When Barack Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize, thousands of young Norwegians protested, but they were not surprised at the choice. The prize committee has long been run by hardline, pro-American Cold warriors. Let’s not forget they gave Henry Kissinger the prize, as well as Menachem Begin and Anwar Saadat. Soon after Obama got it, he escalated the drone attacks and sent 10,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan. Bush released more prisoners than him from Guantanamo. Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous US presidents put together. Then there is the question of state terror, taken to new heights by arrogating to himself and all future presidents the power to order the execution of any US citizen (or anyone else deemed to be a danger) at home or abroad. The surveillance state, which he defends without any sense of shame, has revealed that the US and its allies in Europe use technology to spy on their citizens to levels that dwarf the Stasi of East Germany during Cold War times. The halo around his head was linked mainly to his skin colour and the fact that he was a more ‘human’ leader than Bush, which made it easier for the vassal states in Europe to do his bidding without arousing too much anger from their respective citizenries. I pointed out soon after his election that he was the most inventive apparition of the Empire.
All this has now worn off. The Emperor’s clothes are no different from those of his predecessors. He serves Wall Street and the defence industry as assiduously as most other presidents. Like Bush and Clinton before him, he is slavish when it comes to defending Israel, its assets and interests in the Middle East. Even as I write, news bulletins are reporting joint US-Israeli missile tests in the Mediterranean. So his desire to bomb Syria should not come as a surprise to any serious observer. Over the last few months, the regime had been consistently pushing the rebels back and recovering small and large towns. This is the primary reason for the planned assault.
The plan has been delayed by the decision of the British parliament—itself the result of a convoluted voting process that took everyone by surprise—to give this particular war a miss. Given Britain’s status abroad as Washington’s bloodshot adjutant, the vote had a global resonance. “What?” American citizens asked each other. “Our most loyal follower, deserting us just before the strikes? What does it all mean and shouldn’t we be debating the issue ourselves?” Obama’s language in interviews was no different from that of Bush. He actually said that the reason for the planned assault was that these chemical weapons “might be used against the United States”. By whom? By Al Qaeda etc. Excuse me? Aren’t they on your side in this particular conflict and isn’t the real aim of the strikes to strengthen their side against the regime in this depressing and ugly civil war? Despite the rhetoric, the British vote forced Obama to delay the so-called surgical raids. Meanwhile, in France, the other war-loving state, 64 percent of public opinion is opposed to the war. French intelligence hurriedly produced dossiers (leaked to two Le Monde journalists weeks ago), presumably supplied by Mossad, with which they have close links. The Israelis are desperate to knock out Hezbollah, the only movement in the region that has fought them to a standstill.
Obama may not want to impose regime change himself, but he’s quite happy to let the tributary states in the region (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO pillar Turkey) do the business for him. Were they to succeed, the chaos in the region, not to mention the body count, would far exceed that created in Libya after ‘liberation’. We still have no accurate figures for the casualties caused by six months of NATO bombs in that country, but they vary from 10,000-30,000. The authors of that war are busy cooking up another. What has helped Syria is the backing of Russia and Iran; the Chinese, too, have made it clear that they would not allow the UNSC to be used as a fig leaf in this particular case.
I’ve been saying for months now that a political solution is possible. It was the western-backed opposition that refused to talk. Now it might be too late, though if Washington wanted a peaceful solution it could, with Russia, impose one. This would mean a break with Al Qaeda and similar outfits, but surely that would be a step forward. The notion that toppling the regime will lead to peace, bread and democracy is a sick joke. Just look at what’s happened in Egypt. There is no organisation in Syria either that can take a popular uprising to the next level. None. The Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force, together with groups further to its right. To expect anything from these organisations is to live off illusions and later complain that they have been betrayed.
(Tariq Ali’s book, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, is published by Verso)