What can be more ironic than the Russian President Vladimir Putin deciding recently to speak directly to the American people? This is yet another instance of even an arch enemy of the United States trusting in its democratic institutions. One only wishes that the same could be said about the Russian State Duma.
Without going into the merits of Mr Putin’s arguments, the attempt was first and foremost to politically undercut President Obama. The people of the United States have been enjoying their military, economic and political power since the end of the First World War. It crystallized in the Second World War and with the dropping of two atom bombs over Japan and the subsequent war in Korea. There has been no looking back since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991.
Japan was ruthlessly punished for attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq have been paying the price till now for the 9/11 attack in 2001. We know exactly to the last soldier as to how many Americans have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. We even know about the families of many of these slain soldiers and how they continue to suffer. The world knows about the post traumatic stress disorder that the US veterans go through.
But what we seldom hear about are the 90,000 plus killed in Hiroshima and 60,000 plus in Nagasaki. We know how many Americans died in the War against Terror and continue to be disturbed about the attack on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi but do not even know the figures about the deaths in Afghanistan, Iraq and some of the other countries involved in the War against Terror. We talk in round figures in millions as if we are talking about chicken and not humans.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who incidentally pleaded guilty to slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians, was only sentenced to life in prison. Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan was sentenced to death for killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.
The message is loud and clear. American lives are more precious and dear than anyone else’s. Anyone daring to attack the United States will have to pay a very disproportionate price. In other words, the strategy is massive retaliation and the status is trigger happy.
President Obama and perhaps all the American policy makers would like to see the fall of the Syrian regime led by Bashir Hafez al-Asad. No doubt President Asad is responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 and there is little doubt, regardless of what the Russian President thinks and says, that he has used chemical weapons in the current war. He has crossed the `red-line’ drawn by President Obama. But has he threatened American interests the way Osama Bin Laden did?
The Syrian President Asad currently is unpopular even in the Muslim world representing more than 50 countries of the world. Unfortunately, the Muslims may be less concerned about the atrocities committed by Asad and more by the fact that he is a Shiite suppressing the majority Sunni Muslim sect.
The moment, however, President Asad’s regime were to be attacked by the United States on whatever grounds, his popularity graph would shoot up. He will become a hero and the United States once again the villain seen as crushing yet another defiant Muslim regime.
This is where President Obama is acting like a statesman and much superior to his predecessors. Many of the hawkish Congressmen, and policy-makers and most of the columnists may categorize him as a `nimble leader’ and `an indecisive commander in chief”. But President Obama should be credited with his finger on the pulse of the world community, particularly the Muslim populace. It goes to show that he listens when people talk unlike many of the previous American presidents and is much more astute than people may give him credit for.
We know that three died in the Boston marathon bombing. What do you think will happen if the green signal were to be given to attack Syria? Hundreds if not thousands of Syrians will be killed. Will all of them be guilty of using the chemical weapons? Many innocent lives will be lost and it is thus much better being accused of `fecklessness with his decisions’ and representing a stark contrast in style to George W. Bush who valued decisiveness and who, once he made a decision, rarely revisited it. Look where his `decisiveness’ has landed the United States in the world.
The United States is militarily and economically the most powerful nation in the world. The Muslim leaders can only indulge in rhetoric and cannot withstand an American assault even for a few hours. But the Muslims consisting of 1.6 billion, constituting 23% of world’s population, feel hurt and betrayed when another Muslim country is attacked. It is sheer recklessness and height of arrogance to ignore such a huge segment of the world simply because they may be powerless.
President Obama should ignore Russian President’s cheap political manoeuvres to show his brinkmanship. He is on the right track when he shows his desire to give peace a chance. The Syrian imbroglio is a predicament for the American interests as President Asad, despite being one of the worst human rights violators, is crushing the anti-American forces. A solution has to be found which saves lives and brings peace to that country representing one of the greatest civilizations in history: but launching cruise missiles is not the solution to the quandary.
Anees Jillani is a lawyer based in Pakistan, and author of the book Advance Towards Democracy.
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