By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Obama after missing the bus

On taking over the reins of power in January 2009 as 44th President of USA, Barack Hussein Obama’s foremost priority should have been to clear the bloody mess created by his predecessor George W. Bush. The whole world at that time was stridently condemning policies of Bush concerning Muslims specific war on terror which had antagonized the Muslim world and had made Muslims born and bred in western countries perturbed. Saner elements within non-Muslim world had also expressed their resentment and censured brutality committed by US led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. While 9/11 had become controversial, so was the claim that Al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11. Resort to blatant lies and deception by US-UK leaders to justify Iraq venture had angered the people. Seven years of war had given no joy but had made the world highly turbulent.

Butchery of Muslims of two occupied countries was at a massive scale and suffering of the living too painful. Image of USA as a sole super power had got badly damaged, anti-Americanism had peaked and inter-faith harmony had got discordant. Costly war had begun to have a toll on America’s vibrant economy and became a chief cause for onset of global recession. Barbaric acts together with injustices inflicted by occupation forces had triggered extremism within Muslim world and resistance forces in the two affected countries had bounced back with a vengeance. Occupation forces were at a loss how to stem the tide of extremism and backlash of militancy in the two theatres of war. The people in USA and in western countries had become wary of the war since white skinned soldiers were also getting killed and injured and social problems were on the rise. Bush had become the most despised president of USA. Glimpse of this pathological hatred was reflected in shoe-throwing episode in Baghdad. The shoe thrower instantly became a hero since he did what every Muslim wished to do.

It was owing to pent up frustration of Americans that they chose to elect a black man as their president for the first time. Obama was chosen since in his election campaign he had promised to bring a change. They wanted him to repair the damaged image and credibility of USA and to restore its position to pre-9/11 times. They sought security, better living conditions and an end to futile war which had been unleashed with depraved intentions and was seen as mother of all evils. The aggrieved Muslims who had virtually gone through hell expectantly looked towards him, with many mistakenly considering him to be a Muslim. They nourished hopes that he would not only terminate the bloody war but would also play a key role in resolving longstanding disputes of Palestine and Kashmir and thus restore inter-faith harmony.

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With such high emotions and candles of hopes lit in every household all over the world, Obama was in an ideal situation to bring a real change by stopping the war forthwith and then going about winning the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad. Such acts would have catapulted his popularity sky high and correspondingly helped in reinstating prestige of USA. Militant forces in Iraq and Afghanistan would have welcomed his decision and allowed the occupation forces to return to their respective homes with dignity and honor. The only possible demand made by them would have been to carryout trial of Bush led neo-cons for war crimes. The US would have stood on a high moral ground to negotiate a mutually beneficial political settlement. By end 2009, the world would have become much peaceful and livable. Had Obama played a constructive role in resolving the two chronic disputes, he would have earned undying gratitude of the Muslims and America’s status as a fair super power been recognized.

Alas! Nothing of the sort happened since all this has fallen in the realm of idealism. Obama proved to be no better than Bush. Instead of bringing a change, he opted to pursue old policies and thus made the situation messier. In his exuberance to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and to tame Afghanistan, he increased the force level from less than 100,000 to 152000 in less than year’s time and extended the war into Pakistan under newly coined Af-Pak policy. This huge force today finds itself stuck in hellhole from where retrieval has become a real challenge. While hope of victory has dashed, even a face-saving formula for a graceful exit his become difficult.

As if roping in Pakistan at the behest of India was not enough, egged on by Israel Obama adopted a confrontational posture against Iran. Misled by hawks in Pentagon, State Department and CIA, he too encouraged covert operations against Pakistan, Iran and China. With hands full in two widely apart theatres of war, it was unwise to open so many fronts and antagonize the whole region. Instead of solving Kashmir and Palestine issues that is breeding extremism and terrorism, he preferred to keep the two darlings in good humor. Like his predecessor, he too is relying solely on force to eliminate terrorism and to keep the people of Afghanistan suppressed and subjugated. Like Bush, Obama also ignored lessons from history. He forgot that Afghans had humbled two super powers and Afghanistan had earned the name of ‘graveyard of empires’.

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Since Obama after assuming power failed to exploit the God given opportunity of going down in history as a successful president of America like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, he is now paying the price. Having missed the bus the situation has spun out of his control and he is not in a position to reverse the tide to his advantage. He seems to have run out of options since neither force nor negotiations is working. Apart from polarization between Democrats and Republicans, Obama Administration itself is sharply divided. There is also a cold war going on between Pentagon led by Robert Gates and State Department led by Hillary Clinton, with former trying to assert its authority. War merchants running defence industries have their own axe to grind and have become a powerful entity. Above all, influence of American Jews is all too pervasive in policy matters.

Obama’s rating at home has slumped from 68% in April 2009 to lowly 24% since he has so far not fulfilled any of the promises he made. Ill-famed Guantanamo Bay Prison which he promised to shut up by end 2009 is still functioning. US heavy borrowing from China has not scaled down and economy is not showing any signs of recovery. Banks are closing down at a fast rate and unemployment has soared to 9.6%. Much hyped healthcare program has run into snags. General public of America is constantly putting pressure on the government to stop the war and bring back the soldiers. Discussion on war crimes is also taking place in many circles of American society. In case situation in Afghanistan becomes ugly, demand for trials will become louder. All these developments are bound to have an impact on mid term elections scheduled on 2nd November in which 435 seats in House of Representatives, 37 seats of Senate and 38 governorships will be contested. It is predicted that Democrats hold on Congress would get weaker.
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Seeing the writing on the wall that balance has tilted towards Taliban, the US is still trying to dictate terms to the Taliban. It wants them to surrender their arms and break their ties with Al-Qaeda. Whether the occupying forces pull out in 2011 or in 2014, the fact is the US cannot snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Considering that 521 ISAF soldiers lost their lives in 2009, 2010 has proved to be the deadliest since till 25 October 600 fatalities have taken place. It is anticipated that coming months may prove even more costly. While Taliban do not seek worldly comforts of life, they are used to hardships, and are adept in fighting prolonged guerrilla war, and do not fear death, hence they will not give up irrespective of the adverse circumstances. Legitimacy of their cause to fight for their homeland propels them to keep fighting. Coalition forces on the other hand deprived of a genuine cause and fighting a wrong war for wrong purposes at the wrong time are not convinced as to why they should sacrifice their lives.

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Notwithstanding deplorable role of USA in playing a double game with Pakistan which it often mentions as a key ally, wicked role played by India and Israel needs no amplification. The pair is chiefly responsible for making the war on terror a failure and in getting US military bogged down in the quagmire of Afghanistan. However, sad part of the story is that the US leaders are still stretching their hands towards the duo which is sinking them, naively hoping that that it will pull them out. They continue to rely on the Indo-Israeli self-serving advices and are not prepared to trust Pakistan.

Obama is eagerly looking forward to his visit to India early next month and like his predecessors Bill Clinton and George W Bush, he will also lavishly toss out rich endowments into the waiting lap of India. If Pakistan is the key ally, Obama should have preferred visiting Pakistan and not India. When one gets so blinded by commercial interests as to fail to make a distinction between a friend and a foe, it is a sure recipe of disaster. Obama for sure has missed the bus.

Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites

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