Published On:30 October 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

This new, new world order

Unless there's a fresh mindset, US power can't be sustained in this changing world

By Paul McGeough

The October surprise, a curve ball that is likely to throw a US presidential campaign off its axis, barrelled through the front door, created a storm and then, just as quickly, snuck out the back.

It was the September 11 assassination of the US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US diplomats in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Here, in a single murderous attack, was all the complexity and uncertainty of a dramatically altered foreign policy landscape - on which the President, Barack Obama, and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, were required to tap dance for voters who believed they were attending a very different performance.

For months these two had been traipsing the swing states, talking themselves hoarse about jobs and debt. Now, along with their surrogates, they had to jump the rails, forced by circumstances to address the reality of a new, new world order - not only is the Cold War over, but also the Arab Spring has sprung and US power is being revealed as an ungainly construct from a bygone era.

But you cannot say that in the US. Were Obama to argue that US power was somewhat diminished in the absence of the global gridlock of the Cold War or that imposing Washington's will on emerging democracies in the Middle East was not quite what was meant by the Arab Spring, it would blaspheme the whole notion of ''American Exceptionalism''.

Romney, too, must tread warily. Not only because of the dizzying rate of his policy reverses, but also because of his deeply personal awareness of the cost of acknowledging a truth that may dilute the Exceptionalism mantra - his every political nerve ties back to the implosion of his own father George's campaign for the presidency in 1967 when, in a moment of frankness, he told a TV interviewer that he had initially supported the Vietnam war because US generals and diplomats had subjected him to ''the greatest brainwashing that anyone could get''.

Romney's about-turns make it difficult to speculate on how he would conduct foreign policy. Rhetorically, he borrows from the Cheney-Rumsfeld school of ''how we need to sort out the world''; but in Monday evening's last campaign debate, Romney endorsed Obama's management of foreign policy - almost in its entirety.

Time will reveal his insistence that ''we don't want another Iraq'' and ''we can't kill our way out of this mess'' as cynical grasping for the last undecided votes - or not.

This seeming unanimity is read in some quarters as a bipartisan acceptance that Americans have had it with the Bush wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they want their boys home and they don't want another war, especially in the Muslim world.

Since the 9/11 attacks and more recently, there has been a marked jump in the number of Americans who think the country should mind its own business internationally - up from 30 per cent to 49 per cent, those who rate terrorism as ''very important'' have dropped by 12 per cent and more than 60 per cent want the US less involved in the Middle East.

Obama's first term was not unlike this campaign. It was meant to be ''the economy, stupid'', but his efforts to wind-down two inherited wars and, instead, fight terrorism with a dramatic shift to drone warfare as a controversial substitute for boots-on-the-ground, as well as tumult across the Arab world, made his presidency very much about the world and America's place, security and standing in it.

In a nutshell, he said he would get US forces out of Iraq and he did - although he is under attack for not twisting enough Iraqi arms to have allowed 10,000 or 20,000 troops to remain there.

Afghanistan remains a mess. It was started and under-resourced by his Republican predecessors, but Obama has allowed it to drag on for too long and at too great a cost. He took out Osama Bin Laden and whole slabs of the al-Qaeda leadership, but his stepped-up drone strikes and associated civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen are a great cause of anti-US sentiment.

On coming off badly in a clash with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, Obama allowed the skeletal remains of what some still refer to as the Middle East ''peace process'' to be parked in a cul-de-sac, but he has pushed back in the face of Netanyahu's highly public efforts to co-opt the US military in the campaign to thwart Iran's nuclear program.

Obama's rhetorical response to the Arab Spring was impressive, but he was late in endorsing the calls by Egypt's young revolutionaries for the ouster of their dictator. He was rightly measured in his response to the uprising in Libya - sharing the lead with the Europeans.

He has resisted pressure for direct US intervention in Syria - despite 30,000-plus dead, but he is troubled more by the risk of a regional meltdown and of US supplied arms ending up in the hands of the jihadists, even though the collapse of the Damascus regime would effectively destroy Tehran's regional network.

He looked away when Saudi forces went into Bahrain to help local authorities to suppress demonstrations.

But for all that, Obama has ruled a line under a discredited US doctrine of happily supporting contemptible dictators who kept the oil flowing and shored up a misplaced notion of regional stability, all of which failed to check rising rage against the US.
The killing of the US diplomats in Benghazi wrong-footed Romney twice. And despite his spearheading a relentless Republican onslaught, accusing the White House of twisting the story lest there be rents in its narrative of al-Qaeda being on its knees, US intelligence officials last week argued there still was no evidence that the attack had been planned in advance - by which they meant that while some of the attackers might have had ties to al-Qaeda, there was no evidence yet to confirm it was a planned al-Qaeda attack.

But the uncertainty about who did what in Benghazi, who they might be associated with and just how it fits into unrest across the region - and Romney's seeming abandonment this week of the issue as an Obama attack point - is an apt metaphor for US-Middle East policy in a new era.

The region no longer lends itself to simple yes or no answers - neither do Afghanistan or Pakistan, where policy sticks and carrots seemingly have no effect as fundamentalist militias nose around the country's substantial nuclear arsenal.

Romney, in the wild arcs of his rhetoric, seemingly believes that Washington can still get its way in the world and he derides Obama's efforts to engage the Muslim world, in particular, as ''apologising for America'', which, he argues, finds itself unnecessarily ''at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events''.

But the Romney riffs on the region have caused some analysts to wonder if he actually understands that the noise he hears is a revolution rumbling across the Middle East - and blaming Obama for all he perceives as wrong in the Middle East hardly constitutes a policy.

For Romney to argue that the rise of Islamist political parties represents failure by the Obama administration is absurd.

That's what happens with democracy in the Muslim world - a bit like the Christian right in US politics. They might be brought into line through aid and trade deals, but to deny them their right to participate is a failure to understand the reality of this new world order.

The New York Times' Thomas Friedman was scathing: ''[Romney believes] that America stands astride the globe with unrivalled power to bend the world our way, and the only thing missing is a president with 'will'. The only thing missing is a president who is ready to simultaneously confront Russia, bash China, tell Iraqis we're not leaving their country, snub the Muslim world by outsourcing our Arab-Israeli policy to the Prime Minister of Israel, green-light Israel to bomb Iran - and raise the defence budget while cutting taxes and eliminating the deficit.''

Even the conservative columnist George F. Will was mocking of Romney. Latching on to the challenger's vow to ''move the world away from'' Islamic extremism, Will recalled Woodrow Wilson declaring: ''I'm going to teach the South American republics to elect good men!''

The no-go area of what the analyst Andrew Bacevich dubbed the ''limits of American power'' has had little attention in the campaign.

But it did surface in The Risk of Ignoring Strategic Insolvency, by the professor of strategy at the National War College, Michael J. Mazarr. His point is that unless the US reins in its ambitions and measures its resources, US power cannot be sustained in a changing world.

Arguably Obama is trying - getting out of Iraq, winding down Afghanistan, avoiding wars in Iran and Syria … and being flogged by his political opponents as a national security weenie for doing just that.

Citing budgetary constraints, the emergence of new powers that think for themselves outside the confines of the Cold War and the failure of the Bush-Cheney full-frontal military assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, Mazarr writes: ''The very definition of grand strategy is holding ends and means in balance to promote the security and interest of the state. Yet, the postwar US approach to strategy is rapidly becoming insolvent and unsustainable.''

So, whither the US on November 6? This week, The Washington Post endorsed Obama. So too did George W. Bush's secretary of state, Colin Powell.

He said of the Romney flip flops: ''I'm not sure which Governor Romney we'd be getting with respect to foreign policy … I don't sense that he has thought through these issues.''

(Courtesy: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on October 30, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on October 30, 2012. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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