The Obama legacy: Less peace and more war

By Ameen Izzadeen
If one were to assess President Barack Obama’s global leadership in the past eight years in absolute terms, the scorecard will not be impressive enough to keep him on the pedestal of peacemakers or group him together with Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Jimmy Carter — men who were widely regarded as peace presidents.
But in relative terms, Obama’s global leadership role is certainly better than that of his predecessor George W. Bush, but to what extent he is better is debatable. Also given his successor Donald Trump’s outrageous policies, the shine on Obama’s presidency is likely to last for many years to come.
His election victory in 2008 was historic. It was seen as a blow that brought down racial barriers in US politics. Many shed tears of joy, unable to believe that the dream of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had finally come true. Yet it was during his presidency that the Afro-Americans came under more hate crime attacks, giving rise to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
His election victory came on a seemingly anti-war platform and it generated hope worldwide. The Nobel Committee could not wait longer to accord him the 2009 Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The Committee, which, for the first time in the Nobel Peace Prize history, chose a winner based on words instead of deeds, attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
But as he prepares to leave the White House in less than a month, he will hand over to Trump a war baton. The Nobel Committee might as well ask him to return the peace medal, for the committee which made the blunder won’t be able to cite his peace record in vindication.
Far from being an anti-war president, Obama goes into history as another war president. He opposed Bush’s wars not because he saw war as evil, but because he saw them as rash wars and dumb wars.
“What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by [neocon officials] to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne,” he said when he was a state Senator.
On January 19, Obama will end his two-term presidency with unfinished wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, True, they were not wars he started, but they are yet to end. He set a December 2016 deadline to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, but in July this year, claiming that the security situation in Afghanistan was “precarious,” he said some 8,400 US troops would remain there and his successor could determine the next move.
A week before Christmas five years ago, Obama announced that the “war in Iraq ends this month”. But 5,000 US troops are taking part in military activities in the fight against terror outfit ISIS in Iraq. In addition, more than 5,000 security personnel are attached to the US embassy in Baghdad.
If these were Bush’s rash and dumb wars, there are Obama wars. The war against Libya and the bloody mayhem that followed were Obama’s legacies. As regards Syria, where more than 300 US troops are engaged in the fight against ISIS, Obama, however, defied calls from allies such as Britain, France and Saudi Arabia to use the full force of the US military to oust Bashar al-Assad. His reluctance was not due to any love for Assad or any desire to regain his lost anti-war credentials but because of fears that Islamic extremists would take over the country if Assad was removed.
Obama also continued the war on terror with as much vigour as Bush prosecuted it. His biggest war trophy was the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a raid by US special troops on a hideout in Abbotabad in Pakistan. This helped him win his second term.
He dumped his commitment to uphold human rights in the White House storeroom, to be taken out and held high only when hostile or not-so friendly nations violate human rights. He approved drone attacks that killed thousands of civilians, including children, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and other places. He also endorsed extra-judicial killings in the name of national security, lending credence to the allegation that the US adopts double standards and politicises human rights.
His biggest setback was not his failure to end America’s dirty wars or close down the Gulag-like prison in Guantanamo Bay. Rather, it was his failure to bring peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a way, Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009 was baptized by Palestinian blood. It took place two days after Israel’s month-long attacks on Gaza ended. Aleppo pales into insignificance in comparison to the suffering of Palestinians during Israel’s 2009 Gaza war, which evoked little or no condemnation from the West though some 800 Palestinian children perished.
Upon assuming office, Obama gave hope to the suffering Palestinians. In June 2009, Obama, in a speech that was seen as a fresh attempt to reach out to the Muslim world, urged Israel to stop settlement building activities in occupied Palestine, while he also urged the Muslims to shun extremism, adopt democracy and respect human rights and women’s rights.
His efforts to help Palestinians to achieve statehood were no political circus. Obama made Middle East peace a centrepiece of his foreign policy — an audacious political gamble in the face of Israel’s non-cooperation. During his second term, in a last-ditch effort, he sent Secretary of State John Kerry to the region with a mission to achieve peace before an April 29, 2014 deadline. But the mission collapsed, largely due to hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigence and also due to the lack of political chemistry between Obama and Israeli leaders. Israel paid no heed to Obama’s repeated calls that it should stop building settlements in occupied Palestine. Yet, during his last year in office he signed a US$ 38 billion aid package for Israel, displaying his inability to resist the Israeli lobby.
As Obama leaves office, the Palestinians face the prospect of war because Trump has picked as ambassador to Israel his bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who supports Israel’s illegal settlements and, like Trump, advocates that the US should shift its embassy to Jerusalem in occupied Palestine.
But Obama proved he was no pushover with regard to China and Russia. He devised a Pivot-to-Asia policy to contain China, just as the US tried to contain the Soviet Union’s growing influence in Asia during the Cold War. As part of his economic warfare to isolate China, Obama also floated an economic grouping called Trans-Pacific Partnership. His successor has vowed to dismantle the grouping.
As regards Russia, he renewed contacts on a positive note, which saw the two countries signing agreements on nuclear disarmament. But Russia’s wars in Georgia and Ukraine together with its support for Assad on the one hand, and Nato’s eastward expansion and its role in the Ukrainian coup on the other saw relations between the two big powers plummeting to at an all-time low since the end of the Cold War in 1991.
Criticism apart, on a positive note, Obama, hailed as the no-scandal president, can keep his Nobel peace medal, because of his support for the climate change treaty, his moves aimed at normalising relations with Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran.
(This article was first published in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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South Asia and people- centric global security

By Ameen Izzadeen

Security, whether it is abstract or tangible, cannot be confined to a single definition. This is because the concept of security is subjective and relative.
South Asia is not a homogenous region. South Asian nations have similarities and differences. On social development indices, the disparity among South Asian nations is tellingly evident. On health, literacy and education, some countries are far ahead of others. The geo-strategic values of each South Asian nation too vary depending on their geographic locations and defence capabilities. Each South Asian nation’s alliance formation policieis also differ. Therefore, the security needs of no two South Asian nations are the same.
Traditional and non-traditional approaches
To understand the wider security picture, we need to look at security from both traditional and non-traditional perspectives. Though there is no perfect definition of security, it can be described as a condition that assures an individual, a community, a state, a region, an international order and humanity at large freedom from fear and want. This is the core of human rights. As such, human rights and security are one and the same.

While traditionalists are largely concerned about the security of states, the international system and even the individual, non-traditionalists go beyond this scope and include in security studies issues such as ecocide, natural disasters, population explosion, food security, outbreak of epidemics and pandemics, economic recessions, poverty, crime, corruption and democracy deficiency. They believe that the search for peace and security should be directed towards social justice, economic justice and environmental justice.
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Syria: Whoever wins, the civilians lose

The Syrian government troops’ victory in Aleppo against the rebels and the western powers’ concern over civilian casualties may appear all too familiar to Sri Lankans. The allegations now being hurled at the Syrian troops are similar to the ones the then Sri Lankan government faced in 2009 when troops cornered the rebel leadership into a small stretch of beach in Mullivaikal.
Aleppo and Mullivaikal have many things in common. Firstly, it was the civilians who paid the biggest price. In both places, they were being used by the rebels as human shields. When they tried to move to the government side, they were shot at by the rebels. Then when the troops moved into take on the rebels, the West was not happy. It threatened to slap war crimes charges on the government.
Similarities apart, the Aleppo war, once again, highlights the inadequacy of the international system to protect civilians. United Nations reports which are usually issued after massacres bring virtually no relief to the battered victims.
The international community’s responsibility to protect civilians should come with the first signs of trouble and the UN must play a proactive role rather than displaying servitude to big powers. Besides, the so-called Responsibility-to-Protect doctrine is implemented selectively to suit the global agenda of big powers.
A critical look at the western media coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo makes one wonder whether the parties to the conflict use the plight of the civilians to promote their cause and demonise the enemy. The UN and the western nations, which issued statements this week condemning the summary executions of civilians allegedly committed by Syrian and Iranian-backed militia groups, were silent when al-Qaeda affiliated rebels overran Eastern Aleppo and carried out similar executions, four years ago. Some Western media narrations even justified these killings then by referring to the victims as regime collaborators. They were also silent when the Nour al-Din al-Zenki militia – the dominant rebel group in Eastern Aleppo — posted the video on internet this year showing how they tortured and slaughtered a 12-year-old Palestinian boy.
In an attempt to win the support of the people in the West towards the move to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Western media narrations and the speeches made by Western leaders, it appears, deliberately referred to the rebels as moderates whereas they were more like heartless liver-eating barbarians operating under various Islamic labels. The fact that they were al-Qaeda affiliates was rarely mentioned.
The Syrian civil war was not started by Assad. Although, he was an authoritarian president, he was popular; the Syrians had peace and the country was stable. He was reform-minded and showed an inclination to adopt economic liberalisation and multiparty democracy even before the Arab Spring in 2011.
Western educated Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000 following the death of his father Hafiz al-Assad. Long before the Arab Spring in the Middle East, Syria experienced a Damascus Spring with reform-minded Bashar’s ascension to power. Analysts says his reforms came in piecemeal because of the caution expressed by the old guard of the ruling Baath Party. Thus his reforms initially were largely in the socio-economic field. He began the process of economic liberalisation without privatising state enterprises. He gave new impetus to education with a vision to give higher education every citizen. Education up to the university level and health services were free in Syria and the country had a per capita income of US$ 5,000 before the war, despite it being only a small-scale oil exporter.
Little has been spoken in the Western media about Bashar al-Assad reconciliation moves before the war. He released thousands of political prisoners, mainly Islamists, who were arrested during his father’s regime.
With the first signs of the rebellion — which was foreign funded — he took steps to introduce political reforms in consultations with the opposition. These reforms limited the presidential office to two seven-year terms — a bold move in a region where rulers perpetuate dynastic politics and showed little or no inclination to adopt democracy.
If only the West had given Assad a chance to implement the reforms, Syria would not have seen this devastating war. But the West listened to the Arab monarchies which feel that nothing poses a bigger danger to their political power than democracy taking root in the region.
The West, which is benefiting through multibillion business deals with the sheikhdoms, endorsed the regime change plan for Syria. This was because Assad had denied Saudi Arabia and Qatar permission to build a pipeline across Syria to send their fuel and gas to Europe via Turkey. This could have brought economic benefits to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, but the plan had the undertones of economic warfare to punish Russia. If the pipeline project had come through, it would have undermined Russia’s oil and gas market in Europe.
The Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt offered the West and its Gulf allies an opportunity to topple the Syrian regime.
Foreign-funded rebel groups sprang up in Syria. They were largely led by military defectors but their followers lacked fighting capabilities. Against this backdrop, al-Qaeda cells which were dormant in Syria came to the fore. Al Nusra group was the most successful of them. Then came ISIS, which wanted first to bring all the other rebel groups under its command and then take the fight to Assad. Al-Nusra did not agree to the ISIS plan and this led to a war between the two powerful extremist groups. When the West came under pressure from its citizens to take on the barbaric ISIS, al-Nusra and other Islamic rebel groups were accorded a ‘moderate’ label so that they could get western military aid. But often the military aid supplied to the so-called moderate groups ended up with ISIS either through collusion or after a fight.
We are not saying that the rebels are bad and the Syrian military is good. Stories from Aleppo spoke about atrocities committed by the Syrian army and its allies. A man speaking from the last stronghold of the rebels asked fatwa from a religious leader whether he could kill his daughters before they are raped by the advancing Syrian forces. Also coming from the war front are reports that the fleeing rebels have killed a large number of civilians trying to flee to the government side. Who is killing whom and to what extent these reports are true are difficult to say. What can be said with certainty is that civilians are dying and are being treated as disposables.
However, Assad should be commended for agreeing to truces that provided rebels a safe passage. In Eastern Aleppo, under the protection of Syria’s main ally, Russia, the rebels are allowed to go to Turkey.
The Aleppo victory, achieved by the Syrian troops supported by Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, and the ceasefire deal worked out by Russia and Turkey, leaving out the US and its Gulf allies, may signal a speedy end to the Syrian war and a defeat of the West’s Syria policy.

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Self-centred US gets the Trump it deserves

By Ameen Izzadeen
Americans came out in their thousands to protest against the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. Today is the 17th day since they first took to the streets on November 9 crying ‘He is not my President’. The liberal use of the F-word showed the intensity of their anger. Protests were largely peaceful, but in some areas they turned violent. But where are they now? They came, they protested and they disappeared.
The protesters were a motley crowd and mainly in liberal states like New York, Oregon and California. Some protested shouting ‘Dump Trump’ because they were angry their beloved candidate Hillary Clinton was not elected though she won the popular vote by a massive majority of more than 2 million.
The migrants protested crying ‘Build bridges, not walls’, because they feared Trump would deport them.
The Muslims protested stressing that “Muslim rights are human rights” because they feared they would be subjected to racial profiling and would be the target of hate crime. The Jews protested because Trump appeared anti-Semite.
“No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” was the cry of those who feared that Trump would be an authoritarian president and would undermine the United States’ democratic traditions. The feminists shouted “My body, my choice!”
Some feared Trump would reverse the progress made in combating climate change while others thought he would be illiberal, irrational and could not be trusted with the nuclear code. But where are these protesters now?
The anti-Trump movement is today largely confined to some universities and online. Online petitions attract millions of signatures in support of a demand that the Republican Party Electoral College delegates switch their support to Hillary Clinton on the basis that she won the popular vote. Moves are now underway to persuade the Republican Electoral College delegates to vote for Clinton or a compromise candidate from the Republican Party when they vote on December 19. Trump has 290 delegates and Clinton 232. Though the success of such a move appears farfetched, it is constitutionally possible. In California and Oregon, some even went to the extent of initiating the legal process for their states to declare independence from the US. Even this impulsive move taken in anger is also unlikely to succeed. Some are even talking about impeaching Trump.
The failure to sustain the protests is a weakness of US civil society. The failure is not only because of the lack of energy or will power on the part of the protesters to sustain their civic action, but also because of their inconsistency in standing up against injustice. Sadly, US civil society reflects selective morality which is, in other words, hypocrisy. Mostly their hypocrisy is unintentional or due to their vulnerability to fall prey to media spins.
The US people power movements such as the civil rights movement of the 1960s had been an inspiration to many people around the world to bring about positive change. But, of late, US civic action groups have lost their momentum. They last tasted success when the Americans wanted troops back home from Vietnam. The anti-war movement was started by peace activists and leftist intellectuals in the latter part of the 1960s at a time when a majority of the Americans were supporting the US military involvement in Vietnam. But, over the years, the anti-war movement lost its moral high ground and assumed a self-centred character with a large number of Americans, worried about the rising US death toll and the staggering 25-billion dollar war bill, joining the protests to demand the troops be brought back.
Then in 2011, we saw protests in Wall Street against the so-called one percent. Occupy Wall Street was a good protest for a good cause aimed at highlighting the social inequality in the US. It called for a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth, 95 percent of which was controlled by just five percent of the population.
The protesters realised that the bourgeois democratic elite from the two main parties were taking them up the garden path. But they failed to sustain the protests until their objective was achieved. In the end, the protests that lasted two months only provided the middle class youth and the working class a space to vent their anger at social inequalities. If they had succeeded in forcing the government to adopt sweeping reforms, we would not have had Trump as president-elect.
The white working class by voting for Trump who was not a full blooded Republican showed their frustration at the two main parties. But by making Trump win, they have given new life to racists. The Nazi salute is back. Hate crime has sharply increased. Muslim women are afraid to wear hijab. Where is the world’s oldest democracy heading?
Moral depravity is the crisis the United States’ democracy is facing today. It is evident not only in the system but also in civil society. The system was so bankrupt that its main candidates for the 2016 elections were not the best the American democracy would like to have. One was widely seen as a war monger responsible for the destruction of Libya and the carnage in Syria, while the other was a maverick billionaire businessman who has little or no respect for the minorities and women and refuses to believe that climate change is real.
US civil society’s moral depravity was evident during the US war on Iraq – call it the plunder of Iraq. It was a war for oil, but a majority of the Americans justified it. Even the liberals, now crying foul over Trump’s victory, backed the war — just as some European Communists justified colonialism. Of course, there were marches, but none lasted long enough to stop the war.
US civil society’s moral depravity was also evident when the Americans – largely due to their lack of interest in the rest of the world — remained silent when their government engineered a protest in Ukraine against a democratically elected president and overthrew him in 2014. They said little or nothing when their country funded a military backed revolution that overthrew Mohamed Mursi’s democratically elected government in Egypt. They did not protest when the US went to war and destroyed Libya, nor when their country backed its Gulf allies to start a civil war in Syria. They object not when their country openly endorses Israel’s oppression and illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. They protest not when nearly 4 billion dollars in American taxpayers’ money is doled out annually to Israel, a highly developed country, while scores of poor countries beg for US aid and get little. If they oppose Trump, then they should also oppose their country’s direct and indirect wars across the world, its neo-colonialist programmes and its double standards on human rights issues. But let’s forgive them, for a majority of them know not what they are doing because their worldview is shaped by the largely corrupt Corporate Media, which is part of the so-called establishment.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump Presidency: Fear is the Key

By Ameen Izzadeen
We said last week that it was too early to judge the United States’ president-elect Donald Trump, notwithstanding his outrageous campaign utterances. But as days pass by, our fears are only increasing however much we say “give him a chance.”
Soon after his unforeseen victory, he appeared cool, calm and composed. His acceptance speech after the November 9 victory was uncharacteristic of the political monster we saw on the campaign trail. He was sending a message to the Americans and the world that he could be trusted and there was no need to entertain fears about his presidency.
Later, in interviews with the Wall Street Journal and CBS, he acted president-like. In a composed manner, he answered the tough questions, displaying that he had the temperament to be the leader of the world’s most powerful country. Yet the fear about his presidency grows with each day.
The president-elect is now receiving daily briefings from the officials who are responsible for the United States’ security and economy. He is being briefed about US secret programmes, foreign policy goals and wars across the world. The president-elect, analysts say, will have to work with America’s friends and allies if he hopes to succeed in tackling world issues. They say he won’t be able to put into practice his protectionist economic policies. Soon he will learn that the United States will stand to gain by following a free trade policy. Soon he will realise that if he follows his protectionist economic policy, the very people who voted for him would be hard hit. They would have to pay more than double or treble the price of a ‘made-in-China’ product to buy a ‘made-in-USA product’.
In what could be Trump’s first tryst with reality as far as the United States’ multiple wars are concerned, two US soldiers and two contractors died in a bomb blast last week in Afghanistan. He would surely have been briefed about why the Americans were still there – fifteen years to be exact. President Obama, driven by his idealistic principles, set a 2014 deadline to withdraw US combat troops from Afghanistan, but he changed his mind probably upon being convinced by the Pentagon strategists that the troops’ presence was necessary to pursue US geopolitical interests in the region where China and Russia are increasingly asserting themselves.
On Monday, addressing a White House news conference, President Obama acknowledged that the office of the president was not a blank cheque. The popular president had a piece advice for Trump. He said: “Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up. …and those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality—he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.”
Despite such assurances, the fear about the Trump presidency keeps growing.
Fear not the Trump presidency, supporters may say, and claim that the Republican party big wigs who were opposed to Trump’s candidacy now control Congress and they can keep him in check. Despite such checks and balances, the fear about the Trump presidency looms large.
This is because Trump is different and could be irrational. A PBS documentary on Trump suggested that his entry into the 2016 election fray was not to serve America but to take revenge on Obama for publicly ridiculing him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Obama’s jokes there came in the form of a satirical response to the Trump-initiated controversy over his birth certificate. Instead of taking Obama’s jokes at their face value in keeping with the tradition, the egotistical billionaire saw it as public humiliation. Some analysts believe that it was at this dinner that Trump resolved to run for the presidency and take revenge on Obama, the first Afro-American president of the United States. Trump appears to have a rebellious schoolboy mentality. So he could be dangerous and all his good behaviour since his victory could be a red herring. He cannot be trusted with the nuclear code. Fear is the key factor of his presidency. The US has never before had a president who embraces conspiracy theories. He says climate change is a hoax made in China. It is an understatement to say that the world fears the Trump presidency.
The fear that is gripping the United States has split the country right down the middle. One section fears that the Trump presidency could undermine American values and harm the minorities and the environment. The fear has driven them to protest against his presidency with slogans such as “He Is Not My President’.
Fear is also the stock of Trump supporters. It was this fear the white middle class had that powered the Trump victory.
Fear — call it xenophobia — is a political tool that self-centered politicians use clinically to grab power. This type of fear instills in the majority a ‘victim mentality’ and incites them to hate the Muslims, the Mexicans and other minorities, the imagined cause of all their problems. And Steve Bennon, named this week as chief strategist and counselor to president-elect Trump, is the chief advocate of this fear.
“Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action,” Bennon, head of the ultar-rightwing news portal, Breitbart News, said in a 2010 interview.
He was also reported to have said he was a ‘Leninist’. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too,” the Daily Beast quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
An out and out white supremacist, he played a key role in the Trump victory. His presence in the Trump team stokes fears among the minorities. He is an anti-Semite and the US Jews, who are said to be in control of the ‘Establishment’ which the Trump team wants to dismantle or reorganise, are feeling, perhaps for the first time since the end of World War II, that they are not part of America.
Infighting over the formation of the Trump transition team and the likely cabinet is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Reports spoke of ‘knife fights’ between various personalities. Some have quit the team in disgust while others frown upon the role Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner plays. It is said that Kushner, who is married to Ivanka, wanted Governor Chris Christie removed from the post of the chief of the Trump transition team, because Christie, when he was serving as an attorney general, had sent his father to jail for tax evasion. Revenge politics: Like father-in-law like son-in-law.
Need we say that Trump’s election will put governance in the United States in a stinky swamp?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Let’s give Trump a chance

By Ameen Izzadeen
When George W. Bush, a highly disliked president worldwide for his gung-ho policies and wars across the globe, was reelected in 2004, the London Daily Mirror, in a banner headline, asked, “How can 59,054,086 people be so dumb?”
Though no global newspaper had a similar headline On Wednesday, many people who hoped for a Hillary Clinton victory and feared the triumph of Donald Trump asked, “How could 59,611,678 Americans be so idiotic?”
Post-mortem examinations are galore as to how Trump won. CNN analyst Van Jones invented a word to call the victory a ‘whitelash’, meaning it was the angry white vote or revolt against an Afro-American President. Some blamed the third party candidate for the Hillary Clinton defeat, while others pointed their fingers at FBI chief James Comey for announcing the reopening of the email probe during the final stages of the campaign. Some criticised Clinton’s strategy, style and failure to say what each segment of the voting public wanted to hear from her. Her plan to revive the economy was unappealing. She virtually personified the establishment which the average voter wanted to defeat. In the end, it is a combination of all these factors that led to the Trump victory. So it is unfair to label all those who voted for Trump as racist, uneducated and illiberal.
Trump was easy to beat but the Democratic Party insisted on fielding Clinton, a highly disliked candidate. The party leadership conspired to defeat Bernie Sanders, her contender for the party’s nomination. Many analysts say if Sanders had been the party’s candidate, he would have defeated Trump. Being a businessman, Trump used his skills, acumen and marketing strategies to reach the voter. He was like the crafty salesman who sold refrigerators to Eskimos. And his voters knew politicians rarely keep their promises.
Now that Trump, who was vilified by his opponents as an obscene charlatan and no respecter of women’s dignity has been elected, the question is, “Will he make America great, in keeping with his campaign slogan, or will he drag America into depravity?
In his acceptance speech on November 9, Trump appeared uncharacteristic of his usual self. Instead of the usual ‘lock her up’ remark, he sounded gracious and spoke highly of Clinton. He appealed for American unity. The wall and the ban on Muslims entering the United States did not figure in the victory speech. The speech gave an indication that President Trump may be different from Candidate Trump and allayed, to some extent, the fears he was stoking by his outlandish utterances on the campaign trail.
His world-shaking victory was remarkable – a political earthquake with immeasurable magnitude, because his own party leadership had abandoned him. His was a virtual lone battle. Although Clinton won the popular vote, he won the electoral college, defying opinion polls and pundits’ predictions.
Trump’s victory cannot be construed as America’s unwillingness to send a woman to the White House. Rather it is about hope and delivery. Obama was elected not because the Americans wanted their first Afro-American president. He won because the American people saw him as a leader who could deliver. His slogan ‘Yes we can’ was so appealing that the working class, the whites, the blacks and the Hispanics, gathered around him.
So this time, too, the voters, especially in the mid-America, wanted change, and placed their faith in a non-politician who thought differently, campaigned differently, and appeared as a leader who could deliver, who could improve the lot of the working class people struggling to make ends meet.
His party is now rallying behind him and it now controls both the houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.
In the United States, the President cannot be a dictator even if he or she wants to be one. The government system comprising powerful democratic institutions is well protected with checks and balances, giving little space for abuse of power. For instance, Trump as President will not be able to declare martial law without Congressional approval. Neither can he use his powers as Commander-in-Chief in an arbitrary manner to order armed forces to deport Muslims or Mexicans. Any unconstitutional act or abuse of power can lead to the impeachment of the President. Besides, US laws demand that troops disobey unlawful orders even if such orders come from the Commander-in-Chief. Also US laws – especially, the Posse Comitatus Act – do not permit the military to engage in law enforcement activities unless Congress approves such a role. So there is little possibility that Trump will become a Hitler.
There is also the extra-constitutional mechanism – the establishment or the Oligarchy — in operation to check the powers of the President. Trump may have stood against the Oligarchy. But once in office, he will have to go along with it.
During the hustings, he declared that the system of election was rigged and that he would drain the swamp of corruption. But once in office, whether he would be able to clean the stables is a big question. John F. Kennedy after being elected as President tried to be independent of the system, but he was assassinated.
Barack Obama tried to challenge the establishment and bring peace to the Middle East, but failed miserably. He realised that the establishment or the Oligarchy comprising Wall Street, the arms lobby and the powerful media conglomerates, among others, was stronger than the president. Before long Trump will also learn that wars, injustice and mass misery worldwide are part of the dirty strategy that keeps America going. The swamp is too huge to be drained by one man. Besides, he is not a messiah the Americans have been waiting for to turn their country into a haven of morality. The wealthiest person to run for president, Trump is a ruthless ‘hire-and-fire’ businessman, thinking in terms of profits and losses.
But the billionaire real estate tycoon, who is an economics degree holder from the University of Pennsylvania, could be different. He was a boss and would not like to be bossed around by the Oligarchy. We will have to wait and see how just and independent he would be; or how controversial and preposterous his presidency would be.
Give him time. Anti-Trump protests we saw yesterday across America may be little too early, although we read in the social media complaints by Muslim women that Trump’s white supremacist supporters have forcibly removed their hijabs and hurled verbal abuse at them.
Wait for at least the first 100 days in office and see whether he would implement his evil promises such as lifting the ban on torture or see whether the white supremacists such as Ku Klux Clan members will have a field day under his presidency. If such things happen, then put pressure on him to step down or impeach him. Thankfully, the Americans have elections every four years.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US election: Not a battle between good and evil

By Ameen Izzadeen
The most unfortunate outcome of the November 8 election for the White House is that one of the candidates is going to win. As Election Day nears, the establishment, which includes the embedded media, has begun to take Donald Trump seriously after getting feedback that a Trump victory is not an improbability, despite his broadsides against women, the Afro-Americans and the Hispanics.
With just four days to go for d-day, the Clinton camp, which only a week or two ago was enjoying a double digit lead in some opinion polls, appears to be jittery. With opinion polls now forecasting a tight race in the wake of FBI chief James Camey’s announcement that the agency has launched a fresh inquiry into Clinton emails, the election is turning out to be a thriller. But for those who fear a Trump victory, it could even be a nightmare in waiting. But this is not a battle between good and evil. Whatever it is, it is not a battle between two holy candidates.
Usually, the American presidential election is a battle between two establishment candidates – candidates supported by the Oligarchy comprising, among others, the party elites, the so-called one percent representing Wall Street, the war lobby and, of course, the Corporate Media. The establishment has its own agenda – power and profits. It controls the candidates.
There were rare exceptions, however. John F Kennedy, though he appeared an establishment candidate, challenged the Oligarchy, the enemy of peace, after his election.
Barack Obama was thought to be another Kennedy, but he seemed to have surrendered to the Oligarchy, realising, perhaps, that he could achieve little or nothing by antagonising the powers behind the scenes.
Perhaps, for the first time since Kennedy, we see an anti-establishment candidate in maverick Trump. His own party stalwarts, the loyal servants of the Oligarchy, oppose him. Perhaps, like Obama, if elected, he would learn the extra-constitutional limitations to the President’s power.
But Trump is neither a Kennedy nor an Obama. Trump is Trump and dangerous. The presidential powers are too sacred to be handed to a man with fear-evoking policies. Reckless — the real estate tycoon questions why the United States has not used nuclear weapons to finish off ISIS. Outlandish — he seems to advocate a policy of killing millions of civilians to destroy a few thousand extremists. Scoffed at by his opponents as a laughable buffoon with a funny hairstyle and destructive viewpoints, Trump called the Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and vowed to build a wall along the US-Mexico border at Mexico’s expense. To make the United States safe, he vows to impose a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country.
He plays to the gallery – the middle class people, who believe they are being economically victimised and who are angry with the establishment. But his supporters also include the white supremacists, the anti-immigrant and the anti-Muslim. The combination stokes fear of a Hitler in the making.
The US electorate was perhaps not fortunate enough to have a candidate like Bernie Sanders in the fray. The man who lost the party’s candidacy to Clinton is anti-establishment, but certainly not as stupid as Trump. To the Oligarchy, Sanders with his progressive policies appeared more dangerous than Trump. It is now open secret that the party leadership conspired or worked against Sanders to enable Clinton to clinch the party’s nomination.
Will Sanders supporters vote for Clinton or stay away from voting? In the latter case, it would be advantageous to Trump.
In comparison to Clinton, Trump appears to be more focused in offering solutions to the people’s problems, however aghast they may be. He says he will stop China from stealing US jobs, renegotiate NAFTA, cut unneeded regulations and make America the best place in the world to do business.
On the foreign policy front, Trump wants to work with Russia and China to find solutions to global problems. He wants to restructure NATO and the United States’ Defence pacts with allies such as Japan and South Korea. With Trump espousing such views, the United States’ traditional allies are waiting with bated breath to see the outcome of the election. Fearing a victory for the Russians and the Syrians under a Trump presidency, some Middle Eastern nations have even sent millions of dollars to the Clinton campaign.
But is Clinton the deliverer the US has been waiting for?
In her victory, we can only be happy that, at last, the United States has got its woman president. But the US election is not a gender war. It is about making America economically strong and globally a peacemaker, not a war monger. This is where Clinton, the establishment candidate, fails miserably. With apologies to the bard, she can add colours to the Chameleon. When the Monica Lewinsky episode dogged her husband’s presidency, she described the issue as “a vast right wing conspiracy.” But today, she is the right wing’s favourite candidate.
To appease Sanders supporters, the good Democrats who stand up for justice and equality, she promised to pursue his progressive policies. She declares she is an enemy of Wall Street and says she will do whatever it takes to rein in Wall Street. But Wikileaks revealed last month that Clinton held fund raising speeches at Goldman Sachs, one of the institutions which precipitated the 2008 financial crisis.
Wall Street thinks that she is its candidate, whatever she says on political platforms. Wall Street bankers have contributed more than $56 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign. Trump’s campaign received just $243,000 from donors in the same sector, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
With regard to world peace, Clinton appears to have little interest. Commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Clinton, according to an email leaked by Wikileaks, believes “a Potemkin peace process was better than no peace process at all.” A staunch supporter of Israel, she confirms that the US-led peace pushes are nothing but deception and helped prolong the Palestinian suffering and helped Israel to perpetuate its oppression in the occupied territories.
On regime change, she appears to have a fetish for it. “We came, we saw, he died,” was Conqueror Clinton’s much celebrated quote on the killing of Muammar Gaddafi by US-supported rebels. In what could be a direct confrontation with Russia, Clinton, who pushed Obama into the Libyan war, wants to impose a no-fly zone over Syria.
In Honduras, one of the poorest countries in America, she justified a 2009 military coup that removed President Manuel Zelaya, who had begun to implement progressive land reforms. His pro-peasant policies were not to the liking of the transnational agribusinesses. He needed to be removed and was removed. Clinton justified this undemocratic exercise and preposterously supported the coup. Yet she is tipped to be the winner, with a 75 percent victory chance.
It is unlikely that the world will be a better place than it is today whichever candidate wins.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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