US President Barack Obama is piling up the foreign policy disasters. In at least three areas crucial for world peace and US interests – Arab-Israel tensions, Afghanistan-Pakistan and Yemen-Somalia – he’s pursuing a course that can only be described as foolhardy. Indeed, the anger and hate towards the United States that he’s generating could take a generation to dispel.
Obama’s abject surrender to Israel on the Palestine question has shocked much of the world and gravely damaged the United States’ standing among Arabs and Muslims. In what is seen by many as an effort to court the Jewish vote at next year’s presidential election, Obama has thrown into reverse the policy of outreach to the Muslim world that he expressed so eloquently in his 2009 Cairo speech. If he’s now driven to use the US veto at the UN Security Council to block the application of a Palestinian state for UN membership, he will have been defeated by the very forces of Islamophobia he once hoped to tame.
Obama’s policy in Afghanistan is equally perverse. On the one hand, he seems to want to draw the Taliban into negotiations. But on the other, some of his army chiefs and senior diplomats apparently want to destroy the Taliban first. This is hardly a policy likely to bring the insurgents to the table. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ryan Crocker, the new US ambassador to Kabul, actually said that the conflict should continue until more of the Taliban are killed. Who, one wonders, is in charge of US policy?
In a message on the occasion of the Eid at the end of Ramadan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, seemed to hint at his readiness for a comprehensive negotiation. ‘Every legitimate option can be considered,’ he said,’ in order to reach the goal of an independent Islamic regime in Afghanistan.’ He urged foreign powers to withdraw their troops ‘immediately’ in order to achieve a lasting solution to the problem. In a gesture to his local opponents, he stressed that the Taliban didn’t wish to monopolize power and that all ethnicities would participate in a ‘real Islamic regime acceptable to all the people of the country.’
Surely the United States and its allies should respond positively to this message? A conference in Bonn next December is due to review NATO’s war in Afghanistan – a war that seems closer to being lost than won. About 25,000 soldiers reportedly deserted the Afghan armed services in the first six months of this year because they had lost faith in the Hamid Karzai government’s ability to protect them and their families. Coalition troops are due to withdraw their troops by the end of 2014. Might there not be an argument for an immediate offer of negotiation together with a pledge of an earlier withdrawal? It is, after all, far from clear what strategic interests, if any, the West is defending in Afghanistan.