The system stymies Obama

The 100-day honeymoon period is over for President Barack Obama. The kindness with which the world looked at him and his performance will wane as the days pass by. How he will deal with the multiple crises that face the United States in particular and the world in general will come under greater scrutiny and much more fire from now on.

His past 100 days in the White House from January 20, 2009, may have added more grey to his hair and given much hope to the world. But in some cases, his hope-inspiring promises have not been translated into hope-realising actions. Issues that come straight to one’s mind here are Iraq, the Palestinian crisis and the US commitment to human rights. It’s not that he has not made any attempt to improve the US record in each of these areas, but his resolve to deal with them appears to be wanting.

What he has done, has not done and could not do in the first 100 days in office only underscores the limits within which he has to confine himself. The limits are set by the system which, in turn, is shaped by what the US perceives to be its national interest. The president is bound to govern by the constitution. But the system is bigger than the constitution. Often in times of conflict between the constitution and the system, the system prevails.

Like every candidate in the presidential race, Obama also promised heaven and earth, little realizing that the sharp eyes of the system were on the Oval office. But once elected, it did not take much time for him to learn this reality.

To be fair by Obama, in any analysis of his first one hundred days in office, due consideration should be given to the timing of his election to office. He was elected to office at a time when the global economy was in serious trouble. Bank after bank had been collapsing in the US since September 2008. Country after country announced that the global crisis was hitting them badly.

Although finding a solution to the global meltdown was priority number one, Obama did not forget other priority areas. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the West Asian crisis, relations with Iran and Latin American countries, especially Cuba, and restoring the United State’s image as a champion of human rights and democracy are some of the areas which have won the focus of his administration. But it cannot be said that he has achieved the desired results.

With regard to the financial crisis, Obama had little problem in hammering out a solution. He simply took his predecessor’s formula and modified it slightly. He continued to infuse more money into the US financial system and urged European governments to follow the pattern. At the April G20 summit in London, the Obama administration played a vital role in working out a solution which envisaged the infusion of 1.1 trillion dollars into the global economy. This was in addition to the more than 700 billion dollars injected into the US economy. As Obama completed his 100th day in office, the global economic crisis was far from over.

It is not only in dealing with the economic crisis that Obama modified and adopted the Bush administration’s formula; with regard to Iraq, too, he has done the same. His troop withdrawal agenda is no different from the Status of Forces Agreement which the Bush administration signed with the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad. As Obama’s first hundred days in office passed, the doubts the Iraqis entertained about the US commitment to withdraw from their country had only increased.

If Iraq was the Bush administration’s priority, it is Afghanistan for the Obama administration. With the Obama administration increasing the troop level in Afghanistan and taking the war to Pakistan, all signs point to a major escalation of the conflict. The main victim of Obama’s gung-ho policy is Pakistan, which is paying a heavy price. A superpower armed to the teeth with heavy and technologically superior weapons has been fighting for eight years against Islamic militants armed largely with Kalashnikov rifles. Yet victory seems to be elusive. All indications are that the war in Afghanistan will continue and cause more havoc in Pakistan.

The Obama administration, like its predecessor, has failed to realize that the better way to deal with the question of Islamic militancy — which the West describes as terrorism — is to allow Muslims themselves to deal with it. For this to happen, the United States should first become an honest broker in the Palestinian peace process and help the Palestinian people gain freedom from occupation. The US should then withdraw from Iraq and let Iraqis decide their fate. But the administration is incapable of taking such a path because the system, which is controlled by the Israeli lobby, would not permit such a course of action.

As regards Pakistan, the Obama administration initially had a somewhat practical solution — which called for an end to Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir. Obama saw an end to the Kashmir crisis as a prerequisite to win the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, this approach did not work with India expressing its opposition.

The Obama administration also tried to improve its relations with Iran,, saying it was ready to talk to Teheran without any preconditions. But it soon found that its approach was making little progress — not because of any Iranian obstinacy but because of concerns raised by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia also entertains fears about the growing power of Iran. The Saudis, who have miserably failed to influence the US policy towards Israel, however, appear to have succeeded in putting the brakes on Obama’s overtures to Iran.

In spite of the US war against Islamic militants, Obama is promoting himself as a friend of the Muslim world. The first call he made from the White House after he assumed duties was to Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas. Besides, his visit in March to Turkey received rave but rare accolades from Muslims who had been sceptical about the US credibility as a friend of the Muslims.

In his address to Turkish parliament, Obama said, “the United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical in rolling back a fringe ideology that people of all faiths reject. But I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda. Far from it….”

Yet, the tone and the spirit of his speech in Turkey are not evident in his administration’s Israel policy. It’s true he appointed former Senator George Mitchell, who is widely seen as an honest person committed to justice and fair play, as his envoy to West Asia. But when Israel keeps on adding new conditions, the White House remains silent and applies little or no pressure.

For instance, at a recent meeting Mitchell told Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Obama was committed to a two-state solution, “in which a Palestinian state is living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel.” But when the hawkish Israeli leader placed a new condition that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as a Jewish state — please note the demand is for the recognition of a racist state not of a sovereign state — the Obama administration made no comment. On the contrary, in a message to mark Israel’s national day on Wednesday — incidentally on the very day on which the President marked his 100th day in office — Obama said the United States did not plan to pressure Israel for peace at all costs.

Another area where the Obama administration was sending mixed signals was human rights. The administration released secret memos which showed that the Bush administration authorized torture to exact information from suspects, but took cover behind a warped interpretation of the law and said no one would be prosecuted for torture. This was another example which showed that the president was tethered to the system. However, Obama should be credited for stopping the so-called rendition flights and taking steps to close down the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention centre and the CIA’s secret prisons overseas.

He also should receive accolades for taking steps to improve ties with Cuba. All indications are that the two countries would sooner rather than later sit together to iron out problems that date back to the Cuban revolution of 1959.

In spite of his blow hot blow cold approach or cautious approach to problems facing the US and the world, Obama’s popularity has not suffered. He remains the most popular world leader with a mesmerizing charisma. The next review of the Obama administration will be when he completes one year in office. Until that time, it is needless to say that he will remain the most watched world leader.

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