Many western commentators have been raving about Barack Obama’s twin foreign policy triumphs in the last lap of his presidency. The best take came from Maureen Dowd of the New York Times.
Having trashed him in June as the ‘lame duck whose chickens have come home to roost’ for his inaction in the face of mounting challenges including those on the Middle East front, Dowd now suggests that Obama may be a lame duck, but his bolder side, the one that got him elected, is rising.
By striking the nuclear pact with Iran and the once unthinkable rapprochement with Cuba’s last commies, Obama may have succeeded in saving his legacy just in time. While the normalization of ties with Cuba after nearly six decades of hostilities was perhaps inevitable considering the irrepressible Fidel Castro is out of action, the import of what Obama has delivered on the Iran front in the face of resistance from Israel and genuine concerns of Arab allies is overwhelming to fathom.
With one stroke of pen, he has changed the geopolitical contours and power equations in the region. The ayatollahs may still insist on principled opposition to the ‘Great Satan’ and pretend as if nothing has changed. But we all know the ground has shifted.
While Obama’s legion of fans may be forgiven for concluding that the last burst of brilliance of their hero, coupled with the success on health care and gay rights, would perpetuate his legacy, two of the biggest disappointments of the Obama presidency also happen to be on the foreign policy front.
Obama’s betrayal of the Palestinian people and dithering on the Syrian front may have cost thousands of precious lives and directly contributed to the outbreak of cancer called Daesh, or the so-called Daesh. After those stirring words championing the Palestinians’ right to liberty and dignity and reaching out to the Muslim world, Obama dropped them like proverbial hot potatoes when confronted by the Israeli lobby.
His chicanery and inaction on Syria have destroyed one of the oldest and peaceful civilizations in the world with nearly half of the country’s population being uprooted. More than 200,000 lives have been lost.
Between August 2011 when Obama first called on Bashar Assad to leave and August 2014 when the US forces finally “intervened” in Syria to bomb the Daesh targets, the Baathist regime in Damascus has killed, bombed and maimed hundreds of thousands of Syrians. The blood of thousands of Syrians is not just on the hands of Assad and his thugs. World leaders are equally guilty. For while the US and its allies have publicly called for Assad to step aside, their actions have quietly and actually helped the regime dig in its feet.
As Omer Aziz put it in his Al Jazeera piece, in true Arab nationalist form, Assad portrayed himself as the only man standing between the West and the terrorists. This image — or mirage — won over many western “realists,” turning reality on its head.The West and its Israeli friends have never really wanted Assad’s fall, fearing the unimaginable specter of an Islamist takeover of Damascus. Whether those fears are justified or not, can there be anything worse than the mindboggling mess that stares us all in the face right now?
While the Baathist cowards unleash daily hell on utterly defenseless civilians, trapped in the remains of their towns and cities, the Daesh devils have turned the territory under their tyranny into a ghoulish laboratory where daily experiments are conducted in inflicting maximum ignominy and cruelty in the name of Islam.
We are running out of epithets and words to define the increasingly sickening depravity and spine-chilling pornography of violence. Look at the obscene killing of Palmyra’s 82-year old retired Antiquities chief. Dr. Khaled Al-Assad had spent 50 years in the service and protection of Palmyra’s ancient Roman ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
He had refused to leave when Daesh swarms descended on Palmyra ignoring warnings from his friends and family. He was tortured for a month apparently for the location of the Roman city’s priceless artifacts before being beheaded. His headless corpse kept hanging from a lamppost in the town center.
It is perhaps just as well that Dr. Assad did not live to see the destruction of the 2,000-year old Roman temple at Palmyra within days of his killing. Something that even the Crusaders and Mongol hordes did not touch has been destroyed by the folks who claim to “liberate” the Middle East and Muslim world.
Who are these crazed bigots then? Who is pulling their strings? I hate conspiracy theories. But it’s clear as daylight that whatever the factors that may have helped spawn Daesh – the US invasion and destruction of Iraq and disbanding of Iraqi Army and police, the rise and tyranny of Shia militias and their persecution of Sunnis, and above all, the failure to rein in Assad and his band of killers — Daesh now appears to be completely controlled and manipulated by forces that have long plotted the destruction of Muslim lands.
Every action and atrocity inflicted by Daesh in the past one year — from beheadings and mass killings to rapes and mindless destruction of priceless heritage as Palmyra — all in the name of Islam of course appears calculated and designed to evoke and arouse maximum horror and revulsion worldwide.
No wonder Muslims around the world, especially those in the West, find themselves increasingly unwelcome. Daesh had to come along just when the world was getting ready to move on from the shock and awe of 9/11. So Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi may not be a Zionist as many in the Arab world suspect but the fingerprints of Mossad and our other benefactors are all over this baby. Even old Middle East watchers like Robert Fisk are coming around to the idea.
In his latest piece, the veteran British journalist wonders: “Why does Isis never attack Israel — indeed, why does its hatred of Crusaders and Shias and Christians and sometimes Jews rarely if ever mention the very word “Israel”? (So) It’s not the violence in Isis videos and Dabiq (Daaesh magazine) we should be concentrating on.
It’s what the Isis leadership don’t talk about, don’t condemn, don’t mention upon which we should cast our suspicious eye. If we failed after 9/11 — when the political reasons behind this crime against humanity would have necessitated an examination of US Middle East policy and our support for Israel and dictators – we’ve sometimes held our ground when it comes to ‘terror’.”
In these last few months in the White House, Obama may not have much time left to save the world. But he could at least ask his security and intelligence honchos some pertinent questions like whose baby Daesh really is and how come all those US-made weapons have ended up in the hands of the terror army?
Why do young men and women, born and brought up in Western lands, are rushing to join Daesh? Also, how do we solve a problem called Bashar Assad? What has kept him hanging on to power all this while and with whose support when his more powerful fellow travelers have all departed?
Obama may have chosen to do ‘nothing’ over Syria in order to avoid ‘another Iraq,’ as he once put it. But if Syria is in total ruin today, it is also chiefly because of what the US visited on Iraq. America cannot run away now from its responsibility, before clearing the mess it has made of the region.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely read author. The above article was first published by Arab News]