Friday 31 July 2015

A Battle of Extremes in the US? (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, July 31, 2015 - The past two weeks have been spent in what is still the world’s most consequential country, the US, in Washington and New York, with a couple of days in between in Miami, the home of Republican Party Presidential hopefuls, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. They are looking to contest an extrordinary election, for the US has changed significantly since Ronald Reagan swept aside Democratic Party opposition in the 1980s. The reason for this is the weakening of the middle class in the US, just as what took place in South America in the 1970s.

This trend is worrisome, for the middle class provides an anchor of stability in a democracy. This is so for two reasons, the first being the perception of opportunity for advancement within the lower economic brackets seen in a growing middle class. Such an expectation lowers societal tensions and generates the ambition needed for success, as well as a sense of pride that enables a citizen to adopt socially helpful work and lifestyle ethics. The second reason is the market a strong middle class provides, thereby ensuring the health of manufacturing and services in the economy.

The continuance of high tax rates (relative to the quality of government services delivered, which in India is among the worst in Asia) has angered the middle class, which were strong backers of Modi in 2014. This disquiet has been fuelled by the inexplicable refusal of the BJP leadership to take action against senior BJP leaders exposed in the media as corrupt, apart from avoiding any action against top central leaders of the Manmohan Singh government who are known to have become super rich during their decade in office. Only some state-level BJP leaders have been proceeded against, that to, usually those who levied corruption charges against BJP leaders, against whom of course zero action has been taken despite evidence of massive enrichment while they were in power in certain states.

The middle class is getting squeezed in India, but as yet less so than is taking place in the US and in much of Europe. Within the NATO alliance, the decade just past has been disastrous for the middle classes, which in countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy are getting reduced by the week. In the US, President Obama went by the advice given by Larry Summers, who was responsible during the Clinton years of the 1990s of freeing banks and financial institutions in the US from the prudential norms that had been in place since 1936. What followed was an orgy of greed, which ended in a collapse that led to Obama following his predecessor George W Bush’s prescription of bailing out the very bankers who were responsible for the 2008 economic collapse. Of course, when it came to the millions of US citizens who were in danger of losing their homes because of mistakes made by financial entities, President Obama had no money to help them keep their homes.

The dispossession of millions of US citizens of their homes during 2008-11 has led to homeless individuals sleeping on the pavements of big cities a sight usually associated with Bombay and Calcutta rather than New York or Washington, now both cities where the streets are filled with the helpless, the hopeless and the homeless. Had Barack Obama not abandoned his own conscience by following jn the footsteps of the Clintons in the matter of economic policy, he would have ensured that US citizens kept their homes rather than have them foreclosed by banks and sold at distress prices. This act of inhumanity towards the economically damaged has led to a revival of the “socialist” stream within the US, an ideology that had almost vanished for the past four decades.

This rise in discontent has led to Bernie Sanders, the only socialist in the US Senate, becoming a powerful force in the coming Presidential polls. Of course, an even more formidable candidate would have been Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, who (like Sanders) is an idealist who has not followed the example of other US Senators and become millionaires. However, for reasons which are not clear, Senator Warren has refused to run for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, thereby giving respite to the candidate of Big Business in that party, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Both the Clintons are millionaires many times over and make no secret of their ties to Wall Street. However, the mood within the Democratic Party reflects that within the country, which is why there is a rising probability that Bernie Sanders may become more favored to run for office than Hillary.

On the Republican Party side,the most popular candidate is Donald Trump, a high-living, free-spending billionaire who is associated more in the public mins with pretty women than with matters of state policy. Trump talks in public what many leaders of his party say only in private. He hatred immigrants from poorer countries and has even called Mexicans “rapists and murderers”, a slur on a hard-working people. His honesty in revealing his views has made him the front-runner within a party thrown into panic at his success. Although the establishment in both parties despise the socialist Sanders and the plutocrat Trump, yet it is conceivable that they may emerge as the top two candidates, thereby ensuring that one of therm will get elected as President of the United States.

Both Jeb Bush as well as Hillary Clinton are too closely associated with the failed security and economic policy of the immediate past, and discontent at the injustice done to both the middle as well as the working classes by administrations that work only for the benefit of billionaires may ensure that the Democratic Party nominee may be the socialist Bernie Sanders who is independent of the Big Money lobbies backing Clinton ,while Donald Trump may get the Republican Party nomination for his candour in speaking in public what the other party leaders only whisper in private.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Lead India towards genuine independence (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 25th Jul 2015
College students dressed in the colours of the national flag rehearse for the Republic Day parade in Ahmedabad. REUTERS | amit dave
t was not a casual afterthought which made the founders of The Sunday Guardian choose the name of this newspaper. Although it reaches the reader every Sunday, its contents are valid for an entire week, suitable for dipping into during even the midweek, in case there was not enough time during the close of the week to peruse all its pages. And why "Guardian"? Because that is what it is, seeking to — in its own manner — protect and expand the rights of the citizen in the face of the onslaught of British colonial law on the prerogatives of the individual. The Sunday Guardian will not prescribe a dress or diet code, nor will it accept the views of those favouring a continuation of colonial law, that the citizen does not have the right to offend, only to pander and to flatter.
This newspaper has spoken out against not merely Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, but has pointed out that it was after passage of this legislation 15 years ago that India's Information Technology industry (till then a world leader) began to falter in the face of competition, especially after an even more regressive version of the Act was passed nine years ago by the Chidambaram-Sibal duo. This publication seeks the decriminalisation of comment, because of the stifling effect the very threat of enmeshing the critic in a criminal case can do to the freedom of speech necessary in order for India to emerge as a knowledge superpower. It is small comfort to know that after a decade and more, usually much more, of court appearances and the constant threat of incarceration, a commentator can finally emerge from the shadows, most likely too intimidated to again participate in what ought to be a rumbustious celebration of free speech in a country which advertises itself as "the world's largest democracy", despite the colonial constructs its Founding Fathers clung on to after freedom, not excluding the country's first Governor-General, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who stayed on long enough to ensure that a third of the princely state of Kashmir remained in Pakistan's hands, despite the fact that this could have been liberated by the Indian Army if given two months more prior to the ceasefire agreed upon in an unfinished war. That decision, as also other decisions involving Gwadar port (which was initially offered to India by the Sultan of Oman but declined by Nehru), the UN Security Council permanent membership (again on offer but turned down), the Indus Waters Treaty, which gave an unprecedented 80% share to Pakistan, or more than the total share given to lower riparian states by all other international river water treaties combined. The Sunday Guardian does not believe in the "protected species" concept, whereby certain individuals are immune from critical comment. Such a ban violates the independence of thought that is central to an effectively-functioning democracy. India is evolving towards genuine democracy, but not because of the outsize bureaucracy that has been spawned over successive generations. Progress is being made because the people of this country are no longer willing to accept the status of helots that colonial law and practice relegate them to. They showed this feisty impulse towards genuine freedom when they opposed the move to dilute net neutrality or when 66A was opposed, including in court by a courageous young citizen . Choice is central to democracy, whether these be in lifestyles or in dress or diet. There are countries which impose often severe restrictions on dress, lifestyle and diet. India should not be in such a list, no matter what the cacophony of those who seek to continue the colonial practice of using the bludgeon of law to enforce obedience to their own narrow and deformed view of life. Laws should promote freedom rather than restrict it, and the converse should be the exception rather than the norm, as is the case today in India, which is the easiest democracy to get an individual thrown into prison. The Official Secrets Act has become a facilitator for corruption, as also the limitations of the Right to Information Act, which was in effect whittled down while Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister, and whose full development has yet to take place.
Narendra Damodardas Modi was elected on the promise not of continuity but change. He was given votes in the tens of millions not to tweak the existing colonial system of governance but to replace it with a 21st century construct that promotes rather than hinders individual expression and enterprise. The Sunday Guardian expects that now that his year of On The Job training (for developing an all-India operating system in place of the state-specific operating system Modi evolved in Gujarat) is over, it is expected that the vow of ensuring Minimum Government and Maximum Governance will be fulfilled, and that to, "wholly and in full measure" rather than merely "substantially". Our cousins do so much better in locations such as the US, the UK or Hong Kong because the systems there have long discarded the colonial model, sometimes (as in the case of the UK) by half a millennium and in the case of the US, by two centuries. India needs to follow a path that will give its people the same ecosystem for excellence as they get elsewhere, and Swachh Bharat is a start, but only a start.
Lower taxes lead to higher collections, yet North Block clings to its impulse of taking away as high a proportion of the honest taxpayer's income as it can get away with. Hopefully, the country will be third time lucky, and the next budget will lower taxes and thereby incentivise a much higher proportion of individuals to get within the tax net than is the case at present. In 1992, within a hundred days of coming to office without even a majority in the Lok Sabha, P.V. Narasimha Rao did away with much of the Licence Raj, but this at first crept and subsequently galloped back during the decade when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. He showed why reform in India is easy, for in this country, beneficial change does not require the substitution of existing constructs with replacements so much as it calls for the scaling down and a dilution in the invasive nature of existing constructs. The superstructure of regulations favour the crony capitalists, while a chopping away of such toxic measures would empower those with zero political connections to effectively compete with those who spend vast sums of cash in ensuring political patronage, often to the detriment of the overall public interest. Rather than inflict whiplash upon whiplash upon the honest taxpayer through impost upon impost, other means need to be found to finance the machinery of government. An example would be the recapitalisation of public sector banks, which should come about not by throwing taxpayer rupees at them, but through diluting the stake of government in them.
Spectrum and airspace need to be taken away from its current state users and transferred to public use. The justification for the defence forces hoarding both assets is their need in times of war. Should such a situation occur, they could easily get commandeered, rather than deny the economy the benefit of such resources for an indefinite length of time. A double digit growth rate provides the best security for the people of India, and such is the stated goal of Team Modi.
Hopefully, before a year is past, such expansion in national income will go from a promise to a reality.
Whether it be the taking of decisions by various agencies of government or the resolution of cases in the court system, procedures need to be evolved, which would ensure swifter decisions in both the administrative as well as the judicial spheres. Overall, an atmosphere of empowerment of civil society should replace the present monopoly of powers in the hands of the civil service. The people of India expect no less and deserve no less. It is up to Prime Minister Modi to fulfil these expectations so that his term of office as Prime Minister would be as long as his Chief Ministership has been. Lead the people of India towards genuine independence, Mr Prime Minister.

Dawood hiding in plain sight with new identity: US experts (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  New York | 25th Jul 2015
Experts in counter-terrorism activities say that there is "credible information that India's most wanted person", Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, aka Sheikh Dawood Hassan, who, ironically, was the son of a Mumbai police constable of known integrity, "was in March 2003 given a new identity and accompanying papers by the ISI, in order to reduce the chances of detection and to facilitate his travel to multiple locations across the globe, including South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Portugal and Dubai". They say that this identity change was carried out once it was confirmed that the United States (responding to repeated requests by the A.B. Vajpayee government at the level of Home Minister L.K. Advani and National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra) would declare Dawood a Specially Designated International Terrorist. This was done in October 2003, or six months after Dawood's identity makeover. According to these sources, "such a step had no effect on Dawood's international operations, both business and terror-related", in view of the fact that he was thereby enabled to travel safely to multiple locations through use of the documents prepared for him by the ISI. They claim that Dawood was made aware in advance — presumably by the Pakistan authorities — that he would be labelled an international terrorist by the US. Responding to this, towards the close of 2002 itself, the canny fugitive had transferred properties which were in his name to nominees and benamis, so that nothing of any value was seized anywhere in the world, including in India, where he has substantial assets, especially in Mumbai and Hyderabad.
Terrorism, hawala and narcotics go hand in hand in Dawood's business empire, which at its peak had an estimated annual turnover of $4 billion in value before beginning a decline around 2007, because of increased US tracking of his assets and the financial networks operating on his behalf in Hong Kong and Singapore. The heightened interest was because of the expansion of operations of the LeT to Europe. "During 2006-2011, (Dawood) sold much of his international businesses and relocated some assets to India and most to Pakistan", these US-based sources claimed, adding that there was little effective countering of Dawood's operations in India during the period in office of both Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. But they added that "the heat has increased after (Prime Minister) Modi took over in 2014". During Narendra Modi's visit to the US in September 2014, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval stayed an extra two days in Washington "mainly to work out ways of capturing or otherwise incapacitating Dawood". They add that Doval told his US interlocutors that he had been on the fugitive's trail for two decades, and that he wanted to ensure success in the hunt during his tenure in office as the NSA.
However, the problem facing the sleuths in India is that the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts has been travelling under a new legal identity since 2003, and has adopted a very low profile, shunning the high-profile events he was earlier seen in, "although he retains his contacts with Bollywood and is working to ensure through his contacts that favourites of his be given meaty roles". They say that sports and movies are his favourite hobbies, as well as being money-spinners, mainly through match-fixing in the case of the first and influence over distribution networks in the subcontinent in the case of the second.
These sources claim that "the 26/11 attack could not have succeeded the way it did but for longstanding contacts within the Mumbai police and state political network of Dawood and his close associates". They claim that "high-level politicians, afraid of being implicated through Dawood ensured that the domestic angle was never seriously probed by the police following the blasts", with the bulk of attention being focused on captured operative Ajmal Kasab and his contacts in Pakistan. "It was as though the investigators were told not to believe that there was a network in India, which provided information to ISI proxies about the interior layout and work schedules of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels." These sources claim that "at least two employees of Taj and another of Trident" gave details about the hotel to planners in Pakistan. But none of the three "were questioned by the police and in fact remained in service after the blasts". However, on the Indian side, police authorities in Mumbai claim that no employee of either hotel was involved in the planning for the 26/11 attack, nor was there any input from domestic networks. "It helped such a surmise of domestic non-involvement that handlers in Pakistan cut off all communications with their collaborators in India 16 days before the attack", these experts claimed.
Although there have been reports of Dawood hiding in PoK or in a remote location close to the Afghan border, US sources say that like Osama bin Laden before his assassination, Dawood is "hiding in plain sight" and in comfort, shuttling between homes in Peshawar, Hyderabad (Sindh) and Lahore and that he is in regular touch with family members in both Pakistan as well as India, sometimes directly but usually through trusted associates who travel freely in both countries and who are not known to law enforcement to have any connection with Dawood himself.
However, the don is "still very much in charge of the operations of the companies he owns", as well as his traditional business of extracting money from businesspersons in India, besides dealings in real estate, mainly in Maharashtra, his home state "where he knows several officials and politicians, even meeting in the past with them in locations where his actual identity is safe from detection". The sources claim that "a director-general of police and five inspectors-general of police and DIGs have worked for Dawood in the past". However, they add that since the new government took office in 2014, conditions have become more difficult.
A claim made by these sources is that Dawood in 2006 travelled on an international flight from the UAE to South Africa and "the seat next to him was occupied by a senior politician who knew whom he was talking to throughout the journey". They claim that "up to 2008 (when the Mumbai attacks took place), at least two senior NDA leaders and four top UPA personalities were in direct and indirect contact" with the reclusive Enemy Number One of India, but that "after 26/11, all but one of the six stopped further contact". However, even this remaining holdout among the VVIP Six "stopped contact with Dawood in 2011".
The counter-terrorism experts say that Dawood's family is "almost totally unaware of the new identity of their internationally known relative as given in the travel documents", supplied to Dawood 12 years ago, and that these papers are used "only while travelling internationally and domestically and in financial transactions", so that the names and aliases of Dawood do not come up on any record, including those of banks and airlines. They add that since 2011, the don has ceased communicating directly through telephone, and is using close aides to relay his messages. Since 2012, he has even restricted his travel, confining himself to locations within Pakistan. The New York sources give high marks to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval for his persistence in trying to bring Dawood back to India, but say that in view of the change in the records establishing his identity, such a task would be difficult without the cooperation of Pakistan, something unlikely to be forthcoming.

All faiths should avoid Wahhabi intolerance (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

Although Wahhabism claims to be the "purest" form of Islam, in reality it has little in common with a faith which has mercy, compassion and beneficence at its core, qualities repeated over and over in the Quran, so that each believer will understand and absorb the attributes that are likely to lead him to a pleasant afterlife. Wahhabism is based on religious supremacy, a philosophy which posits a particular set of beliefs as being superior to all others. The corollary is that those professing a different set of beliefs are considered inferior, "Untermensch", the term used to describe the so-called "non-Aryans" in Hitlerite Germany. Dialogue, much less debate, is discouraged except on its terms, which is that there ought to be zero questioning of the postulates of Wahhabism by the other. Unfortunately for the Muslim community, because of the tens of billions of dollars spent on its propagation by HNIs in the GCC countries, many regard Wahhabism as identical to Islam, when in fact the two differ substantially. Because India is a multi-religious society, where, unlike Pakistan, the number of individuals belonging to so-called "minority" faiths has grown over the years and now has reached close to 200 million, it was expected that Wahhabism would be in retreat in this country, giving way to the more moderate schools of thought enunciated in prominent seminaries in the country. Rather than this happening, it is the Wahhabi impulse that seems to have seeped into other faiths, thereby making a growing section of practitioners almost as immoderate and intolerant of differences as the Wahhabis are.
The United States of America is among the countries where Christians are in an overwhelming majority, with the three major ethnic groups — Caucasians, Latinos and African-Americans — all professing different schools of the faith based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. A few days ago, this columnist sat through a Broadway show, The Book of Mormon, in the Eugene O'Neill theatre, a still impressive structure that has aged gracefully rather than in bits and pieces of falling plaster. The play itself was a spoof on the Book of Mormon, which is regarded by the Mormon community as having been handed down to human beings from a divine source. The actors played out a parody of Mormon missionaries, and included in the repertoire an actor whose role was that of Christ himself, sometimes using language that would be considered about as far from saintly as Pluto is from Earth. Had such a performance taken place anywhere in India, protests by the community would have resulted in the performance being shut down and the actors arrested for "inciting communal tensions". So brittle is the protection given to speech in India that to cross a red line is a simple matter of having some individual register a case against anyone who utters something deemed to be offensive to him or her. In New York, however, there was no dismay but laughter at the sallies directed against the actors acting the part of Mormon missionaries. There was no rush to file FIRs, no cries that the US is an "anti-Christian" state for permitting such a parody of one of the subsidiary faiths of the Christian religion to be played before full houses in the theatre. Instead of Christianity, were it another religion that was being lampooned, it is very likely that a campaign would have been launched by practitioners of that faith to either sanitise the show through censorship or to ban it altogether. Those who died at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo became the victims of those for whom freedom of expression means the "freedom" to follow or to praise what the fanatics wish to propagate.
The Christian-majority countries have long been sanctuaries for those of other faiths, with even Wahhabism getting a friendly reception in most of them, although these days, the spread of ultra-Wahhabi groups such as ISIS is visibly diminishing that welcome, especially after the flood of reports showing the discrimination faced by Christians in countries within West Asia and North Africa. Those who are confident of their worth will not get hysterical about even a slur, for the reason that such lack of respect by the uninformed does not in the slightest take away the worth of a faith. Hopefully a time will come when Muslims or Hindus laugh at certain depictions of their faiths rather than seek to shut down such shows, the way it has been attempted — often with success — in the case of film after film, book after book.
Watching the Mormons in the audience laugh at the irreverent manner in which their core teachings had been lampooned by the actors in The Book of Mormon, a question surged up. When would it be before every community in India showed tolerance to those depicting the faith of their birth in a less than awestruck way? When would they stop going to courts to get arrest warrants issued, and stop importuning television anchors to join with them in spewing venom against those who refuse to abide by the views and attitudes of the apex leadership of a particular faith? Development is not merely a matter of steel and glass, but retaining the qualities of tolerance and compassion when confronted with those whose views are distasteful to others. If India is to become a knowledge superpower, ensuring freedom of speech would be a good way to start.

Saturday 25 July 2015

DAESH Threat Caused Iran Nuclear Deal (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat

Friday, 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.

Sunday 19 July 2015

From Clinton Lite to Obama Neat (Sunday Guardian)

M.D Nalapat is the Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian.

arack Obama could have made a pile of money after graduating from Harvard, which is popular less for the education than the networking it provides, being an open sesame to a financially secure lifestyle. However, he opted not for a lucrative career but for community work, and afterwards, for public life, earning money not through speeches in the style of Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, but by his writings. When he goes back to becoming a plain citizen in 2017, he will be not be wealthy in comparison to his predecessor, being reminiscent in this of Harry Truman, who had some friends who were less than ethical in their doings, but who personally never helped himself to the benefits such associations bring. Months — sometimes weeks — after ascending to high office, individuals change. Their view of themselves and of others gets altered, and they begin to believe that they are different from others, that there is something more about them that is extra special than plain luck. If Ernest Hemingway pointed out to F. Scott Fitzgerald that the very rich are different from the rest of us only in having more money, perhaps the very powerful are different only in that they have more power. Coming back to Obama, it is clear that he has not allowed either his Senatorial status or the US Presidency to change his perception of himself. Like Truman or another exceptionally decent human being who somehow ended up as the US President, Jerry Ford, Obama has remained a regular guy, refusing to don the plumes of monarchy favoured by Richard Nixon, who at one time even dressed up White House footmen in uniforms which were a parody of those found in the court of George V.
However, while Obama remained himself, his administration during the first term was Clinton Lite, rather than Obama Neat, and it showed, with him going by the wishes of Wall Street in protecting bankers from their own mistakes, and in — for example — fiercely protecting the big US pharma companies, while they gouged the sick and prevented cheap competition from India from ensuring that healthcare became affordable. In foreign policy, he went along with Hillary Clinton as she and Samantha Power oversaw the demise of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, ignoring warnings that the alternative would turn out to be much worse. The Libyan strongman, in a burst of filial affection, had gone by the advice of son Seif and disarmed his military of its missiles, being rewarded for this mainly by gushing visits from the likes of John McCain and Tony Blair, who, however, soon turned into a lynch mob out to string him up, a task in which they eventually succeeded, in a lesson to any other dictator tempted to unilaterally disarm and divest himself of WMD.
In Syria, President Obama refused to be tempted by Hillary Clinton's prod to bomb the Assad forces. Had he gone by the advice of the individual who is seeking to take his job come 2017, it would not be some imaginary "moderates" ruling in Damascus, but ISIS, a terror group formed out of those armed, trained and funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to the accompaniment of cheers from Israel, where Prime Minister Netanyahu is going the Ariel Sharon way: hurting his country's security interests, while believing himself to be their protector. In the case of Sharon, the mistake made was in 1982, when he inserted the Israeli Defense Forces into the civil war in Lebanon between the Maronites and the Shias, thereby making Israel the only country in the world to be the target of Shia terror groups. Since 2011, Netanyahu has signed on to the Doha-Riyadh-Ankara crusade against the Shias, forgetting that his country's most implacable foes are the Wahhabis rather than the Shias, and that the "moderates" his newfound allies are boosting are precisely the elements seeking to recruit Arab Israelis as suicide bombers in a future insurgency within the heart of the Jewish state.
Rejecting the mixture of caution and recklessness, which marked the period when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, Barack Obama went ahead with crafting a deal with Iran, aware that time was running out for the sanctions regime, and that both Russia and China would soon break free of the UN resolutions sanctioning Iran, while the Europeans (with the exception of France, which looks towards the GCC to purchase its military hardware) are eager to once again resume normal trade relations with Tehran. By promising just what he was anyway going to have to do, dilute the sanctions regime, President Obama got the Iranian side to make substantial concessions, which, together, should ensure that any Iranian nuclear deterrent gets pushed into the remote future rather than get operationalised within the next four to five years, as would have been the case in the absence of the agreement. President Hassan Rouhani has made the correct decision, for if his country continued on the weapons route, it would have faced financial ruin and subsequent social unrest. The bomb is useless against one's own people rioting on the streets, a fact that even Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have recognised, in view of his tacit backing for the 14 July deal. The bomb — in thousands — could not save the USSR from imploding, while in Pakistan, except for the occasional snort from A.Q. Khan, the bomb has been an incentive, rather than a deterrent to the steady decline in the internal security situation of that country. President Rouhani made the correct call in refusing to sacrifice the economy of Iran to a handful of tubes that — if used — would result in retaliation, which would extinguish Tehran as a city.
But even greater courage was shown by Barack Obama, who ignored the cacophony of catcalls in Washington concerning his conciliatory policy towards Iran and went ahead with accepting a nuclear deal that Russia, China and the EU favoured. By doing so, he promoted the prospects for an expansion in the global economy and for a better chance that ISIS would be halted before it created thousands of suicide bombers across the world, including within the GCC, the EU, the US and yes, South Asia. Clearly, "Obama Neat" is a significant improvement over "Clinton Lite".