin Luther King or one who embraces the very worldview that his heroes fought all their lives?

Does Obama really care what Mandela thought of US and western policies? This is what the great man had to say of the empire: “If there’s a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings!”

In the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, an angry Mandela had said: “All he (Bush) wants is Iraqi oil. The US attitude is a threat to world peace.”

Having long suffered under the white supremacist tyranny, Mandela was passionate in his support for the Palestinians: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Not surprisingly, while paying rich tributes to the South African struggle against apartheid, Obama chose to ignore the other apartheid that continues in the 21st century with the support of US taxpayers’ money.

Courtesy: The News International