America’s principal partner in this part of the world is Pakistan, which is actually the epicentre of terrorism in the area. Straighten out Pakistan and you will break the back of terrorism in the region. But it does not look as if Barack Obama is at all keen to break the back of terrorism in Pakistan. He is, in fact, going all out to build up Pakistan, which also means ISI, as an American ally in South Asia, feeding it with billions of dollars worth of armaments year after year, and making it the kingpin of its defence strategy in this part of the world.
ON the very first anniversary of his presidency, Barack Obama got a shock of his life when the voters of Massachusetts threw out the Democratic candidate for the Senate—Obama is a Democrat—and voted for a Republican, the first time such a thing has happened in fifty years. It was actually Ted Kennedys seat, and before that his brother John F Kennedy’s, who went on to become President, and the one that the Kennedys had kept since 1953. Ted Kennedy died a few months ago and most Democrats, including Obama, believed that the election was a shoo-in for their man. Not so. Their man lost by a big margin, though, at the last moment, Obama himself had gone down from Washington to campaign for him.
Have US voters become disenchanted with Obama in just twelve months? Last year, the Democrats had lost two Governors’ seats to Republicans. But Obama & Co did not take much notice. Things are different now. Massachusetts had been in the Democratic camp for decades. But a year is a long time in politics and Obama is now in deep trouble.
Let me say at the outset that I have never been an Obama fan and have always had doubts about the way he climbed to the Presidency and also about his capacity to run the country. He is very much like an Indian politician, like Nehru in fact, a man given to sonorous words and phrases which, when you come down to it, don’t really mean much. If he spoke more like a common man and less like a man perpetually on the pulpit, he would be more credible. But he seems essentially a man of the word—given too much to pretty phrases like hope and audacity, which ultimately sound less than genuine.
Like the Americans who are beginning to vote against him and his candidates, I too have strong doubts about who and what the man really is and stands for. It was different with George W Bush, his predecessor. Whether you liked the man or not, and many didn’t, you believed that Bush meant what he said when it came to fighting terrorists. He was, after all, the man who sent his armies into two, not one, countries, one after another, in his pursuit of what he called the “War on Terror”. Would Obama have done that? He had actually opposed the war on Iraq. That Bush failed is another matter. He was not the first Westerner to fail in Afghanistan. But he did give it a try, against all advice, and suffered for it.
You cannot say that about Barack Obama. Is he really keen on War on Terror? I am not so sure. He will undoubtedly continue to wage a war of sorts against Al-Qaida in and around Afghanistan, but his motives are different. His main motive seems to be to set up a permanent base in Pakistan, rather than fight terrorists. He is also more interested in befriending Muslims—not a bad thing in itself—than fighting terrorism in which they have a big hand. It is a complex task which many others have tried and failed in, including Russians and the British, but for some reason, Obama’s heart is not in it, or at least it seems so.
America’s principal partner in this part of the world is Pakistan, which is actually the epicentre of terrorism in the area. Straighten out Pakistan and you will break the back of terrorism in the region. But it does not look as if Barack Obama is at all keen to break the back of terrorism in Pakistan. He is, in fact, going all out to build up Pakistan, which also means ISI, as an American ally in South Asia, feeding it with billions of dollars worth of armaments year after year, and making it the kingpin of its defence strategy in this part of the world. In the meantime, with America looking the other way, Pakistan is strengthening its bases around Kashmir. For every hundred dollars Pakistan receives from the United States, India gets maybe one dollar. Often India gets nothing at all.
The United States has had Pakistan as its ally for decades, through all kinds of dictators and so-called Presidents (America likes dictators, not only in Pakistan but also elsewhere.) It was expected that things would change after Obama took over. The man seemed to be cut from a different cloth and was so eloquent one almost believed him. But on achieving power, he seems to have changed tack, so much so that he now positively seems to be out of step with his partners in the West, at least in his approach to terrorism and Islam.
Take an example. For the last few months, several European countries including France and Switzerland have been tightening screws on Muslim minorities in their midst. There are few Muslims in Switzerland, a tiny country of a few million people, less than the population of Delhi. But in a referendum held last year, the Swiss have voted for a ban on construction of more minarets on mosques in Switzerland, although at the moment there are few mosques in that country.
You would have expected an uproar to follow in the rest of Europe, particularly among the so-called liberals, who are the first to raise their voice against any action against minority communities, particularly Muslims. But nothing happened. In fact, France has followed up with a ban on wearing the burqa in public places. It has also begun clamping down on religious symbols, meaning Islamic symbols, like headscarves or veils, in schools. The French government wants all children, including Muslim children, to look alike and not wear anything that will set them apart from the rest.
And what does our friend Obama do? In his speech in Cairo last year, Obama said: “It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion they see fit—for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman wears.” But this is precisely what the French government has done—it has ordered Muslim school children not to wear “Muslim” clothes.
Why is Obama bending over backwards to please Muslims? Is it part of his “new” diplomacy? Why has he gone out to curry favour with Islamists—he went all the way to Cairo to address Muslims—when there are no signs of Islamic terrorists making any concessions? In fact, it was sheer good luck that a Nigerian, who was about to blow up a plane in the US, could not do so because of some malfunctioning of his equipment. Had he succeeded, America, and Barack Obama, would have had a terrible Xmas.
There may be other reasons why Obama’s party lost the crucial election for the Senate, but disenchantment with Obama is certainly a major one. He is trying to push a big health-care plan through the Congress, but the Americans are wondering who will foot the bill. Although there has been some break in the economic recession, about one in ten Americans is still without job. And American soldiers are still dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, though Barack Obama had promised to bring them home by Xmas.