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".

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