Barack Obama flew into Stockholm on September 4, en route to St Petersburg for the G20 meet. The US President’s first-ever touchdown in the Swedish capital was, however, not greeted with confetti-strewn streets lined with cheering crowds waving tiny stars-and-stripes. It was met by clumps of angry citizenry who came out in numbers, braving the deployment of riot police, to protest the planned ‘limited’ strike on Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks on civilians by the Bashar al-Assad regime, a plan in which Obama seems to have invested much of his prestige and authority. Demonstrators’ placards, denouncing Obama as a “terrorist” and “war-mongering” leader, and condemning the US surveillance programme and the Snowden affair, matched the solemn mood and the near-empty streets of the otherwise bustling city. Most Swedes had decided to stay indoors and watch the proceedings on TV—their tepid response marking the rapidly falling international stocks of America’s first black president.
It’s an irony of remarkable magnitude, then, that even non-partisan observers across the world are joining Syria’s UN envoy, Bashar al-Jaafri, to ask of him: “Barack Obama got the Nobel (Peace) Prize; Obama went to Cairo to address the Arab and the Islamic world and he said there that there’d be no more wars. Where is this Barack Obama?” A ‘missing person’ report may well be in order.
Saying nay Anti-war protesters in front of the White House on August 31. (Photograph by AP)
Despite attempts by the US media and sections of the Democrats to project him as a leader reluctant to use arms, many sceptics wonder if Obama was ever a peace-loving leader. Many decisions show him to be as blatant and gauche as George W. Bush in his pursuit of ‘American interests’ (see Tariq Ali’s column). The man who deplored action in Iraq and Afghanistan and condemned Guantanamo five years ago (a Nobel Peace laureate to boot) is poised to launch an attack on an Arab country in an unilateral action without UN sanction.
By now, in fact, Obama’s call for a tough aerial strike does not come as a surprise. Under him, the US has launched the maximum number of drone attacks in Afghanistan and North Africa. It was his administration that expanded America’s cyber war on other countries and spied on world leaders—friends and foes alike. And it was his presidency that pursued the harshest punishment for whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning—all who tried to expose the war crimes of US troops, and the surveillance on American people and others by US agencies.
It is not just people in West Asia and the Muslim world who are angry with Obama; there are many in the US who are getting increasingly frustrated with the way he is running the government. Sections are actively campaigning to garner worldwide support to get the Nobel prize revoked. The president’s call to arms against Syria, delivered with the usual eloquence, has also led some to initiate signature campaigns against it.
Whether he is oblivious to such displeasure or not, Obama is soldiering on, resolved to seek support from the US Congress on his proposal to launch “surgical strikes” against the Assad regime—although, as is usual in a long and dirty war, the trail of culpability is a bit hazy in the August 21 sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus. Over 1,400 were killed, hundreds of them children.
However, there is nothing to suggest that a veto against military action on Syria—most likely to come from Russia, an old ally of the regime—would deter Obama. For he has also indicated that even if congressional support doesn’t come, he still reserves the right to go ahead with the strike.
Victims of the chemical attack in Damascus. (Photograph by AP)
This leads many to wonder why the US President is so set upon the military option to deal with Syria.
Many analysts argue that unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is actually a reluctant militarist. Since becoming president, he has tried to end the war in Iraq and, by next year, plans to withdraw most US troops from Afghanistan.
But all indications suggest a US military strike against Syria is imminent and may come by early next week. The Obama administration’s approach should be seen in the context of West Asian geopolitics as well as important US lobbies and their myriad ties in the region. Syria, a strong ally of Iran and by extension of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, is embroiled in a bloody civil war where the Assad regime is pitted against rebels backed by outsiders, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. There are also reports that arms are being supplied to these groups by the UK and France, whereas the Assad regime is backed by Russia and Iran. The Hezbollah had joined the Syrian troops at Iran’s behest. That crucial aid helped end the long stalemate, with balance shifting in favour of government forces—evident from its recent successes. The two-year-old conflict has rendered two million Syrians refugees in the region and another 4.25 million internally displaced, which are the worst figures of the sort since Rwanda in 1994.
For the US, striking Syria would mean undermining Iran and Hezbollah’s links with it. This not only works in favour of the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia but also helps Israel to push back pressure on Tehran and ensure direct talks between Iran and Washington would be postponed.
Obama had declared that he wouldn’t get involved in Syria as long as the Assad regime used conventional weapons and refrained from using WMDs or chemical weapons—the ‘red lines’ that should not be crossed, clarifying that such a line was not drawn by him, but the international community years back. The August 21 attack, purportedly by government forces, waved a red rag at the American bull.
Though no one doubts the attack, no clear evidence holds the Assad regime responsible—a point Russian President Vladimir Putin is making repeatedly. Assad himself has argued that it constituted a suicidal course for him when his men were in the ascendant, and when UN inspectors were in Syria to inspect his weapons facilities. Even so, the US believes it is the Syrian government that had used the weapons in the form of the deadly sarin gas. This has prepared the ground for a military intervention.
Most of all, going at Syria is seen as a convenient warning against Iran, which is suspected to be pushing ahead a nuclear weapons programme the US and its allies have sworn they will stop. However, action against Syria—to be completed in 30 days, without American ‘boots on the ground’, as the US Congress might stipulate—could well be the beginning of a long phase of violence and instability in an already volatile region. For an American president under growing pressure from powerful US lobbies, that is a small price to pay. Syria is just too convenient a scapegoat to let go of.
The article on the Syrian crisis and the way Obama was hankering for a ‘limited strike’ was good reading (Man of War, Sept 16). But Obama a ‘reluctant militarist’? Has Outlook joined the rash of sycophantic US newspapers drumming up support for Dear Leader? This is a man who every morning meets CIA people and puts names on the list of targets for drone attacks. He is the man who, for every Taliban or Al Qaeda operative killed, kills 49 innocent people. Still, as the entire US, its senators, and most countries (except, naturally, Israel) in West Asia disapproves of his crackpot policies, some media articles still label him as a saint.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Today's news that Syria may agree to put its chemical stockpiles under international supervision may help bring about a deferment of American attack.
RIP another secular democracy in Middle East!
16D - I would like to also add that - Obama may have some silly reasons to send US marines to wage a war in Syria, but Rajiv had none to send IPKF to Sri Lanka.
The kind of myth making that has been done in mainstream media is poisonous and dangerous. If UPA is returned to power in 2014, one can safely state that INDIA IS DOOMED.
RC Ghosh >> Goes to show you have no idea about the Sri Lankan issue.
I have more idea about Sri Lankan issue than anyone else here, given that not a single person in this forum has said anything (elsewhere too) about the biggest ethnic cleansing in South Asia in last 50 years (the way Sinhalese buddhist fascists have wiped out the tamil hindu/christian minorities)
BTW, why is it that even most stridently anti congress folks (including you) try to defend the indefensible Rajiv Baba, the original fake godman? Simply because he died a tragic death does not mean there is any reason to defend his horrible 5 year regime. Despite his short life in power, he has done more damage to India than anyone else . Every administrative decision he made was a failure. His contributions to India started with the deadly sikh riots and when he ended, he made a royal mess of Punjab, Kashmir and also the economy . It required other leaders to set right the mess he created.
India's involvment officially in SL ethnic crisis began when the original dictator indira gandhi set up camps to train LTTE. And in 1985 rajiv came to power, he wanted to grab a nobel prize and then wanted his place in history so went back on the original policy and worked with the ruling SL Govt to have puppets in place of LTTE.
And all these games were made out of valuable public money and lives and limbs of Indian men in uniform were shed for his (Rajiv's) political games.
If only IPKF exercise was not there, Rajiv could have diverted the men in uniform to the POK borders, and we would have saved kashmir from the 20 year insurgency and kept the pandits in valley. Why ? Why is no media house even talking about these things?
Perhaps Rajiv Baba Godman is a good example of a bad fascist leader who is spoken in glowing terms despite disastrous administration only because of good looks. Is this unique to India? A good looking leader, screws up everything and dies a tragic death , and so is excused of all the damage done.
"In what way is OBAMA's Planned invasion of war against Syria different from Rajiv Gandhi sending IPKF and thus making indian men in uniform murder the oppressed ethnic tamil minority in sri lanka for his (rajiv's ) political ambitions? "
Goes to show you have no idea about the Sri Lankan issue.
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