If the UN is no longer fit for purpose, then the West must invent something better

UNLESS you’re a news junkie, probably you didn’t notice the United Nation’s General Assembly was in session last month, with world leaders piling into New York as if it were Blue Cross Day in Macy’s sales.

A sombre Barack Obama chaired the fatuous waffling show and so much extraneous CO2 was expended, it probably blew a chasm the size of Alaska in the ozone layer.

As was his privilege, the keynote speech was made by the US President – greyer, gaunter now and a far cry from the jaunty, upbeat figure of global optimism he cut when first addressing the gathering in 2009.

Way back then, he promised ‘a new era of engagement with the world’.  And – lo and behold! – we have it…just not quite the one he envisaged.

By ‘engagement’ Obama meant peace and conciliation, not the vicious, internecine, barbaric collision of religious credos, clashing cultures and political dogmas blighting almost the entire Middle East and swathes of Africa, not to mention Ukraine or the existential threat to the West from jihadis returning home from DIY decapitation courses, courtesy of Islamic State (IS).

Though not entirely all down to his inertia, no-drama Obama bears huge culpability for ignoring how the layer cake of conflicts was rising, not that such an egotistical poseur would have the humility to fess up.

After all, only a year ago he bragged to the General Assembly (GA), ‘The world is more stable than it was five years ago.’

That was either self-delusion or purblindness at its worst.

Because, as some of his once closest advisers have testified – none more so than former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – Obama’s been hands-off when he should have been full-on, a telegenic prop not a globo cop, a dithery camp follower rather than a trailblazer.

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he's awake to the evil of Islamic State

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he’s awake to the evil of Islamic State

Now, after six years of comparatively moribund inactivity, even the peacenik president has finally accepted that actions speaks louder than platitudes and he’s taken on IS in its own backyard.

‘There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil,’ he told the Assembly, showing real fire in his gut for once. ‘The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.’

Quite where what some describe as the Third Iraq War leads to is anyone’s guess, though at least a smattering of Arab nations have overcome their timidity to share the US-led coalition’s heavy lifting.

However, this isn’t about Obama’s flaws, IS carnage, sneaky Iran’s march to the nuclear weapon threshold or even the intractable Israel-Palestinian brouhaha.

It’s about the ineptitudes and blatant, anti-Western bias of the UN, bar some of its useful spin-offs, such as the World Health Organisation and UNESCO.

As the disorganisation celebrates its 69th birthday this month, how the founding fathers – notably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – must be whirling in their graves in disgust at how their vision of a body intended to bring peace to a devastated, post-war world has begotten a corpse of grubby self-interest and accusatory spite.

Of the 51 original members, only the Soviet Bloc, China and the former Yugoslavia – all WW2 allies – weren’t democracies, even if the probity of some others at that time (e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and South Africa) was contestable.

Nonetheless, all were signatories to the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which ‘reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights and dignity, and worth of the human person’, while committing all member states to promote ‘universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’

Fine words, noble aims; but fast-forward nearly seven decades and what have we…193 states, a disreputable number of whom couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for the club rules apropos human rights, gender equality or inter-faith tolerance.

So, only at the UN can indictable tyrannies, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Sudan – with their penchants for headbanging religious extremism, financing terror and judicial codes beyond the barbaric – share the civilised world’s lustre.

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

Meanwhile, whatever is the allure of IS’s Islamo-fascist paradise is beyond me. But I fully endorse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overview, as he told to the GA last week, ‘The Nazis believed in a master race; the militant Islamists believe in a master faith.’

Led by a succession of UN Secretaries General unfit to be short-order chefs, the liberal democracies now find themselves victims of a naïve misbelief their tools of egalitarian governance were beckoning to be adopted by states where people power was zilch or, if it dares show itself, got brutally crushed.

The so-called Arab Spring finally laid waste that fantasy.

Yet now, once again, the altruistic West is expected to intervene in a Middle East bloodbath, albeit at the behest of a slumbering American leader only just awoken to reality.

Strikingly, Obama didn’t bother asking UN permission, before sending his fighter jets to pulverise IS.

And maybe former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, explains why, noting, ‘No organisation embodies as many dreams, yet provides so many frustrations [as the UN]. For most of its history, the Security Council has been the prisoner of great-power manoeuvring; the General Assembly a theatre of empty rhetoric; the Economic and Social Council a largely dysfunctional irrelevance; and the Secretariat, for all the dedication and brilliance of a host of individuals, alarmingly inefficient.’

Now many sage voices believe there is a critical need for a serious appraisal of the UN’s purpose and cost – a thwacking US$30-bn per annum, the tab mainly picked up by American and European taxpayers.

Because, after nearly 70 years, it has degenerated into a shambling old buffer with exorbitant tastes, its ‘halo effect’ dimmed by age, scandal, nepotism and corruption.

Hence, an idea being touted is for the UN to be evicted from its palatial tower overlooking New York’s East River and pack it off somewhere more in kilter with its skewered ethos – Doha and Khartoum have been mentioned.

Then, maybe, a Western-leaning Organisation of Democratic Nations – even if it accommodates China and Russia on the basis they are political and economic powerhouses – can emerge, thus checkmating the preposterousness of a Third World tail wagging the First World dog.

Only then might it dawn on the post-medieval despots that the West has had a bellyful of their inanity and insanity, and they should dump their self-inflicted woes in their own lap, not ours.

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If Obama doesn’t want to be remembered as President Pushover he has to act NOW!

ANYONE got a strategy? Because they’re been hunting all over the White House for one. Either someone can’t remember where they filed it or nothing has yet magically emerged from Barack Obama’s gazing into his navel.

In actuality, the president fesses up to the latter predicament. When it comes to dealing with the barbarous jihadis of IS – the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS or ISIL – his legendary intellect is out to lunch or on the golf course, where he prefer to spend time nowadays.

Apart from pleading perplexity, Obama validates his inertia, saying, ‘You don’t play whack-a-mole wherever these terrorist organisations may pop up.’

That sentiment chimes with the recall of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Chronicling her time in office in her recent memoir, Hard Choices, she said Obama’s pro-isolationist foreign policy was, in his words: ‘Don’t do stupid sh*t’ (or, in polite conversation, substitute ‘stuff’ for excrement).

As the woman who could become America’s first female head of state noted witheringly, ‘Great nations need organising principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organising principle.’

And neither are IS your average bunch of Islamo-fascist headbangers. With hi-tech US weaponry seized from the Iraqi army, they’ve already carved out a tranche of Syria and Iraq the size of Britain and proclaimed it a Sharia ‘caliphate’, slaughtering thousands of Christians, Yazidis and anyone else who disagrees with their warped worldview.

From ransoms – France is said to have paid $58M, Switzerland $12.4 and Spain $11M – bank robberies, taxes and extortion IS has amassed a war chest of $2-billion they intend to use to reconquer all former Muslim lands, from the Balkans to Andalusia and including pseudo-secular Turkey.

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

With at least 500 Britons in their ranks and more Europeans queuing to join the carnival of carnage, intelligence sources have no doubt IS poses a clear and present danger to the West. It is, they say, only a matter of time before battle-hardened jihadis drift back home and wreak havoc.

Meanwhile, as the waiting continues for the tumblers in Obama’s brain to clunk into place, the free world must kick its heels, festering – or apoplectic, as his generals are reported to be – and hoping against hope no more Westerners are decapitated, as journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were so gruesomely slain.

However, midway into his final term in office, Obama remains as gung-no as his predecessor, G ‘Dubya’ Bush, was gung-ho. Yet, as history testifies, neither formulated coherent foreign policies to deal with the charnel house that’s the Middle East.

Obama insists he was elected to extricate America and its allies from conflicts and, in 2008 when he first won election, the war-weary West was grateful to hail a leader who vowed to close the book on military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mainly due to IS atrocities and the dread of what may follow, the public mood is shifting from indifference to belligerence, even if the world’s most powerful commander-in-chief – a tag that sits uncomfortably with Obama’s peacenik default setting – doesn’t see it.

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

True, he’s sent a squadron of fighter jets to hamper IS progress and is arming the Kurds, albeit with pretty unsophisticated Eastern European hardware, as they manfully defend their stronghold in northern Iraq against the barbarians at their gates.

Shamefully, that’s the current extent of Obama’s bellicosity, even if he does warn, ‘Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.’

Sticks and stones, Mr. President. And we’ve heard your vacuous sabre-rattling before, apropos the ‘red line’ threat to obliterate the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria’s Bashar Assad, but which the Demon of Damascus continues to use on the sly.

The plain, if unpalatable truth is that from Day 1 of his Oval Office tenure, Obama has never put a foot right in the Middle East, the planet’s most viciously volatile region and he’s daily exposed as President Pushover for his indecision and ineptitude.

And, much as I take no pleasure in repeating it, a year ago I wrote here, ‘After seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now a serial bloodbath, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

Under Obama, Iraq has fragmented into its component parts, the Shia government’s authority extending little further than Baghdad, while only the plucky Kurds withstand the scourge of IS.

After three years of grisly civil war, over 200,000 deaths and two million made refugees, Syria is a multi-dimensional bloodbath, though the loathsome Assad regime remains in situ, propped up by an unholy alliance of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Libya – where US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 2012 – is ungovernable, as tribal factions compete to grab the oil wealth.

And Obama trying to arm-twist Israel, the only sane nation in the region, to stomach the demands of Hamas’s terrorist thugs only resulted in exposing the White House’s emissary, John Kerry, as a diplomatic dunce.

Though by far not the last piece in the mangled Middle East jigsaw, much against Obama’s wishes the army stopped Egypt becoming another Sharia paradise by toppling the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it was victorious in a travesty posing as a democratic election.

Fast forwarding to last week’s NATO summit in Wales, topping the agenda of the 28 member states was Russia’s incursion – invasion more like it – of Ukraine and Afghanistan’s future, following the withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.

It was also patently clear the heat was on a equivocating American leader to find a strategy to crush IS.

Hence Obama’s sounding out UK Prime Minister David Cameron on transforming the RAF’s recce sorties over Iraq into strike missions, though that isn’t likely to happen unless British MPs agree it.

So, as the clock ticks down on his reign, the 44th US President faces being remembered as the man whose dithering made the world a far more dangerous place.

Only if he finds the will – and a strategy – to act decisively can he avoid that ignominy.

Obama needs to do that now. Dilly-dallying any longer will be too late.

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.

Why you never find a ‘peacenik’ when you need one (clue: the ‘anti-war’ lobby only picks fights to fit its political agenda)

There’s only one given in warfare and it’s that people get killed, maimed or wounded, mostly minus discrimination between innocent civilian or trained military.

Even the shortest conflict on recent record, the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which broke out at nine a.m. on August 27, 1896, and finished 40 minutes later, claimed 501 casualties.

However, now it seems the debate regarding victims, whether in or out of uniform, has progressed to something bordering on the darkly ridiculous. Because, it’s no longer a simple matter of who war’s grim harvest reaps, but what strikes the deadly blows.

For instance, last week four Western intelligence agencies – the CIA, MI6, France’s SDECE and the Israeli Mossad – confirmed that a ‘red line’ had been crossed in the vicious, internecine Syrian conflict by the use of chemicals, probably the nerve agent, sarin.

This, of course, wouldn’t be the first time such weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) had been used in the Middle East.

They certainly didn’t induce insomnia in Saddam Hussein, after he ordered the gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds in the Iraqi town of Halabja, in 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War. And my guess is they’d get a hero’s reception from Hamas and Hezbollah.

However, under the arcane rules of conflict etiquette, antagonists usually agree to abide by the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning such WMDs.

Even Hitler, who had no compunction in gassing six million defenceless Jews and countless others with cyanide-based Zyklon B, drew back from employing chemical agents on the battlefield. Maybe experience of being temporarily blinded by mustard gas in WW1 weighed heavily even on his psychopathic conscience.

The dilemma facing the West over poisoned gas attacks in Syria is where to pin blame. The odds are heavily stacked in favour of Bashar Al Assad being the culprit, but President Obama is demanding incontrovertible proof it wasn’t the motley bunch of rag-tag rebels – which includes elements of Al-Qaeda and rabid Salafist extremists – ranged against the Demon of Damascus, however unlikely that scenario is.

Quite what America will do when cast-iron evidence is presented is, as ex-US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have said, an ‘unknown known’ or even a ‘known unknown.’ Take you pick from Don’s gobbledygook.

But that’s not to belittle the fact that a ‘red line’ – as laid down by Barack Obama and, more emphatically, by Hillary Clinton in her tenure as US Secretary of State – has been crossed. And, if such boundaries are to mean anything, some kind of counter-measure has to be fashioned, especially since an estimated 70,000 Syrian civilians have already perished and a million-plus more have become refugees.

PROTEST ENDGAME? The marchers haven't much left on their anti-imperialist agenda to take to the streets

PROTEST ENDGAME? The marchers haven’t much left on their anti-imperialist agenda to take to the streets

As an aside, what strikes me as odd is this vile crime against humanity has barely raised a peep from the lippy, self-appointed ‘peace lobby’ – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Stop The War Coalition, War On Want et al – who believe they hold the patent on the moral high ground.

So where are the protest marches against Assad? Why no  banners hoisted high? What’s happened to the masses who throng Trafalgar Square? Have rabble-rousers, like George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn, been inexplicably struck mute?

No, the unvarnished truth is there’s nothing in it for them; unlike Iraq or Palestine/Gaza, say, Syria lacks a far-Left, anti-imperialist/Western narrative and if they can’t cherrypick their agenda, the ‘peaceniks’ retreat into the shadows.

Which is exactly where they’ve been skulking during the last decade, as the implacable headbangers of Iran lie, obfuscate and torpedo talks about their nuclear ambitions, while inching ever closer to an atomic bomb.

Perhaps, too, CND has become passé, because it’s achieved zilch since its inception in 1957, except drum-banging and giving purblind appeasers the odd day out. In fact, it might as well transpose its initials to CDN and accepted it Can Do Nothing.

But, hark! I hear the rumble of a grumble festering in the ranks of the pacifist diehards, though it’s not remotely connected to Assad’s murderous tactics in keeping his grisly mitts on Syria or Iran’s mad ayatollahs threatening Armageddon.

Instead, its unrighteous indignation is aimed at a ‘smart’ weapon in the West’s arsenal call the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – a.k.a. UAV, Reaper or drone – which has been employed for some time against Al Qaeda and Taliban cadres, mainly holed up in the hostile badlands along Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

DOWN WITH DRONES: The peaceniks hate them, but UAVs are the ultimate, battlefield weapon

DOWN WITH DRONES: The peaceniks hate them, but UAVs are the ultimate, battlefield weapon

What’s raised the dander of the do-gooders is the drones are now being controlled by trained pilots based 3,500 miles away from the battlefront, in RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.

And, according to the ‘peace lobby’ that’s grossly unjust, even in an asymmetrical war against an enemy that wears no uniforms, doesn’t mass in serried ranks, pursues a ruthless terror strategy and uses the local populace as human shields.

Rafeef Ziadah, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, claims: ‘Drones, controlled far away from conflict zones, ease politicians’ decisions to launch military strikes and order extrajudicial assassinations, without democratic oversight or accountability to the public.  Now is the time to ban them – before it is too late.’

Democratic oversight and accountability to the public?’ What utter drivel, because since when did we hold a plebiscite every time a NATO squaddie lines up a terrorist in his crosshairs?

And too late for what? Saving Allied and civilian lives? Terminating religious fanatics, who want to impose a 7th Century religious credo on the world, enslave women, decapitate homosexuals, persecute infidels and export terror attacks to distant New York, London and Madrid?

One can only presume Mr. Ziadah and those who share his hypocritical alternative universe will be happy to sit on the next Clapham omnibus that gets eviscerated by a jihadi suicide bomber.

Or perhaps he ought to listen to John Taylor, who lost his daughter, Carrie, in the 7/7 London attacks and speaks for a great many more decent, enlightened folk than the entire ‘anti-war’ lobby put together.

He said: ‘If Al Qaeda wants to fly aircraft into buildings and send people with backpacks on to trains, I am quite happy for us to use UAVs, drones and the lot. It is part of modern warfare. These people brought the war to us, so anything we can do to stop them killing us and our soldiers I am quite in favour of.’

This isn’t the sentiment of revenge, but common sense. Because if wars must be fought – and, incredible as it may seem to the ‘peace-at-all-costs’ fraternity, nobody but nutters want them – we’re entitled to use whatever legitimate weapons we possess to protect ourselves.

If we didn’t, and the views of Messrs Ziadah & Co had prevailed 75 years ago, by now all in the UK would be speaking a language other than English.

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)

Heaven help America – and the Middle East – with ‘cowboy’ Kerry riding point

On the diplomatic front there’s good news and bad to herald the New Year; so, in an effort to break it to you gently, I’ll relay the glad tidings first.

A Vietnam War hero is set to be anointed successor to Hillary Clinton as America’s Secretary of State (a.k.a foreign minister), as the former First Lady recovers from illness and ponders a crack at the White House in 2016, when the Obama era ends.

Tall and lean-faced, the man in question could almost be a throwback to the heyday of Western movies…a languid Jimmy Stewart reincarnate, clad in a $3,000 Marty Greenfield suit and a holster full of diplomatic weaponry.

He even hails from cowboy country (Aurora, Colorado) and has a handle that could fit well on a publicity flier for a rootin’, tootin’ John Ford epic.

What’s more, he’s a long-serving, career politico and, as chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, he knows there’s another Paris, apart from the one in Texas (besides, he mom was born in the French capital).

Related to the billionaire publishing Forbes clan, he’s also immensely rich and married to the equally-loaded widow of a member of the Heinz baked beans and flatulence dynasty; so there’s no danger he’d be swayed by the offer of a buck or two in bungs.

Sadly, for many, there endeth the good news.

Because – in the views of some who have an intimate working acquaintance of him – irrespective of his apparently glowing CV, John Kerry may not be the ideal nominee to ride point for an American President.

This, I hasten to add, is unrelated to Kerry losing the 2004 Presidential election to (of all people) George ‘Dubya’ Bush. Nor is it linked to the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts being aged 69 – the new 49, as folk of my generation will contend.

And you can discount the criticisms of even respected commentators, one of whom noted that ‘he’s a morally-preening, self-righteous mediocrity, unpopular even among his colleagues.’

KERRY BOLD? The US's nominee for Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

KERRY GOLD? President Obama’s nominee for US Secretary of State is hardly that, say critics

No, it’s rather an indictment of the Democrat senator’s trail of misjudgements, waffling U-turns and – how shall I put it politely? – a propensity to go out on a limb, then chop off the branch he’s perched on.

Kerry launched his career on the coat-tails of a laudable service record. As a much-decorated Navy officer he came home from Vietnam to campaign vigorously against the conflict, in 1971 declaring the entire US chain of military command to be ‘war criminals.’

Testifying before the a Senate committee, Kerry claimed he’d met GIs who ‘had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians and razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan’

The trouble was he could never prove his grisly claims.

Then, as a rookie senator in 1985, Kerry helped convince Congress to cease aid to the pro-US Contras battling Nicaragua’s Communist Sandinistas in return for a cease-fire that never was. What did occur, though, was the Sandinistas procured $200M in weaponry from Moscow and scotched the uprising.

A year later the increasingly-radical Kerry endorsed demonstrations against President Reagan’s rollback of Soviet and Cuban-supported forces in Central America and, despite it garnering wide Arab support, was a fierce critic of the first Gulf War to expel the invading Iraqis from Kuwait.

Yet, inexplicably, he flip-flopped over the 2003 Iraq War, proclaiming with patriotic gusto, ‘Without question we need to disarm Saddam. He is a brutal and murderous dictator.’

Only when things turned turtle did Kerry cavil that he was ‘misled’ by Dubya, who ‘rushed to war’. And, in 2007, he adamantly opposed the Iraq ‘surge’ strategy, castigating Bush for ‘stubbornness’ and ‘recklessness.’

Needless to say General David Petraeus’s tactic worked a minor miracle – at least until US forces formally exited Iraq and it descended into today’s murderous mayhem.

So, since Kerry will be ‘hot-desking’ between Washington and the calamitous Middle East in his new role, there are certain glaring question marks overhanging his expensively coiffured head about his grasp of the realities on the ground he’ll treading.

Worryingly, the senator shows a high regard for Bashar Al-Assad, as he clings onto Syria by his gory fingertips, amid a sea of 60,000 corpses.

After paying court several times to the Butcher of Damascus, Kerry advocated loosening sanctions against Syria, declaring ‘my friend’ Assad is a man of his word, insisting, ‘Syria will change as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States.’

Kerry is keen, too, to see the Israelis return the Golan Heights to Syria, having won the strategically vital buffer zone, after being attacked by Assad’s father, the equally odious Hafez, in the 1967 Six Day War.

Meanwhile, despite his past record for faux pas, Kerry believes he knows better than the Israelis what’s good for them as the Middle East’s only fully functioning democracy, not to say the West’s key ally.

And, now with the sage Clinton departing, her over-opinionated replacement is backed by a President who still demonstrates little comprehension of how to quell the region’s flames.

Few on the world stage will forget Obama’s monumental gaffe in 2008, when – in a now pilloried Cairo speech – he tried to woo the Muslim world, only to see his honeyed words translated as a sign of American naivety and weakness.

Unwittingly, it preluded the downfall of secular dictatorships or put them under notice to quit…Mubarak gone from Egypt’s helm; Gaddafi overthrown in Libya; Ben Ali deposed in Tunisia; Assad tottering in Syria; Jordan’s King Abdullah wondering how long he’ll reign; Lebanon throttled by the crazies of Hezbollah; and Iraq locked in Shiite-Sunni civil strife.

The gains, sadly, were short-term, because it spurred the extremists to pervert the ensuing Arab Spring into an Islamic Winter, delivering power to a new generation of despots, particularly the multi-tentacled, ultra-fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, for whom liberty and human rights are hardly long-term pursuits.

Moreover, the chain reaction further empowered the Palestinians to dodge meaningful, direct talks with Israel towards statehood and cloud their real intent on redrawing the local map minus a Jewish state (that reality must even be starting to dawn on the West’s purblind, useful idiots, who swallow – hook, line and stinker – every lie the Arabs spew).

And, finally, the mad mullahs of Iran were energised into running still more rings round nuclear negotiators and getting busy stirring up a hornets’ nest in the Gulf States.

So heaven only knows how America’s next Secretary of State will keep the lid on the world’s hottest cauldron of discontent, as his predecessor, Mrs. Clinton, did her best to do.

Which is why only the most starry-eyed optimists will be holding their breath in 2013, hoping Obama’s cowboy can pull the peace rabbit out of his ten-gallon hat.

The Obama Report: Must do better next term, Mr. Re-Elected President

Whatever the 2012 Presidential election demonstrated, it’s that the USA is nowhere near United as its name suggests.

Not for the first time the country is pretty well split asunder, more precisely 50/48. The centre largely remains steadfastly Republican red, while the densely-populated fringes Democrat blue.

In terms of the popular national vote it was, as Wellington noted after Waterloo, ‘a damn, close-run thing’ – something tellingly not reflected by the arcane Electoral College (EC), which allocates ballots per state populations.

However, as the brouhaha boiled down to a cluster of predicted swing states, maybe the contenders could have saved $6-billion and America a bout of national nausea over tedious telly ads, each candidate hell bent on trashing the other, and simply fought the contest on the see-saw battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

The chatterati are pretty well agreed rustbelt Ohio (18 EC votes) was the clincher and what copper-bottomed it for Obama was his bail-out of near-broke automobile industry, one of the state’s major employers. Oddly, businessman Romney’s idea of allowing car giants, like General Motors, to go into ‘Chapter 11′ administration would have had the same, net effect, but let’s not get into the dark arts of corporate crisis accountancy.

Omni-storm Sandy was also a contributory factor. It gave Obama the brief chance to appear presidentially above the fray and, crucially, he visited New Jersey, one of the worst hit regions, comforting the homeless and promising aid. Romney (big boo-boo, Mitt!) stayed away and Democrats milked every second of air-time apropos his absence.

To be fair to the Republican challenger, he did far better than most pundits originally imagined. His wealth, Mormon faith – a heretic cult in the eyes of many Bible Belt Christians – and propensity to occasionally put his foot where his mouth was were undoubted impediments.

But, in hindsight, he was the best of an ill-starred bunch from the Right – some almost certifiable (Google: Michele Bachmann for confirmation), which says little for a schism-ridden party more divided than the nation itself.

And the US is not simply split, but increasingly factionalised as the polling statistics icily demonstrate.

COCK-A-HOOP: Obama celebrates his re-election in a victory shower of tinsel

Whites, predominantly males, voted 60/39 for Romney; African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos balloted almost en block for Obama. Clearly Obama’s vow to legalise the status of 11 million ‘illegals’ – mainly Spanish speakers – resonated (and think of the tax revenue this will scoop, not to say the hole it will blow in the ‘black’ economy).

The key constituency that garnered most supported for the incumbent, however, was women. This will rattle the Christian fundamentalist Right – as exemplified by Sarah Palin’s head-banging Tea Partiers – who tried to ram their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage social agenda down the nation’s gullet.

Mainstream women understandably demand freedom to control their own bodies and even though Romney distanced himself from the extremists, he was viewed by many female voters as a risk too far.

So where does this leave Obama? Last time out, in 2008 he caned John McCain, a nice man in need of a personality transplant, winning the national vote by a margin of nine-and-a-half million and the Electoral College by a cricket score of 365 to 173.

This time, though, there’s a bitter-sweet tinge to victory. Despite how my irate detractors will fulminate, Obama is tarnished goods, an ideologue, who’s patently failed to deliver on his war-cry of ‘Change’ for the better.

Admittedly, not everything was his fault. He inherited the greedy banks’ ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis, G-Dubya’s inept attempt to impose democracy on Iraq – now a vassal state of the Iranian maniacs – the stalemate war in Afghanistan and a stuttering economy.

But, the glaring question is where did he nearly screw up, having been swept to power on a tsunami of popularity four years ago?

Baldly, the facts are: free-spending, uber-liberal Obama failed to halt the rise in a US deficit that impacts on the world – not that the financial imbroglio in the Eurozone is any help – failed to lift the US out of recession and failed to recognise his worthy, but ambitiously expensive ‘Obamacare’ NHS-style initiative was the right policy for the wrong time.

Mostly, he’s failed as a political operator at mending fences with a Republican-dominated House of Representative, in contrast to Bill Clinton. And if Obama – by all accounts a stubborn, aloof and irascible figure, inclined to throw his toys out of the pram if he doesn’t get his own way – continues his battle of attrition with Congress, ‘Change’ will be a hollow slogan.

Because, as Clinton seminally reminded George H. Bush back in ’92, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and the squeezed middle classes of Blue Collar America want actions, not platitudes. To deliver, Obama needs friends in high places – Republicans at that – and learn the art of compromise with grace.

CRESTFALLEN: Republican challenger Mitt Romney bows his head and admits defeat

Though foreign policy was way down the election agenda, it’s clear the President must also radically revise his brief. He was blindsided by the Arab Spring-cum-Islamic Winter and the US can’t rely on the freemasonry of tyrants that once ruled the region, filling their personal coffers with American aid.

He’s been fortunate, though, to have had Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, because she’s a far savvier oracle of the international horizon than her boss, whose only marquee achievement was hastening Osama bin Laden wish to enter Paradise, succoured by a harem of nubile virgins (and, by all accounts, cutting the snake’s head off Al Qaeda was Hill’s idea).

Mrs. Clinton, however, is reported to be quitting office – possibly for a stab at the White House herself in 2016 – so replacing so sage a voice on foreign affairs is going to be tough challenge for the President.

Meanwhile, China – as the BBC’s John Simpson pointed out on election night – thinks Obama’s a wimp (an opinion echoed by Vladimir Putin); the Muslim Brotherhood sees him as a push-over; and the Taliban are just waiting to give the corrupt, quasi-democratic Afghanistan government a murderous kick up their shalwar kameez’d backsides when US troops exit in 2014.

At least, so far, Obama’s demurred from getting his hands dirty in the Syria civil war, where what constitutes the ‘rebels’ are a total conundrum to Washington.

America – and the West’s – one ally in the Middle East, Israel, not unreasonably doesn’t trust Obama an inch, despite their congratulatory rhetoric. This is especially so since his insistence the Jewish state retreats to pre-1967 borders – the so-called ‘Auschwitz Lines’, as Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the President in one acerbic tete-a-tete.

While the Palestinians are locked in an internal squabble between Fatah on the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, Obama has breathing space on that front, although meddling by the ‘bearded ones’ in Egypt’s new, Islamic regime may cause irritation.

What the President must do, however – and not merely at Israel’s behest – is take a tougher stance against Iran, who have lied, obfuscated and patently run down the clock over their nuclear ambitions.

Hillary Clinton could read the runes. Taking tiny Israel out of the equation, she knew if the crazy ayatollahs had a finger on the nuclear button, it would trigger an arms race for weapons of mass destruction and Saudi Arabia will be first in line for US know-how in building its own bomb.

However, probably the biggest imponderable facing Obama is how to deal with the emergent super status of China, especially with a new leadership in Beijing ready to be rubber-stamped.

Tellingly, in his final debate with Romney, he referred to the inscrutable Chinese as ‘both adversary, but also a potential partner.’

Obama might like to chew on a phrase attributed to Winston Churchill (though, Napoleon said something similar): ‘Beware the sleeping dragon. For when she awakes the earth will shake.’

Well, Mr. President, you’ve been granted four more years to sort out that dilemma and stop China throttling world trade. If you don’t, indeed the world will quake.