Trump-Netanyahu: A political nuclear explosion

By Ameen Izzadeen
The much feared Middle Eastern Armageddon appears closer than ever, with a maverick property tycoon as President of the United States and a rightwing hardliner as prime minister of Israel coming together. The combination could be like a nuclear explosion.
The newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump is already on course to turn the world upside down. In the first week of his presidency, he has taken steps to scrap his predecessor’s medicare programme, popularly known as Obamacare, banned state funds for abortion, signed an executive order to immediately start the building of a 1,900 mile wall along the Mexico-US border, placed travel restrictions on people from seven Islamic countries and endorsed torture and secret prisons. In addition, he has authorised the resumption of the Dakota and Keystone XL oil pipeline projects in utter disregard to environmental concerns and the Native Americans’ right to land. Rejecting nepotism charges, he has appointed his son-in-law as a presidential advisor.
He seems to be no respecter of the ‘conflict of interest’ principle, a key ingredient of good governance. He has invested some of his wealth in the Dakota pipeline project and his decision to resume it is a clear conflict of interest. This week senior ethics lawyers and constitutional scholars filed a lawsuit against Trump, accusing him of violating the constitution. They charge he has allowed his businesses to accept payments from foreign governments. They also point out that Trump has handed over his businesses to his two adult sons instead of placing them in a blind trust, as has been done by the presidents before him.
Trump’s actions apparently show he is vindictive, anti-climate and without principles. He is quarrelsome and petty-minded. His officials were seen this week arguing with the media over the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration on January 20. What is more disturbing is that the ‘alternative fact’ doctrine, perhaps for the first time since George Orwell spoke about it in his famous book ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, has become a reality under Trump. The two words ‘Alternative facts’, which Orwell described as Newspeak, were uttered by Trump’s Counsellor Kellyanne Conway when she, appearing in a TV show, defended Trump’s claims about the crowd size.
With facts assuming alternative forms, we are heading for a fully-fledged post-truth world – fully fledged because the foundation for such deception has long been laid by successive US administrations, especially that of war-mongering George W. Bush. To demonise the communists during the Cold War era, to justify the US participation in World War II and later in the Vietnam War, to invade Iraq and to oust Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, deception a.k.a. Newspeak and alternative fact was resorted to.
It was heartening to watch on CNN on Wednesday a New York Time journalist speak about the need to fact check whatever the Trump team dishes out. We wish the media had done so during the presidency of Bush. Award winning war correspondent John Pilger once asked the distinguished American investigative journalist Charles Lewis: “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims (about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction), instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?” Lewis replied: “If we journalists had done our job there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
Well on one score, we may have to grudgingly agree with the new US president — that the US media are dishonest – or at least a section of the media. Through the adoption of its version of Newspeak, the mainstream US media, controlled by six Zionist-friendly media giants, presented lies as facts and portrayed the Iraq war as a war against terror, although they knew Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks. The US media rarely speak the truth with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Lacking balance and fair reporting, they portray Palestinian freedom fighters as terrorists, Palestinian victims as oppressors and the aggression of Israel as a security need, and the apartheid Zionist state as the only truly democratic state in the Middle East.
We will leave the dishonesty of the US media for another day and focus our attention on Trump and the Middle Eastern crisis. When Trump began his campaign for the White House, he vowed to maintain equidistance with regard to Israel and Palestine. But his speech at the America-Israeli Public Affairs Committee or the so-called Israeli lobby, brought out his ultra loyalty to the Zionist state which keeps robbing the land of the Palestinian people. Trump has said he would shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their future state. He has picked as the US ambassador to Israel David Friedman who is a staunch supporter of Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
True, almost all US presidents, since the setting up of Israel in 1948, maintained a pro-Israeli bias, but under Trump, the US Middle Eastern policy appears outrageously lopsided. Making a mockery of the peace process, he has entrusted the task of making peace between Israel and Palestine to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an avowed Zionist who is said to have shaped Trump’s speech to the Israeli lobby.
Emboldened by the Trump administration’s Zionist bias, Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week announced plans to build 2,500 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem for the Jews. The announcement came barely a month after the then President Barack Obama facilitated a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlement building policy and ten days after an international conference was held in Paris to bring peace to Palestine. It was only after the UN Security Council resolution was passed that Trump notoriously tweeted asking Israel to be strong and declaring that the UN would be different from January 20.
Justifying his selection of his passionately pro-Zionist son-in-law as peacemaker, Trump on the eve of his inauguration declared that if Kushner could not produce the Middle East peace, nobody could.
But do Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu realise that peace comes with justice – and that peace without justice is like a piece from the graveyard? Or will they endorse the Israeli right wing’s peace plan which calls for the annexation of Jerusalem and the remaining areas of the West Bank and the eviction of the Palestinian people at gunpoint to force them to find refuge in neighbouring states? The latter proposition is more likely under the Trump presidency.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Trump’s spy drama: Even a James Bond will be shocked

Scandals, sleaze and now sick and spy stories: The United States’ President-elect Donald Trump continues to court controversy. This time, it is quite serious since it is about the national security of the United States — and it may lead to his impeachment, if investigations prove that he is being handled by the Russians, who are said to be in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect. It is an open secret that big powers work secretly to bring about regime change in countries where they perceive the governments to be unfriendly or a security threat. But if the allegations that Russia had hacked into sensitive emails of the Democratic Party National Committee in a bid to ensure Trump’s victory are true, then this may be the first time that the United States had become a target nation for a regime change operation by an outside power. If the allegations are true that the Russians had links with the Trump team, then the script of the Russian game plan will make even John Le Carre’s ‘the Spy Who Came from the Cold’ look like a kindergarten book. Even Ian Fleming’s James Bond would be shocked. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is no stranger to the world of spies. He was a senior member of the KGB, the dreaded intelligence outfit of the former Soviet Union. Since he became the President of Russia, he has been guiding and restructuring Russia’s secret service agencies. In September last year, an influential Russian daily Kommersant reported that Putin had ordered a major new reshuffle of Russia’s security agencies and the creation of a new super agency called the Ministry of State Security by merging the FSB (the main successor agency to the KGB) with Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity towards the US. Russia may not be an economic power, but Putin wants Russia to be regarded as a superpower, just like the United States. He was livid when Washington engineered a coup in Ukraine and overthrew the pro-Kremlin President. He saw the US-led moves to expand the Western military alliance Nato to Russia’s backyard as a serious security threat to his country. In what was seen as retaliation for the US action in Ukraine, he intervened in Syria, turning the United States’ Middle Eastern programmes topsy-turvy. Now, details are surfacing, albeit as allegations, about Putin’s plan to install a pro-Russian president in the White House. If the allegations are true, then Putin is spymaster par excellence. The allegations surrounding the Trump-Russia affair surfaced after a dossier prepared by a former British spy was leaked to the media. The ex-MI6 secret agent identified as Christopher Steele, who spied on the football governing body FIFA and exposed its corruption, was initially hired by FusionGPS, a Washington-based research firm, to investigate Trump on behalf of unidentified Republicans who wanted to stop Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination. According to BBC, one of them was Jeb Bush, who bowed out of the race in the early part of the campaign after his dismal performance in the primaries. By the time the agent started his work, the Republican primaries were over. The original clients dropped out. But the secret agent continued his work because the company that hired him wanted the information for new clients — Democratic Party supporters. By July last year, the agent had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, but he felt the Bureau was not interested in pursuing it or even trying to cover it up because just days before the elections FBI chief James Comey announced new investigations into Hillary Clinton emails instead of into the dossier. Reuters quoted people familiar with the FBI investigation as saying that the Bureau indeed opened preliminary investigations into Trump and his entourage’s dealings with Russians, but the Bureau shifted into low gear in the weeks before the election to avoid interfering in the vote. Frustrated, agent Steele during a visit to New York handed over a copy of the dossier to the Mother Jones Editor, who published a story based on it in the magazine’s October 31 issue. The story did not make a big impact because it only talked about the existence of such a dossier, not much about its contents, because of the highly sensitive nature of the information. In November last year, a former senior Western diplomat confided in Republican Senator John McCain about the existence of the document, when they were in Halifax, Canada for a security conference. McCain dispatched a trusted emissary to a western capital to meet the agent. The emissary returned with a copy of the document. On December 9, a month after Trump won the presidential election, McCain had a one-on-one with FBI chief Comey. It was following this meeting that US intelligence chiefs met the President elect. They had showed him the document and a two-page memo based on it. Following the meeting early this week, the document found its way to CNN. As to who leaked it to CNN, little is known. But the website Buzzfeed published an unedited version of the document. It claims that Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room the Obamas had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas. The document claims that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claims that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years and that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen travelled to Prague in August or early September to meet a Russian official. However, the lawyer strongly denies he ever visited the Czech capital. Trump on Wednesday dismissed the allegations as fake news and accused the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media. “It’s all fake news, it’s phoney stuff, it didn’t happen,” he said, adding that “sick people” had “put that crap together… it’s an absolute disgrace”. Now the big question that arises is not about Trump. It is about the alertness of US spies. What were they doing when the Russians were executing their plans? Most, if not all, states suffer from Paranoid Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterised by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalised mistrust of others. A person suffering from this disorder believes that other people’s motives are suspect and they will harm them and, therefore, they constantly look for clues in their surroundings to identify what they perceive as threats. Those who run or work for state intelligence agencies are required to behave like PPD sufferers but should guard themselves against becoming PPD patients. Unlike PPD patients, state intelligence officers or secret agents confirm or dismiss their suspicions through reason and knowledge. For this, they gather intelligence, which is a basic activity in every intelligence outfit. Counterintelligence measures and covert operations are the next most important activities of spy agencies. Spies are required not to drop their guard even when they make a courtesy bow to a friend. Their eyes and ears should be attuned to pick and react immediately to any possible unfriendly action or gesture. So the question is: why haven’t the US intelligence agencies probed Trump? The fact that they had to be alerted by a private detective of a foreign country is a damning indictment of the US intelligence agencies’ failures, which include their endorsement that former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)MI

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Wars and woes of 2017

By Ameen Izzadeen
Blast through 2017 was ironic, if not nightmarish and tragic. The gun attack that killed nearly 40 revellers in Turkey’s sultanate city of Istanbul two hours after the clock struck 12 could be a harbinger for things to come. One need not be an artful soothsayer or a much-sought-after political analyst to predict that the year that is six days old today will be one of chaos and bloody mayhem, despite the billions of wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year as they kissed, hugged, texted and emailed each other.
If war is defined loosely as a violent conflict between two groups of people or an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will, then history is yet to see a day without a war since we formed ourselves into tribes, communities and, later, into states. According to a 2003 New York Times book “What Every Person Should Know about War’, in the past 3,400 years of recoded history, humans have been at peace for 268 years or just 8 percent of recorded history.
One wonders whether war and aggression are in the human genes. Men fight, and women, too. Perhaps, we are inherently aggressive. But the innate inclination towards aggression does not mean we are born killers.
Most human beings abhor taking the life of another human being. Even soldiers are reluctant to kill. According to a survey carried out by United States Army Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, only about 15 percent of the US infantry men fired their guns at all in battle during World War II, even when their positions were under attack and their lives were in danger. Studies have concluded that soldiers with killer instinct are rare. The sage will say nonviolence is the height of bravery or the weapon of the strongest.
Yet, war takes place. We have not fully made use of our innate potential to live in peace or make peace. This peace instinct, it appears, has been subdued by our greed for more power and wealth, our madness driven by ideological bigotry and a feeling of insecurity which makes us look at the other with suspicion. When we organise ourselves into states possessing means of military violence, this greed, this madness and this insecurity drive us to take measures which are not conducive to peace. As a result, international relations have become a continuous struggle for power.
In this power game, states resort to war – the ultimate test of power — when diplomacy is seen as a liability and does not serve their national interests. States also resort to proxy wars to pursue their national interest goals which may include acquiring territory and protecting economic interests such as energy security, navigational routes and transnational business interests. One should not forget that states also go to war on ideological grounds or on the pretext of promoting one ideology or another to plunder other people’s resources. War is also promoted to boost arms sales which have become a major source of income for many industrial countries. Nineteenth-century Prussian General and thinker Karl von Clausewitz in a celebrated statement said, “War is not a merely political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.”
Thus wars and proxy wars – whether one calls them just wars, holy wars or wars on terror — are here to stay as long as power politics governs us. In power politics, morality has little place and, if taken into account, it is done only to achieve one’s self-centred goals. Selective morality devoid of its universal character – applicable to all cases — is nothing but immorality and it prevents oppressed people from finding justice.
No wonder, far from us is the day when swords will be turned into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks, with nations refusing to lift their swords against another nation while feeling they no longer need to learn war.
This was probably why the year that passed us, like many years before it in living memory, ended up as a year of war, a year of terrorist attacks and a year that saw the rise of populism and the white supremacist rightwing, as manifested in the electoral surprises of the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump. By no means, could it be called a year of human rights, justice and peace. Sadly, even the only peace deal – the agreement to end the five-decade-old Colombian conflict – did not survive a referendum.
The New Year inherits more than 50 wars that defiled 2016. With the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan making regular headlines not so much because of their intensity as because of big power involvement, occasionally the world was reminded that there were other conflicts crying for peace in countries such as occupied Palestine, Turkey, Bahrain, Ukraine, South Sudan, Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, the Philippines, India (Kashmir) and Myanmar (Rohingiya and Karen). And there were terrorist attacks which make no country safe. With ISIS on the run in Syria and Iraq, 2017 is likely to see more terror attacks.
If these violent conflicts were the main dish at the 2017 blast-through party, then the January 20 inauguration of maverick Trump as the 45th President of the United States, arguably the world’s most powerful state, appears as the devil’s dessert. He has warned he will reverse whatever peace measures outgoing President Barack Obama has taken. They include measures to normalise relations with neighbouring Cuba and a peace resolution at the United Nations Security Council to urge Israel to stop settlement building activities and work for a two-state solution.
Trump’s promise to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which under international law is an occupied Palestinian city, is likely to give rise to a third Intifada or more violence in the Palestinian territory. If his tweets are anything to go by, his regime will give more priority to the security of the homeland than to human rights issues or democracy building efforts. Even in the US, democracy is likely to be at its lowest ebb under Trump. The only silver lining appears to be Trump’s cooperation with Russia to end the Syrian conflict and defeat the terror outfit ISIS.
But Trump’s friendship with Russia can also be a ruse to weaken the growing security alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Since Trump was elected on November 8 last year, he has been quarrelling with China. By keeping Russia on his side and making Taiwan happy, Trump is moving like a ruthless businessman to contain China. Whether the realities on the ground will compel him to soften his tirade against China, after he moves to the White House, is a big guessing game in world politics today.
The gloomy picture apart, the New Year is not going to be only war and more war. On January 15, France will host a major conference to give a fresh start to find a solution to the 100-year-old Palestinian crisis. 2017 marks the 100th year of the infamous Balfour declaration by which Britain allowed European Zionists to set up Israel in Palestine. Though Israel has said it will boycott the conference, a resolution based on the conference outcome is likely to be taken up before Trump takes over the White House as a UN Security Council motion.
On Sunday, we not only welcomed a New Year, but also a new UN Secretary General. One hopes the spirit of peace at the Paris Conference will give the New UN Chief Antonio Guterres the necessary energy to work towards a peaceful resolution of the world’s conflicts.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Five minutes to midnight, Obama stuns Israel

By Ameen Izzadeen
So the Barack Obama administration has at last proved it has the courage to stand up to Israel but it was too little too late. Can President Obama achieve in the 22 remaining days of his presidency what he could not achieve in the past eight years?
After paying obeisance, probably under compulsion, to Israel throughout his two-term Presidency, Obama, last Friday, ordered the US envoy to abstain from voting on the United Nations Security Council resolution reiterating that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands were a violation of international law.
When the non-binding resolution found passage to a standing ovation and when the US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unprecedented speech censuring Israel on Wednesday, it appeared that the US had regained the moral conscience that it had lost by its surrender to Israel and its support for Israel’s wrongs. But let there be no jubilation, the conscience will be lost again, come January 20.
Kerry’s criticism of Israel was couched in carefully chosen damage-control words. In a 70-minute speech, televised live worldwide, but not in Israel, he laid stress on how the United States had been a submissive servant of Israel for the past seven decades and explained the circumstances under which the Obama administration was forced to let the resolution find passage without the usual US veto. Kerry outlined the Obama administration’s continuous diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel. He said no US administration had done as much for Israel as the Obama administration had, citing the record $38 billion aid package and moves to absolve Israel of censure in the face of war crimes charges.
Kerry, like President Obama, is a rare politician — rare, because he has in him peace activism. After serving in the military for four months, he came back to the country to oppose the United States’ war in Vietnam and, later, George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yet the man who had the courage to oppose his country’s decision to go to war appeared apologetic on Wednesday when he delivered his speech.
Though he criticized Israel’s settlement policies, he also praised Israel and slammed the Palestinians while underscoring Israel’s security. It raised the question why the US had to go on its knees to explain to Israel why it did not veto the resolution, which was, after all, a toothless motion that had no enforcement mechanism. It was a reiteration of the long-standing US policy of advocating the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Kerry appeared like a subordinate reading out his show-cause note to his boss, though at times he sounded angry and found fault with the boss.
The boss — Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was furious. Within minutes he came live on Israeli TV to denounce Kerry’s speech as biased. He said he was disappointed with the speech, which he saw as “unbalanced” and “obsessively focused” on settlements. He countered Kerry’s invective about Israel for being hindrance to the peace process, and claimed it was the Palestinians who botched the peace efforts.
Far from it, the Palestinians have met every condition the US and Israel had placed. They have long recognised Israel as a sovereign nation and its right to exist. Each time the Palestinians fulfilled a difficult condition, the Netanyahu regime, widely seen as the most hardline rightwing government in Israel’s history, came out with another condition more difficult to meet than the previous one. The peace process collapsed because Israel insisted that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a country exclusively for the Jews.
Kerry rightly pointed out in his speech that a Jewish state and democracy cannot exist together. Hours before the speech, Kerry told a State Department gathering that such a proposition would make Israel an apartheid state, with its 20 percent Arab populations becoming second class citizens. He said Israel had been, since the Oslo accord, building settlements, disregarding international calls to halt such activity. Blaming rightwing hardliners in the Israeli government, he said that even after President Obama assumed office, thousands of Jewish homes and military outposts were built and such activities were making the two-state solution impossible.
If only Kerry’s speech and the UNSC move had come at least in the early part of Obama’s second term, they would have given the administration enough time to grapple with Israel to push through the US plan for a two-state solution to the Palestinian crisis. But why now? Don’t they know that the US president-elect Donald Trump will reverse or rubbish the Obama administration’s Palestinian policy? Trump has tweeted urging Israel to be strong and assuring it that things would be different after January 20, while Congress is moving in the direction of passing a resolution to condemn Obama’s anti-Israel action and slash funds for the UN. With Israel and its lobby virtually feeding – call it bribing – most US politicians, Palestinians can have little or no faith in any US administration to achieve peace. In Israel, hardline politicians who are members of the Netanyahu regime are pushing for moves to annex the entire West Bank after forcing its people to go to Jordan or any other Arab country. Meanwhile, Trump is set to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — a move every US administration has desisted from doing.
Perhaps, Obama, who made Middle East peace the centerpiece of his foreign policy objectives, is more pragmatic. He knew if he had done, earlier in his term, what he did last Friday, he would have faced a hostile Congress and hostile media, which are controlled largely by a handful of Jewish families sympathetic to the Zionist cause. So he and Kerry waited for the last moment. True, with their moves, they won’t be able to achieve much, but, at least, they made the American people aware that Israel is an obstacle to peace. They made the Americans to stop and take a look at why so many academics and educated people in the US and other parts of the world are supporting a Boycott-Disinvest-Sanction (BDS) campaign to punish Israel for its crimes against the Palestinian people. Obama and Kerry have sent a powerful message to US politicians that the US national interest need not be always attached to the outrageous policies of Israel. As Kerry said, “some seem to believe that US friendship means the US must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests.”
It was only last month, Jimmy Carter, a former President, called on Obama to recognize Palestine as an independent state before he left office.
But analysts say instead of that, he is likely to support another UNSC resolution before he leaves office on January 19 and this resolution will be based on the January 15 Paris peace conference. Last week, we called Obama a war president. But with his five-minutes-to-midnight moves this week, he has moved up several notches on the peace scale.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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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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