M D NalapatFriday, July 24, 2015 - The past week, this columnist has been in Washington, the capital of the United States of America. Despite the fact that the country is a top target for terror organisations across the world, the mood within is fairly relaxed, with shopping malls filled and tourists crowding locations such as Times Square in New York. There is an energy in the US which is different from that found elsewhere, which is partly the reason why this country is still the most influential in the world, in both hard as well as in soft power. It is American English rather than the variety spoken in the more genteel corners of the UK that is spreading across the globe, assisted by the products of Hollywood, and it is still the Oscars rather than Cannes or Goa or other film festivals which grade international cinema.
Not that it is a perfect place. For those without money, it is hell. Just next door, in Canada, citizens enjoy a social security network which is far superior to that in the US, where illness for example can wipe out a family’s savings. Not to mention the fact that guns are not as common as fountain pens in Canada, they way they are in some parts of the US, a country where it is absurdly easy for an individual to buy enough weapons to equip a battalion of infantry. What is extraordinary about the US is the pervasive lack of correct information about the rest of the globe, especially locations such as West Asia and North Africa. Somehow, narratives get built up that are false but believed, as in the case of Saddam Hussein, who was transformed from saint (when he attacked Iran in 1980) to devil (when his troops occupied Kuwait a decade later). To this day, most of the population in the US ( those that have heard of the country, that is) believe that Saddam was a Wahabbi fanatic, when in fact the Iraqi leader - whatever his shortcomings, and there were several - was a secular Head of State who managed to suppress radical elements throughout the decades when he was in office. It is only when Iraq was freed of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that radicals became powerful, so much so that Iraq is now the country which sends the highest number of recruits to Daesh or Daesh, whose leader Abubakr Al Baghdadi is himself from that country.
Of course, few commentaries in the US link this to US missteps in the country and in the broader region, errors of judgement such as the bombing of Libya and the arming of fanatics, several of whom migrated to extremist groups and began targeting the nationals of the very countries that had enabled them to acquire power, the murdered US envoy to Libya being an example. It was this gentleman who was key in the funding and weaponising of the very groups which later killed him in Benghazi. Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power, joined by the impressionable Susan Rice, caused the chaos in Libya by intervening militarily in that country in 2011,but such is the principle of accountability within major NATO member-states that their culpability is not on any public radar. Indeed, whether it be in Egypt, in Pakistan, in Syria or in Libya, the decisions taken by Hillary Clinton in her capacity of Secretary of State have been disasters, a foretaste of what is likely to be in store were she to be elected next year as President of the United States.
However, on the Iran deal, Hillary Clinton has taken the right call, which is that the deal is a very good one for the US. Given the economic turmoil in Europe, the EU was looking for a face-saving exit from the sanctions it had forced through a pliable UN system, so as to unlock the Iranian market to European companies. The ideal situation for the EU would be for the US Congress to reject the Iran deal by first voting against it and then by voting once again against it with a two-thirds majority, once President Obama vetoes the initial rejection. Such a move would make Obama truly a lame duck Head of State, thereby diminishing the US role in chancelleries across the globe. who would be hesitant to seriously engaged with a leader who lacked the ability to carry even a third of legislators with him.
Rejection by the US Congress would ensure that EU companies not have to face competition from US companies, especially in lucrative markets such as that for petroproducts, infrastructure and automobiles and would therefore prove economically far more damaging to the US than they would be for Iran. Realisation of this is growing in Washington and New York, the two cities that are at the heart of governance in the US. While the newspaper often makes the wrong call on issues involving faraway locations, on Iran the New York Times appears to be supportive, reflecting the view that a deal is in the best interests of the US in a context where Washington would have few partners should it decide to again subject Tehran to extensive sanctions. While the US House of Representatives and the Senate are likely to initially reject the deal - mainly to posture before an electorate taught since 1979 to consider Iran the most dangerous country on earth – neither is likely to contain the two-thirds vote needed to override a Presidential veto. The Iran deal is therefore likely to go through the US Congress, thereby adding significantly to the foreign policy legacy of a President who has come into his own only after Hillary Clinton left his team to seek re-entry into the White House, this time in the starring rather than the secondary role. Because of the prevalence of interest groups, each expert in peddling their often skewed and inaccurate point of view, public opinion in the US is usually wrong on global issues, in those rare instances where any other than domestic concerns appear on the radar.
Because of what is claimed to be a fear of inflicting collateral damage, US forces have been half-hearted in their campaign against Daesh, with insufficient bombing runs and safe havens in effect being set up, such as in Raqqa, which has been spared significant aerial attack despite being the hub of regional operations of the group. In the case of the Iran deal as well, what foes of the Geneva agreement fail to mention is that joint action with Iran is essential to defeat Daesh, and that those calling for the scrapping of the deal are playing to a tune that is music to Daesh. Eventually, however, it is danger faced by this group which will ensure that the US Congress passes the Iran nuclear deal. But for growth of Daesh, it is unlikely that such a deal would have been signed at all.