The ‘peacenik’ President heeds a call to arms – but is it too little, too late?

THERE must be an awful lot of soap being used up in the White House and Whitehall, as ministers and their minions try to wash their hands of Iraq.

And I bet the label on each bar is stamped, ‘For ditherers only.’ If not, they should be.

Because the great brains of Western diplomacy haven’t a clue whether to stick, twist or chuck in their hand and allow violence to take its unnatural course in sorting out the latest Middle East imbroglio.

Various military acronyms rooted in WW2 slang – like FUBAR and SNAFU, whose meanings I won’t spell out for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition – spring to mind as pertinent descriptions for the plight of those whose indecision may, or may not, be final.

And at the very top of the pile of confused, anguished hand-wringers is an American leader, whose default setting is to gaze at his navel, as if answers to the world’s ills miraculously lie within the lint of his belly button.

In 2008 Barack Obama was elected President on an anti-war ticket, redolent with slogans ranging from ‘Hope’ to ‘Yes We Can’ (whatever that meant). The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, based not on deeds, but the same windy promises that shoehorned him into office. Even the man himself was flabbergasted.

Over six years later his main achievements of note have been extricating his gung-ho predecessor, George W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from Iraq and downsizing troops in Afghanistan, with the aim of every Crusader GI quitting by New Year.

But, given the daily evidence of mounting carnage afflicting both rudderless states, there’s little to embellish Obama’s legacy, except for taking Hillary Clinton’s advice on obliterating Osama bin Laden.

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS have ignited  the power-keg of Iraq

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS march on, having ignited the power-keg of Iraq

Meanwhile, even starry-eyed optimists recognise it’s only a matter of time before the untamed Taliban return to Kabul and fill the void created by the exit of NATO troops.

An even more alarming spectre haunts Western policy-makers over the future of Iraq, where a sectarian strife has erupted in all but civil war, as murderous Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, mop up the oil-rich hinterland and threaten Shia-dominated Baghdad.

It’s futile to rake over old coals, as former British leader Tony Blair recently did in justifying the 2003 invasion/liberation of Iraq, because history is already writ large, though it was always received wisdom the country would be a powder-keg for decades.

That it has exploded so ghoulishly is largely due to the ineptitude and arrogance of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who ethnically cleansed Iraq’s government, army and civil service of virtually any Sunni and Kurdish influence.

Even if the nation’s religious demographics gave Shias a 65% majority, the vision for a democratic, post-conflict Iraq was intended to be an inclusive one, with a modicum of power-sharing.

Now, stability exists only in far-north, autonomous Kurdistan, while the rest of the country seems damned to imitate next-door Syria and descend into a sectarian bloodbath.

That the blinkered Maliki was stupid and overcome by megalomania is beyond doubt, despite having a democratic mandate.

But, as his paymaster and sponsor, Obama – for all his aversion to confrontation – should have had the wit to nip the shameless power-grab in the bud and read the riot act to the idiot of Baghdad much earlier.

Hence, now we see a battle-fatigued America being re-drawn into the conflict, after the President announced on Thursday 300 special operatives would go to Iraq and ‘provide technical support’ to help overcome ISIS, after Maliki pleaded for US intervention.

Talk about déjà vu all over again!

FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

CLOSE TOGETHER, FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

Meanwhile, how much difference 300 specialists can make – and whether they are too little, too late – is debatable, as is Obama’s vague threat of force, ‘if intelligence recommended it’.

But, at least, he took a sideswipe at the Iraqi leader, underlining the error of his ways.

Nevertheless, it bode ill for the 44th President, who’s hardly put a foot right dealing with crises on foreign fields since his election.

He and his diplomatic corps at the State Department – situated in aptly-named Foggy Bottom – utterly misread the runes of the Arab Spring, ignominiously backtracked over the ‘red lines’ warning to Syria’s butcher, Assad, tried and failed to arm-twist allies Israel into a one-sided peace deal with the deceitful Palestinians and contracted the ousting of Libya’s lunatic, Gaddafi, to France and the UK.

To add to his litany of follies, Obama has practically given Iran a free pass on its nuclear ambitions and allowed Vladimir Putin to run rings round him over Ukraine.

Rarely – if ever – has a US commander-in-chief commanded so little respect on the world stage, now a far more parlous place for his ineptitude and dithering.

The very real and present danger is that matters threaten to grow rapidly worse, because not only does ISIS make Al-Qaeda appear pussycats, their manifesto is to export terror worldwide, once they’ve established a Sharia caliphate across a swathe of Syria and Iraq.

The irony of all ironies is only one nation has sufficient military and diplomatic muscle to halt their charge and lift the West off the peg it’s impaled upon: Iran.

Through its religious ties, only it has the ears of Maliki and Assad, whose Alawite sect is a Shia offshoot.

However unedifying, the notion of Tehran’s terror-mongers and ‘The Great Satan’ of the USA finding common cause is increasing from possibility to probability, as back-channel chatter between the two is said to be buzzing.

The threat is not lost on Iran’s arch foe, Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud, warned last week, ‘There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or any other government.’

If a US-Iran alliance does come to pass, though, any slender hope of Obama leaving a legacy of a peace-maker president will be forever tarnished.

No wonder they’re busy passing the soap in the White House and Whitehall.

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Doing your bit now for Syria is too little, too late, Mr. President

As the weight of history leans ever more heavily on his shoulder – and no US President wants to leave office looking like a ‘wuss’ – Barack Obama is about to shed his conflict aversion.

‘Stop leading from behind,’ his friends chorus apropos Syria’s civil war, while ex-President Bill Clinton is even more critical, describing his Democratic Party successor as a ‘fool’ and that word, ‘wuss’ (a term I’m unfamiliar with, but can’t help thinking it’s not a compliment).

Obama’s problem is two-fold: firstly, his default setting is that of a liberal conciliator, who, for all his silver-tongued oratory, would rather shut up than put up; secondly, he slavishly follows opinion polls, which Slick Willy says isn’t the hallmark of a true leader.

Because, of all US Commanders in Chief, Clinton knows there are limits to navel-gazing, as he admitted – with teary regret – after shutting his eyes to the Rwanda genocide. That was why he finally ignored the people’s voice, took up military cudgels and sorted out the Bosnia-Kosovo mess, after Europe and the UN had lamentably failed.

The Syrian bloodbath, however, is riddled by complexities that threaten the worst of worse-case scenarios. Plus, coming as it does when the West is untangling itself from controversial engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq – after an Arab Spring that has transited into an Islamic Winter – no-one wants a Cold War-style stand-off.

But, while Obama’s policy of wait and berate may have seemed laudable after G ‘Dubya’ Bush’s gung-ho era, sitting on the sidelines, manicured fingers crossed that Syria’s goody rebels – not those nasty Al-Qaeda types – would topple the detestable Bashar Assad, is growing a remoter possibility by the day.

STAYING GLUM: Obama ponders over arming the Syrian rebels

STAYING GLUM: Obama ponders over arming the Syrian rebels

And now the President has fallen into a trap of his own making. When, last August, he threatened ‘red lines’ would be crossed if the Demon of Damascus ever resorted to chemical weapons, Obama should have realised it would only be a matter of time before that likelihood happened and the snare was triggered.

It has been, even if Bashar’s Russian buddies claim evidence is flimsy.

In reality, so far perhaps only a few hundred Syrians have been victims of gassing, probably by sarin. And while I don’t denigrate that appalling statistic, Obama’s stress on bio-warfare being a game-changer somehow diminishes the other 93,000 fatalities, whose deaths by conventional weapons were mostly far grislier than from anything concocted in a laboratory.

To be fair, the off-the-cuff , ‘red lines’ remark to journalists was made when the rebels – under the banner of the secularly moderate Syrian National Council (SNC) – looked short-odds favourites to win and fears were growing the maverick regime would break open its biological arsenal and stage a gory last stand.

Less than a year on, however, the tables are turning dramatically in Assad’s favour, after worse dangers than the sporadic use of nerve agents have exploded onto the bloodletting.

On one side, thousands of Shiite fanatics from Hezbollah have streamed over the Lebanese border to prop up the despot and they are being joined by an estimated 4,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, all tooled up with increasingly sophisticated Russian weaponry.

In the rebel corner, provisioned by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, countless, rabidly Sunni jihadis from every corner of the globe, including Britain, have flooded into Syria, itching to take a swipe at Assad and his foreign legion.

FIGHTING BACK: But anti-Assad rebels are looking to the West to arm them

FIGHTING BACK: But anti-Assad rebels are looking to the West to arm them

It is these combined alien elements, not gas, that have proved the real game-changer. And, far from being internecine strife, Syria has become the battleground for a proxy war between Islam’s opposing ideologies.

Now – after Obama’s failure at last week’s G8 confab to talk Vladimir Putin into halting Russia’s ‘arms-lift’ to Assad – thanks to his ‘red lines’ warning, the US President is faced with a humiliating volte face or putting his munitions where his mouth is.

The nightmare fear is that US weaponry will fall into the hands of Al-Qaeda affiliates and eventually be used against the West. Certainly, nobody with a modicum of marbles has forgotten Afghanistan, where the CIA equipped the mujahedeen against the Soviets and Osama bin Laden was regarded as a ‘good guy’, a fact chillingly underlined by Putin.

So the talk is of supplying limited battlefield technology, maybe light arms plus anti-tank missiles, and pray a diplomatic miracle – one of the magnitude of Obama walking on the nearby lake – will somehow happen if a Geneva peace conference slated for later this month takes place.

Should it do, the likelihood is everyone will turn up, with the possible exception of the adversaries. Having clawed back the initiative, Assad has nothing to gain by making an appearance. And the SNC, who certainly don’t speak for all the rebel factions, insist on the tyrant retreating into ignominious exile before they’ll come for a natter.

Far from a ushering in a breakthrough, the meeting’s chances of success can best be summarised by an expression incorporating the words ‘snowball’, ‘chance’ and ‘Hell’.

Meanwhile, with an eye to his legacy, Obama won’t want to be remembered as a Jimmy Carter Mark II, though there’s every danger he will.

Imitating probably the most inept, post-WW2 occupant of the White House – who blundered monumentally in the Iran Hostages Crisis with a botched rescue mission and was serially incompetent in handling the US economy – Obama missed a real window of opportunity to halt the Syrian carnage more than a year ago.

Urged on by his then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Pentagon top brass to outfit the rebels when their fortunes were soaring and they weren’t infested by Islamist headbangers, he dithered, dallied and did nothing.

Today, then, it’s nigh on impossible for the President to make a moral, humanitarian case for intervention, because that time has elapsed.

The best Obama can hope for is to claim, ‘Well, I did my bit.’

But whatever that bit is, it’s a bit too little and a lot too late.

Is it time Muslim communities did more to combat the fanatics in their midst?

Disbelief! Shock! Horror! Outrage! Revulsion! Imagine the worst, sickest emotion you’ve ever felt and quadruple it again and again.

Because that’s what the grotesque slaying on Wednesday of off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, yards from his barracks in the multi-cultural, south-east London suburb of Woolwich, demands of everyone with a shard of human decency, regardless of race, creed or colour.

In the immediate aftermath of this hideous crime and too early as it is to draw conclusions, it’s safe to state emphatically that this was a terror attack – of the kind that no country outside the lunatic tinderboxes of the Middle East and Asia has suffered – and the two men who committed it had a religious imperative.

That much is transparent from video footage, captured on the cellphones of witnesses, showing the blood-soaked perpetrators proudly wielding butchers cleavers, knives and what’s thought to be a firearm for all to see.

It’s also fair to conclude this was no random attack. The killers were deliberately seeking a target representative of Britain’s military; Woolwich Barracks is home to soldiers who have served honourably in Afghanistan and Iraq, defending Muslims; the victim, in his ‘Help For Heroes’ T-shirt, was undoubtedly a serviceman.

Further, indisputable evidence stacks up. Witnesses say the men – both British nationals – shouted ‘Allahu ahkbar… God is great!’ and spouted arrogantly of ‘an eye for an eye’, ‘You will never be safe’, and ‘We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.’

Then there’s the grisly nature of the murder itself: death by beheading – a ghastly, medieval form of killing and, uniquely, the official form of execution in several Muslim countries, where human rights are rare as hen’s teeth. There is also an especially horrific degradation about it; a total dehumanisation of the victim.

INNOCENT VICTIM: Soldier  Lee Rigby, savagely murdered by Islamic fanatics in a London Street

INNOCENT VICTIM: Soldier Lee Rigby, savagely murdered by Islamic fanatics in a London Street

What many find utterly bizarre is that, before a Met Police armed response unit arrived on the scene, the killers mingled with passers-by, attempting to justify their crazed views on the video apps of witnesses’ cellphones.

They must have known a shoot-out was coming. In fact, the pair charged at CO19 marksmen, as if welcoming what US law enforcers dub as ‘suicide by cop.’ Alas, for these merchants of terror, they were only wounded and denied their ultimate death wish.

So, were the video confessions intended as ‘martyrdom messages’, like those left by suicide bombers, released after blowing themselves to smithereens with as many innocents as possible as part of the lunatic death cult they’ve inflected on mankind? I rather think so.

As more facts emerge – one of the killers has been named as an ex-student from London’s East End, who had converted to Islam a decade ago – there are, inevitably, more questions than answers.

For instance, were the killers, guilty by their own, recorded admissions and statements of hatred, known to British counter-intelligence (apparently yes) and, if so, why were they still at large? And – importantly – who else knew of their appalling mission?

Until a full enquiry establishes all the evidence, it would be folly to rush to judgement on MI5, GCHQ and Special Branch, gatekeepers of the nation’s security, because, since the 7/7 London bombings, their modus operandi has changed dramatically.

They are, for sure, far more proactive and experienced now in identifying wannabe fanatics, as a slew of prosecutions has proved. But, sooner or later, a bunch of covert crazies – ‘clean skins’, as they’re known – would have penetrated the tightest surveillance dragnet. That ever-present danger is the price we pay for living in a free, democratic society.

BRAGGING KILLERS: The two, bloodied assassins captured on cellphones of witnesses, justifying their grotesque deed

BRAGGING KILLERS: The two, bloodied assassins captured on video by the cellphones of witnesses, justifying their grotesque deed

Remember when the Provisional IRA warned the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, ‘You have to be lucky all the time; we have to be lucky once.’ And the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing, during the 1984 Tory Party Conference, proved just whose luck was in.

Today, the threat of extremism has a completely different dimension. It is not about republicanism, but a clash of credos that engulfs the world and manifests itself in the West – specifically the USA, Britain, Spain and France – via the brutality of young men, many of whom were born and bred in our midst.

How and where their minds were polluted by radicalisation we can only guess. But the seeds must lie within our own Muslim communities and, specifically, with certain cynical, evil individuals, whose anti-Western venom and religious intolerance has corrupted sections of Islamic youth.

So, far from extolling the privileges they’ve enjoyed from life in the free world, they are indoctrinated with poison and urged to avenge what they’re drilled to perceive as insults to their superior faith by committing outrages against their fellow-countrymen and women.

And within the Internet, of course, lies a ready font of hate-preach to underpin such perverted prejudices.

Many reasonable people would contend our politicians have been too accommodating for too long to the demands of Islam. In the last 20 years lashings of cash has been doled out to often self-appointed organisations claiming to represent the Muslim community, but, in common with other faiths, it does not speak with a single voice.

On the contrary, deep fault-lines exist within it – tribal, ethnic and, indeed, religious schisms – that no amount of government bribery or coercion will fix.

But, like every other minority Britain (and Western Europe) has welcomed, it is the task of that community to embrace our long-cherished, democratic values and not for us to bow to theirs. We don’t expect or seek total assimilation and the sacrifice of identity; but we do deserve some degree of integration and respect for liberties that took centuries to win.

If that is too big an ask, why move to Britain (or Western Europe) in the first place? And if you count yourself unlucky to have been born in a land where the freedoms of speech and worship, plus the freedoms from want and from fear, are pillars of our secular faith, no-one forces you to stay.

Everyone, irrespective of faith or a lack of it, has a moral duty of care to the wider community they are parts of and Islam is no exception.

Whatever it does – and the vast majority of Muslims are as peace-loving as their religion decrees – it clearly is still not enough to identify the fanatics in the ranks of its faithful, who are capable of committing heinous atrocities.

We need and demand their help. All our security depends on it.

It’s only ‘Hasta la vista, baby’…Hillary deserves to return as Madam President

Rarely do American Secretaries of State leave their mark as indelibly as the man behind the Oval Office desk. Most retire into obscurity and, apart from rare exceptions – perhaps remembered more for ineptitude than diplomacy – few leave a legacy of achievement to match that of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Naturally, no-one can hold public office without detractors and the legion of Hillary-bashers will continue deriding her as, variously, The Wicked Witch of the West Wing, Shrillery, The Bride of Clintonstein and worse.

Unforgiving feminist ultras will also ceaselessly attack her for sticking like a *dingleberry to her philandering hubby, Slick Willy, during a presidency frequently mired by scandal and tales too tall, they’d shame Baron Munchausen.

Somehow, though, both Clintons redeemed themselves and even Bill has reclaimed a measure of affection most thought unimaginable, especially after his outrageous claim that although Monika Lewinsky had sex with him, it wasn’t reciprocal (‘Ah wuz enjoin’ a ci-gar at the time,’ was his laughable excuse).

Hillary, meantime, was said to have only been given the job as US foreign minister by Barack Obama to stop her having a hissy fit after the ugly mud-slinging of the Democratic Party’s joust between the pair for the presidential nomination.

Without any prior diplomatic experience – except as hostess to foreign dignitaries in her eight years as First Lady – she was tipped to be a lame duck and cannon-fodder for the State Department mandarins.

Except, no siree, she wasn’t. In fact, she was anything but. And, though guile, charm, acute perception and hard-nosed determination, she refashioned American foreign policy following the gung-ho era of G ‘Dubya’ Bush – despite Obama making it transparent from Day One of his term the US would no longer be the world’s cop.

If anything, she has consistently outshone and outperformed her aloof Commander In Chief, leaving him exposed as more professorial more presidential, a ditherer not a doer, or – to use grid-iron football parlance – a quarterback who can’t deliver a Hail Mary, killer pass.

So, while Obama pondered, Hillary ploughed on, enduring one of the roughest, toughest rides of any Secretary of State.

Because, in stark contrast to the certainties of a Cold War nuclear stalemate between the West and the communist East, the world has disintegrated into an unpredictable, shifting morass, where – as Mali has just shown – conflict could ignite anywhere almost without warning.

As the old, secular dictatorial order throughout the Middle East tumbled like dominoes in a gale, Hillary gamely sought to maintain US influence on new regimes, mainly as anti-democratic as those they deposed, even if they gained power via the ballot box.

Undeniably, she was slow in confronting the Arab Spring, which overthrew Mubarak in Egypt, hoping against hope – reflecting the aspirations of all freedom-seekers – a tenable, democratic government would ensue, after the bloody sacrifices of the students and middle-classes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Instead, it heralded the dawn of the repugnant Muslim Brotherhood and is plunging the nation into fresh turmoil.

But, through Hillary, America sub-contracted assistance to the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya to Britain and France, and wisely stayed out Syria’s civil war, where there’s every likelihood the opposition will replace Assad’s secular tyranny with Sharia-based despotism.

She also did her damnedest to bring sanity to prevail over the Israel-Palestine impasse. But Muslim Brotherhood cohorts, Hamas, only want to obliterate the Jewish state and fork-tongued Fatah, on the West Bank, can’t get their thick heads round the benefits of a peace dividend.

MADAM PRESIDENT? Hillary would be a shoe-in for the White House in 2016

MADAM PRESIDENT? Hillary would be a shoe-in for the White House in 2016

Meanwhile, Hillary urged Burma’s military to edge its way to democratic reforms, convinced China of the wisdom of distancing itself from the lunatic North Koreans and airbrushed nationalistic Russia off the diplomatic map, except where the pariahs of Syria are concerned.

And throughout all this, she had to deal with a United Nations General Assembly united on only one principle: its vehement hostility to the West (unless they were talking hand-outs).

Hillary also did her best in trying give the purblind Iranians a way to have nuclear power, minus a nuclear bomb, but there’s only so long anyone can be expected bang their head on a mosque wall.

Hence, there was never a more propitious time for her to quit office than now.

The US has all but exited Iraq and Afghanistan is on the back burner in relative diplomatic terms, after she forced Obama to agree to General David Petaeus’s ‘surge’ against the Taliban.

Whatever happens next to a Kabul regime so blighted by corruption, it make Spain’s money-grubbing sleazebags seem like choirboys, is up to her successor, newly-appointed, John Kerry.

Small wonder the former senator says, ‘I’ve got big high heels to fill.’

As an addendum, it’s well known within the Washington Beltway that taking out Osama bin Laden was at Hill’s behest. Again, Mr. President was a pretty passive bystander, not that it will inhibit him from claiming the credit.

So, after flying a million miles in US – and Western – interests, is it goodbye or just hasta la vista, baby for Madam C?

The political runes point to a ‘No’. On the contrary, with three years before the holographic reign of Obama fades away, if her health holds out, Hillary should be a shoe-in as the Democrats choice for the 2016 White House race, even aged 69 – a year younger than Ronald Reagan when he became President.

The world has witnessed Hillary Clinton as the consummate politico-cum-diplomatic high-achiever and the notion of a second Clinton in charge of America is making the Republicans wince.

After the debacle of Mitt Romney’s failure, their anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-tax, anti-immigrant philosophy is an auto wreck. It plays to no-one but the red necks, mainly in the old Confederate South and, as they’ll begrudgingly admit themselves, their antediluvian opinions don’t count for a mess of beans.

As Lloyd Green, former research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign, says, ‘Unlike her husband, Hillary is personally disciplined. Unlike Barack Obama, she has demonstrated an ability to connect with beer-track voters across the country.’

But will her gender be an impediment to her landing the ultimate office in the land? Not a bit, say pollsters, who reckon Romney’s lack of appeal to female voters was another reasons for his undoing.

So way to go, Hill, as the Yanks would say.

*Dingleberry: A small ball of excrement that sticks to the wool of a sheep’s backside (Dictionary of Slang)