Saudi Monarchy Losing Control?

WASHINGTON – The very last page of  the latest TIME magazine double issue about what we can expect in the New Year is dedicated to quick predictions. One segment is focused on what might happen in world politics.

Predictions 

Some of these short forecasts are not long shots. For instance, as indicated in item “d”, it is possible that stagnant economies in Europe and a growing crisis caused by Middle Eastern refugees will create more support for xenophobic, racist parties in the Old Continent.

End of the Saudi Monarchy? 

But item “b” is far more intriguing. It says: “The House of Saud loses control of Saudi Arabia”. [Emphasis added]

What, a coup-d’etat in Saudi Arabia? A political revolution? Now, this would be a really big deal, given Saudi Arabia’s dominant role in shaping global energy prices, and therefore energy and economic policies across the globe.

The last absolute monarchy  

The problem with the Royal Family is that the House of Saud is the last absolute monarchy. This is not Norway or Great Britain. Its enormous, unchecked powers rest on its total control of the country’s vast oil wealth, and on its alliance with the conservative Wahabi, the self-appointed guardians of true Islamic orthodoxy.

So, all of a sudden, in 2016 something truly catastrophic will come about, and the Royal Family “loses control”? How could this happen? The short TIME magazine prediction provides no details.

While there are no obvious signs of dangerous political unrest in Saudi Arabia, there are dynamics under way that may lead to trouble.

The new oil prices policies is costing too much 

First of all there is the Saudi-driven policy of “all out oil production” that caused the collapse of global oil prices, (now below $ 40 per barrel). This policy, whose objectives are unclear, can be reversed, of course.

Fissures 

But the economic damage already brought about by it, beyond the financial bleeding caused by huge deficits, may have created dissent within the Royal Family. It stands to reason that many senior members may question the wisdom of a new course of action decreed or at least endorsed by King Salman that causes the government to drain its precious reserves to finance a huge fiscal imbalance caused by the oil revenue collapse. Add to these strains the cost of the Saudi military intervention in Yemen.

Still, probably these tensions can be handled.

Legitimacy 

The real long-term uncertainty is about the regime’s questionable legitimacy. By that I mean that it is not obvious that the Monarchy has and will have in the future the ability to keep Saudi society quiet, while retaining its anachronistic total power and all the priviliges that come with it.

Political vulnerabilities 

The Arab Spring proved that even established regimes are vulnerable. In the cases of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria there were economic grievances mixed with demands for freedom and accountability.

Saudi Arabia is a different case, in as much as the Royal Family for now at least can afford to distribute cash payments to millions of people in order to keep them happy.

An anomaly

Still, the Saudi regime is an anomaly. The idea that it will be there, essentially for ever, is a fantasy. May be nothing will happen in 2016; but something is bound to happen.

TIME magazine is probably right. May be not on the timing, but on the eventual outcome.




US Troops In Syria?

WASHINGTON – What do we make of the announcement by the Obama administration about its decision to send about 50 US Special Operations troops into Northern Syria? Is this part of a larger strategy? Is America about to get serious in its declared fight against ISIL?

No strategy 

I would not count on any of this. Quite frankly, it is hard to detect any US strategy. When President Assad reacted violently against any political dissent that was stimulated by the Arab Spring, America did nothing. After the situation in Syria got worse, America made noises but did essentially nothing. When ISIL, taking advantage of the mess in Syria took over a big chunk of the country, America did nothing. Worse yet, when an emboldened ISIL launched its invasion of Iraq from its bases in Syria, Obama reacted with surprise; but continued to do essentially nothing, while blaming (with some cause) the Shia majority government in Baghdad for its failure to establish good relations with the Sunni minority.

The coalition did little 

Sure enough, after months of hesitation, Obama announced that America had formed a large and powerful coalition (more than 60 countries, we are told) whose objective was and is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

Well, notwithstanding a few bombing raids here and there, ISIL is still pretty much in control of a large chunk of Syria and most of North Western Iraq.

Put it differently, America is not winning. (Allowing a terrorist state to keep its grip on a large piece of territory in the heart of the Middle East has huge detrimental political implications. Just by being there, the self-described Caliphate can claim victory. But we shall not focus on this pernicious aspect of the crisis here).

Others stepping in 

In the meantime, under ISIL’s attack Syria is falling apart, while the US $ 500 million program to train and arm pro-Western Syrian rebels went absolutely nowhere. And now? Now it is an even bigger mess.

Iraq is openly supported by the Iranians in its fight against ISIL. Assad is supplied by the Iranians and is assisted by Hezbollah fighters. Most recently, Russia decided to intervene militarily in order to support Assad. It may impossible to regain control over the entire country, but at least Russia will to its best to allow its weakened ally to keep a piece of it, while Moscow will retain its valuable military bases.

What about America? 

And what about America? Well, who knows, really. The anti-ISIL “Grand Coalition” was and is a fiction. The US-led military effort against ISIL is modest, in fact pitiful.

And now, what? Well, now Washington is sending about 50 military advisers to help the Kurds in Northern Syria.

Not what I would call a game changer.




Egyptian Court Let Former Dictator Mubarak Go Free

WASHINGTON – As we may recall, back in 2011 the enthusiastic Tahrir Square youth, armed with cell phones and twitter, in a matter of a few weeks caused the down fall of Hosni Mubarak, a former military man and for 30 years Egypt’s uncontested autocrat. The world admired those courageous young people who were opening the door to democracy and accountability, and cheered.

From general to general

Well, fast forward to today and we have Egypt ruled by another former general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, now transformed into a civilian president, (just like Mubarak). And el-Sisi’s judiciary now reversed a guilty verdict for Mubarak, his sons and his entourage, on various charges ranging from homicide to corruption. So, the old (86) villain is no longer a villain. And the military still rules Egypt. Guess what, nothing changed.

Let me say this again. The February 2011 Tahrir Square Revolution culminated with the successful eviction from power of Hosni Mubarak, a military dictator, and it ended with the acquittal of the same military dictator thanks to a court system obviously working under orders issued by el-Sisi, the new military man turned into civilian president.

El-Sisi came into power after having kicked out the incompetent (but duly elected) president Mohammed Morsi, leader of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood.

Back where we started

From a certain angle, this strange Egyptian tale looks almost like a farce. A big production, with a lot of sound and fury, that ends exactly where it started: a military dictatorship dressed up as a democracy.

Of course it is not a farce. It is in fact a sad story. Let’s not forget that many Egyptians died in the long 2011-2013 turmoil. And let’s not forget that the military took over mostly because of the excesses of the Muslim Brotherhood government that most unwisely the Egyptians had chosen as a successor to Mubarak’s dictatorship.

Incompetent Morsi

The Muslim Brotherhood, led by president Mohamed Morsi, proved to be at the same time massively incompetent and anti-democratic. Hence bigger and bigger streets revolts against its rule, eventually followed by the military take over that ended with general el-Sisi becoming president and barring the Muslim Brotherhood, while arresting Morsi and all its national leaders.

Egypt not ready for democracy

So, what do we make of this story? Well, in hindsight, I admit that back in 2011 I was totally wrong in believing that the Arab Spring could propel Egypt into a new era of secular, accountable democracy. I grossly over estimated the strength of the westernized urban youth that had occupied Tahrir Square.

I did not realize that, given the opportunity to vote freely, most Egyptians would choose the backward looking Muslim Brotherhood, a political force bent on forcing on the whole country its own brand of strict religious orthodoxy.

From autocracy to chaos

In the end, as the skeptics had anticipated, getting rid of Mubarak created only chaos. The Muslim Brotherhood was powerful enough to win an election, but not strong enough to force the entire country to follow its antiquated religious precepts. At the same time, under their clumsy rule the Egyptian economy took a dive. Hence the popular rebellion, followed by the military take over.

No real democracy without a democratic ethos

I see only one important lesson here. The creation of a real democracy is a very complicated and most delicate enterprise that can succeed only if we assume the existence of a strong democratic ethos within any given society.

Democracy, of course, includes free elections. But that is only the beginning. In Egypt’s case, when the people had a chance to cast a vote, they elected a profoundly anti-democratic political force.

This is a bit like the Germans voting for Adolf Hitler in 1933 hoping that the Nazis would fix things. They certainly fixed things; but outside of the Weimar Republic parameters. Once asked to form a new government, they created a dictatorship.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood thought that the elections amounted to a mandate for imposing on the whole country its own religion based order. But the military did not buy this approach, and in the end it sided with the more secular Egyptians and got rid of president Morsi.

How will el-Sisi rule? 

Will general, turned into president, el-Sisi rule like an enlightened technocrat, willing to enable the planting of the seeds of a future democracy? Will he favor some measure of dialogue with the more mature components of Egypt’s civil society? Will he allow some debate? Or is this going to be Mubarak 2.0?

Time will well. However, we know that Egypt is a mess, while the Arab World is torn apart. And today the most pressing issue is not how to create democracy, but how to fight Islamic radicals. Democracy will have to wait.

By now we know that a successful planting of the seeds of democracy requires a fertile soil consisting of calm, tolerance and some degree of unity and common sense.

So far, at least in Egypt, the conditions are not at all favorable. The careful cultivation that will produce this absolutely necessary fertile soil is at best a distant goal.

 




With Washington Looking The Other Way, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah Will Determine Syrian Conflict Outcome

By Paolo von Schirach

June 17, 2013

WASHINGTON – Let’s leave aside for a moment the awful complexity of the Syrian civil war. It is obvious, as all wise observers are telling us, that there are “no good choices” for the West in this messy affair. Assad is unquestionably the bad guy. However, the opposition is a confusing patchwork of disunited factions: ranging from a few pushing for real democracy, to Islamic fundamentalists and real al Qaeda inspired terrorists. Which is to say that by helping the opposition overthrow Assad the West may be instrumental in getting us another failed state torn by endless internal strife. Worse yet, Washington might become the enabler of another anti-Western Islamic regime. And this outcome  may be a lot worse than Assad’s secular autocracy.

Something wrong with this scenario

Still, even though all of this is unfortunately true, if we review the broader scenario, and we look at who has been doing what regarding Syria, something does not add up. If you assumed that the United States is a super power and therefore capable of influencing major international developments like no other state, there is something wrong with a major international crisis in which the US plays essentially no role. By default, US inaction means that the other side has free rein and wins.

America will not lead

Not convinced? Well, here are the basic facts. From the very beginning of the Syrian internal strife the United States piously declared that Washington would act only in concert with the will of the international community, meaning action could take place only with a clear UN Security Council mandate. Simple translation: “We shall not lead. In fact we shall do nothing. As we all know that Russia and China will block any UN action, let it be known to all that Washington will do absolutely nothing”.

As indicated above, there is ground for careful restraint regarding the Syrian mess. But is there ground for a total abdication of US Great Power responsibilities? Is there ground for America to play no role?

Assad counts on Russia, Iran and Hezbollah

Well, it gets worse. As the conflict rages, Assad uses brutal force against his internal enemies. In the meantime, quite openly he gets arms from Iran and from Russia, while his troops are now openly reinforced by Hezbollah militants dispatched to Syria from Lebanon. 

In the meantime President Putin of Russia talks about American decline on Russian TV, while now he lectures the West about the legality of Moscow’s help to Assad, the legitimate ruler of Syria. Again, according to Putin, any Western effort to aid the anti-Assad rebels would be illegal. And what is the source of Russia’s bluster?

Do keep in mind that Russia’s economic might yields a per capita GDP on par with Croatia and a couple of notches ahead of  Botswana and Gabon. In other words, a diminished Russia today is mostly an irritant. Russia is no longer a global threat. We are no longer in the 1970s.

Mighty Russia?

This is not the menacing Soviet Union that could support with impunity Marxist fighters in Africa with full knowledge that Washington would not risk an escalation that might have led to a World War. This is relatively poor, disorganized and diminished post Soviet Russia. Sure enough, Moscow still has a lot of nuclear weapons. And this means significant  leverage. But are you telling me that America and its European NATO Allies, with a combined GDP of well over US $ 30 trillion, are kept in check by this sorry looking Russia?

A New World Order?

And yet this is the situation. Reinforced by Russia, Iran and Iran-armed Hezbollah, Assad is still in power in Damascus. Looking at the situation on the ground, the far weaker rebels have no chance to win militarily. Assad is gaining.

Welcome to the New-New Post-American World Order. America being absent, President Putin, the “Great Defender of International Law”,  along with Iran and Hezbollah –the well known defenders of democarcy and human rights– determines the outcome of a major Middle East conflict.

 




Hillary Clinton Is Very Popular, Yet Her Record As Secretary Of State Is Unremarkable – No Major Success – All Critical Issues, from Iran To North Korea, Unresolved

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

February 2, 2013

WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton just had her last day as Obama’s Secretary of State, punctuated by an informal speech to the assembled and adoring staff in the State Department building. Her farewell speech was not supposed to be a policy pronouncement in which she would enumerate significant milestones of her tenure. Still, it was surprisingly devoid of any substance whatsoever. Not even one major accomplishment was listed. Nothing.

Unremarkable tenure

She did say that she had pushed hard to reconfigure US foreign and security policies so that “Diplomacy” and “Development” (her portfolio) would have equal standing with “Defense”), (DOD’s portfolio). But she did not even attempt to evaluate the success of her push.

Indeed, leaving aside her last mostly ceremonial address to her staff, it is hard to pinpoint any major milestone that would bear Secretary Clinton’s signature. It is hard to think of anything at all that she did, in the four years of her tenure as the Head of American diplomacy.

Unprepared for the Arab Spring

The reconfiguration of American policies towards the Muslim world was Obama’s grand idea. And it came to essentially nothing. It was swept away by the Arab Spring, a phenomenon that caught American diplomats, (that means the State Department headed by Hillary Clinton), off guard, with little to propose to the new Arab leaders. As a result of these new developments that America could neither shape nor control the US is just as unpopular among Arabs as it was when George W. Bush was president. .

Russia just as unfriendly

The Russia policy “reset” got us essentially nothing. USAID has been kicked out of the country. Putin is just as uncooperative as he used to be on major issues such as Iran sanctions and solving the Syria crisis. Sure enough, we have a new treaty aimed at reducing the number of nuclear weapons in both arsenals, and this is marginally good, but hardly a breakthrough on the road to global nuclear disarmament.

China rules in Africa

The rest is unremarkable. No new initiative regarding Europe. Nothing special concerning Africa or Latin America. The pivot to Asia seems to be Obama’s idea. However, it is largely an empty gesture that cannot be backed by meaningful military assets that would deter a more aggressive China.

As for the festering crises that Clinton inherited when she took office, well, they are as bad as before. No progress under her four year tenure on the perennial Palestine Israel issue. Nothing new on Iran and zero on North Korea.

Foreign assistance with minimal results

The revamping of US foreign aid was announced; but it did not happen. Most of the USAID money went down the Pakistan and Afghanistan sinkholes, with modest results. The rest of the development assistance budget is sprinkled thinly across so many countries that it makes little difference, one way or the other. In Africa in particular, for better or for worse, China is the new big player. Nothing done by America in Africa under Clinton comes even close to the level of investment made by China.

Benghazi fiasco

Last but least there is the recent Benghazi fiasco. Leaving aside the partisan political distortions that enveloped a terror attack that occurred on September 11 and less than two months before the presidential elections, everything we have learnt so far points at the very least to gross managerial incompetence.

Added security for US diplomatic facilities in Libya was requested several times and ignored by the State Department. This does not mean that everybody is incompetent over there. But it means that diplomatic security, a critical function in the al Qaeda era, was handled by sub par amateurs. And all these are high level professioanls who worked for Secretary Clinton.

High favorables

That said, Clinton’s favorables are spectacularly high, (around 70% , as opposed to Obama’s favorables hovering around 51%). Many people, singularly ignorant about foreign policy, believe that Mrs. Clinton has done a fantastic job as Secretary of State. When pressed to name a major Clinton accomplishment, the same enthusiasts respond with silly generalities like “She has re-established American prestige abroad”.

Busy lady…

It is true that Mrs. Clinton is energetic. After she left the White House as spouse of controversial Bill Clinton, she demonstrated her determination to leave her own mark. She run successfully for a New York State Senate seat. She got re-elected.

And then she came within inches of getting the Democratic nomination in 2008. Having lost to Obama, she accepted his offer to become Secretary of State. Certainly Mrs. Clinton has done a lot of high level things.

…but ineffective

Still, her undistinguished tenure as globe-trotting Secretary of State, with minimal accomplishments, shows that there is a fundamental distinction between staying busy and being effective.




Because of Her Role In The Aftermath Of The Benghazi Debacle Ambassador Susan Rice Lost Her Chance To Become Secretary Of State – She Played A Political Role In Spinning A False Tale, Now She Pays A Political Price – But More To Come About Responsibilities Of Line Officers

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

Related story:

http://schirachreport.com/index.php/2012/09/27/the-obama-administration-failed-to-protect-the-us-consulate-in-benghazi-from-credible-terror-threats-after-the-killing-of-ambassador-stevens-it-created-the-video-story-to-obfuscate-the-facts-and-d/

December 13, 2012

WASHINGTON – The terror attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya has made another victim. It is UN Ambassador Susan Rice, the high ranking official who was sent back in September by the White House on all Sunday TV shows to push the silly explanation that the terror attack was in fact a spontaneous riot caused by the (unfortunately) made in America anti-Muslim video.

Ambassador Rice as messenger

Soon thereafter it became obvious that, when the White House sent Ambassador Rice as “messenger” on all Sunday TV shows, the administration knew very well what had actually happened in Benghazi. I wrote then (see link above to related stories) that Ambassador Rice was made to look like a fool, telling a lie to the American public because at the time –this whole affair was unfolding just weeks before the elections– the killing of a US Ambassador in the line of duty, (on September 11 of all possible dates), was treated like a potential political liability that needed to be explained away as a tragic event beyond Obama’s control.

Anyway, Susan Rice, the hapless loyal servant sent to play politics on TV is now paying a political price. As the messenger for the Obama White House untruths she has been openly attacked by senior Republican Senators, including John McCain. Having become a political liability, Ambassador Rice on December 13 withdrew her name from consideration as a possible future Secretary of State.

Political scapegoat

Of course this is all about politics. She was sent in front of the TV cameras because back then it seemed politically expedient to spin the story. She must have known that she was being used, just as a pawn. Still, being a good trooper, she went on her mission aimed at obfuscating, this way doing her bit to help Obama’s re-election. And now that she has become a political liability she lost her chance to be “promoted” by the boss she so loyally served.

She became the scapegoat. Obama regrets her decision to withdraw her name from consideration, but he accepted it. The Republicans who (along with the Murdoch media, that is FOX and the WSJ) clamor for the truth may feel partially vindicated, and so forth.

Truth about Benghazi yet to come

But this Benghazi story is not over yet. We are still waiting for the results of an official investigation that hopefully will reveal how was it possible to neglect basic security in such a critical diplomatic post like Benghazi. Someone made serious mistakes and this is the real blunder. Ambassador Rice is just an unfortunate political casualty because of her role as messenger. Indeed, as the President said, she had nothing to do with any decision-making regarding Benghazi. Certainly the UN Ambassador is not in charge of diplomatic security. (That being the case, then why was she chosen to tell the “video-did-it” story on all the TV networks? Because at the time it seemed politically expedient to send her).

Secretary Clinton unscathed

Ironically, for the time being, Secretary Hillary Clinton, the person who is in charge of the Department of State, and therefore ultimately responsible for any security lapses at the US Consulate in Benghazi, is left unscathed. So far at least, almost no political damage to her reputation. She will soon leave (voluntarily) the Secretary of State job sought by Ambassador Rice without any public embarassment. If and when Clinton will decide to run for president in 2016, this whole Benghazi story will have been forgotten.

As for President Obama who no doubt had a role in sending Ambassador Rice to tell a fairy tale on TV, any political consequences? Well, he just got re-elected; and it is unlikely that this story will damage him in the future.




Because of Her Role In The Aftermath Of The Benghazi Debacle Ambassador Susan Rice Lost Her Chance To Become Secretary Of State – She Played A Political Role In Spinning A False Tale, Now She Pays A Political Price – But More To Come About Responsibilities Of Line Officers

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

Related story:

http://schirachreport.com/index.php/2012/09/27/the-obama-administration-failed-to-protect-the-us-consulate-in-benghazi-from-credible-terror-threats-after-the-killing-of-ambassador-stevens-it-created-the-video-story-to-obfuscate-the-facts-and-d/

December 13, 2012

WASHINGTON – The terror attack against the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya has made another victim. It is UN Ambassador Susan Rice, the high ranking official who was sent back in September by the White House on all Sunday TV shows to push the silly explanation that the terror attack was in fact a spontaneous riot caused by the (unfortunately) made in America anti-Muslim video.

Ambassador Rice as messenger

Soon thereafter it became obvious that, when the White House sent Ambassador Rice as “messenger” on all Sunday TV shows, the administration knew very well what had actually happened in Benghazi. I wrote then (see link above to related stories) that Ambassador Rice was made to look like a fool, telling a lie to the American public because at the time –this whole affair was unfolding just weeks before the elections– the killing of a US Ambassador in the line of duty, (on September 11 of all possible dates), was treated like a potential political liability that needed to be explained away as a tragic event beyond Obama’s control.

Anyway, Susan Rice, the hapless loyal servant sent to play politics on TV is now paying a political price. As the messenger for the Obama White House untruths she has been openly attacked by senior Republican Senators, including John McCain. Having become a political liability, Ambassador Rice on December 13 withdrew her name from consideration as a possible future Secretary of State.

Political scapegoat

Of course this is all about politics. She was sent in front of the TV cameras because back then it seemed politically expedient to spin the story. She must have known that she was being used, just as a pawn. Still, being a good trooper, she went on her mission aimed at obfuscating, this way doing her bit to help Obama’s re-election. And now that she has become a political liability she lost her chance to be “promoted” by the boss she so loyally served.

She became the scapegoat. Obama regrets her decision to withdraw her name from consideration, but he accepted it. The Republicans who (along with the Murdoch media, that is FOX and the WSJ) clamor for the truth may feel partially vindicated, and so forth.

Truth about Benghazi yet to come

But this Benghazi story is not over yet. We are still waiting for the results of an official investigation that hopefully will reveal how was it possible to neglect basic security in such a critical diplomatic post like Benghazi. Someone made serious mistakes and this is the real blunder. Ambassador Rice is just an unfortunate political casualty because of her role as messenger. Indeed, as the President said, she had nothing to do with any decision-making regarding Benghazi. Certainly the UN Ambassador is not in charge of diplomatic security. (That being the case, then why was she chosen to tell the “video-did-it” story on all the TV networks? Because at the time it seemed politically expedient to send her).

Secretary Clinton unscathed

Ironically, for the time being, Secretary Hillary Clinton, the person who is in charge of the Department of State, and therefore ultimately responsible for any security lapses at the US Consulate in Benghazi, is left unscathed. So far at least, almost no political damage to her reputation. She will soon leave (voluntarily) the Secretary of State job sought by Ambassador Rice without any public embarassment. If and when Clinton will decide to run for president in 2016, this whole Benghazi story will have been forgotten.

As for President Obama who no doubt had a role in sending Ambassador Rice to tell a fairy tale on TV, any political consequences? Well, he just got re-elected; and it is unlikely that this story will damage him in the future.




Most Commentators Give Good Grades To Obama’s Foreign Policy – Yet The Record Is Unremarkable: Messy War In Afghanistan, Iran On Its Way To Get A Nuclear Weapon And Now A Wave Of Anti-American Protests Throughout The Muslim World

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

September 18, 2012

WASHINGTON – The established consensus among leading American foreign policy experts and media commentators is that president Barack Obama has done very well in foreign and security policies. Among his achievements: he ended the war in Iraq, while he has set a time table for withdrawing from Afghanistan. And, of course, he eliminated Osama bin Laden. And, yes, he reset relations with Russia, while ordering a resources refocus on Asia.

Too much praise

While there is some cause for a mildly optimistic assessment, this praise is highly exaggerated. The Iraq withdrawal followed the timetable set by the agreement the Bush administration had reached with the Iraqi government. So, Obama followed a set policy.

List of under achievements

Afghanistan was a mess when Obama came along and it is still a mess today. The surge the president ordered at the end of 2009 produced little that can be called sustainable, at a very high cost. Having now a date (2014) for getting out of a country in turmoil, with a still very active insurgency is not the pinnacle of achievement. Meanwhile, relations with Pakistan have turned from bad to positively horrible on account of the drone strikes against Taliban elements who take refuge in Pakistan that violate Pakistani sovereignty.

The “reset” with Russia did not bring that much. Russia is still mostly uncooperative on Syria and Iran. And the Obama administration cannot do much to influence the autocratic proclivities of the Russian government.

The refocus on Asia looks like an attempt to contain China. While some of this may be welcome by China’s smaller neighbors, it is not clear what the end game will be. The decision to dispatch a few marines in Northern Australia has to be viewed as unfriendly by China, even though by itself it has just about zero strategic value.

The olive branch to Iran was rejected. Iran was bent on developing nuclear weapons when Bush was president and nothing changed during the four years of the Obama presidency. Except for the tightening of sanctions, nothing at all.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians was deadlocked when Obama came along and it is still deadlocked today. Essentially zero progress, while relations with Israel have somewhat deteriorated.

New era of engagement with the Muslim World?

That said, let’s remember that Obama became president with a highly ambitious agenda of recasting, in a major way, America’s relations with the Muslim World. His famous “Cairo Speech” was supposed to inaugurate a new era. Well, it did not. The Obama administration was caught completely off guard by the 2011 Arab Spring phenomenon that gave legitimacy to mostly, although not entirely, anti-American forces.

And now, a year later, notwithstanding various attempts at engagement and dialogue, the well publicized incident of the anti-Islam video has become a pretext for conservative Islamic forces throughout the Arab world for inciting anti-American demonstrations and for attacking US assets, such as Embassies and American schools.

No action in Syria

In the meantime, America is just a spectator as the carnage in Syria goes on and on. Washington has piously declared that in this crisis it will follow the will of the international community. Translated in simple language this means: “We shall do nothing worth mentioning”.

Afghanistan still a festering wound

In Afghanistan, the “good war” according to Obama during the 2008 campaign, some US troops get killed almost daily by the Afghans we are supposedly training so that they will become an able fighting force capable of defeating the ongoing Taliban insurgency. And other Afghan fighters just days ago attacked a US base, destroying 6 Harrier jets while damaging 2 more. (Total damage: at least $ 200 million). The environment has deteriorated so much that the US and other NATO allies just announced they will reduce the level of cooperation with the Afghan forces they are supposed to train.

And this is success?

It is remarkable how this rather undistinguished record may be portrayed as successful. In fairness, Obama certainly inherited a bad legacy. Too many years of misguided wars wanted by the Bush administration had tarnished US reputation and prestige. Still, this president who came along with a new agenda of humility, friendliness and engagement in foreign relations is ending his term with a diminished America unsuccessful in Afghanistan, incapable of preventing Iran from getting the bomb, no progress in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, incapable of influencing economic policies in Europe, on an uncertain footing with China, and no record worth mentioning in Latin America or Africa.

And, to top it all off, this new benevolent and engaging America is now targeted by half the Muslim World on account of just one video produced by totally unknown film makers. One cheap anti-Muslim made in the USA video apparently has more power to influence negatively Arab and Muslim public opinion than the entire foreign policy apparatus of the US government. America’s best intentions and far reaching policy objectives destroyed by just one video clip? If this is a record of foreign policy success, I would be curious to see what would constitute failure.




The White House Stated That All The Attacks Against American Embassies Are Due To An Obscure Anti-Islam Video Produced In The US – So, The American Government Tells The World That Its Entire Foreign Policy Apparatus Has Less Influence With Arab Countries Than A Single Video – End Of America As Super Power

[the-subtitle ]

By Paolo von Schirach

September 15, 2012

WASHINGTON – Regarding the repeated violent attacks against US Embassies in several Arab countries, the official US Government position, according to Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, is that this whole mess is the result of the circulation on the Internet of a short US made video clip considered to be anti-Islam blasphemy by pious Muslims around the world. As this is outside government control, nothing we can do about it, is the implicit message. Nothing much that Washington can do to counter any of this. End of story.

Anti-American rage caused entirely by a video clip?

Really, that’s it? Let me get this straight. On one side we have the United States Government, the world superpower, with its global influence, foreign aid packages, political, military, direct investment and trade engagements with the Arab World aimed at creating strong relations based on trust, economic growth and what not, and on the other side we have an obscure offensive film.

By stating that this amazing wave of anti-American rage, with four diplomats (including the Ambassador) killed in Libya, is caused entirely by one solitary video clip produced by obscure American film makers nobody has ever heard about, the White House is also saying that in our relations with the Arab World one single video clip, produced and circulated by private individuals with no connection with, let alone endorsment from, the US Government is more powerful than the entire might of America and the policy apparatus of the US Government.

American impotence

This is really a major official statement of American impotence. The White House tells us, at least indirectly, that US foreign policy, with all its might and resources, cannot prevail against the head wind of anti-Americanism caused by just one single item totally unknown within the United States deemed to be offensive by pious Muslims. So, this is the message from Washington to the American public and to the world: “If something from America, no matter how small and irrelevant, offends Muslims, this is what happens: riots, American diplomats killed, Embassies under attack, US flags burned. Sorry folks, nothing we can do about it”.

How can this be? I see at least two possibilities.

Possible scenarios

–Scenario Number 1: America has lost so much of its old power and credibility vis-a-vis the Muslim World that, no matter how much it tries to engage, (with development assistance, military relations, investments, cultural exchanges), it fails, because nobody takes it seriously anymore.

–Scenario Number 2: the Arab societies are in such chaos and turmoil now that not even mighty America can sway them. America, with all its military and civilian aid, its diplomatic and business relations assets is just incapable to affect development in these messed up societies. If they choose to be offended by the slightest US-made event, nothing that Washington can do to convince them otherwise.

Well, actually, there may be a third scenario:

–The Arab societies transitioning from autocracies to who knows what are indeed messed up and therefore difficult to engage with. At the same time, a diminished and semi-impoverished America (whose governments used to support the old dictators) has very little residual credit with these new governments and societies. In fact, America is now their enemy of choice, (at least for large segments of these populations) and it is routinely accused of all sorts of sinister plans and plots. Therefore all American assets and symbols of American power, (like our Embassies) are far game each and every time anything at all considered as an offense comes from America.

If this is indeed so, even taking into account the exceptional turmoil caused by unprecedented changes affecting Arab societies now stumbling about and may be missing entirely the high road that leads to real modernity, America has lost the ability to influence governments, public opinion in other countries and major events.

Worse yet, many do not care at all about the consequences of inflicting injury to America, as most likely there will be none. If this is so, there can be only one conclusion: America is no longer a super power. Pax Americana is finished; while savvy policy makers around the world start taking their cues from other, in their eyes more relevant, actors. Very sad, but true.