Con­cerns and Cel­e­bra­tions

The en­tire sub­con­ti­nent awaits the im­pact of Pres­i­dent Obama’s sec­ond term in the shape of re­gional sta­bil­ity.

Southasia - - Cover story - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

Elec­tions in the United States are over. The Democrats have won. Among the hap­pi­est are gays and sin­gle women, as well as His­pan­ics, who voted for Obama en masse. Thumped at the hus­tings, the Repub­li­cans are lick­ing their elec­tion wounds and in­tro­spect­ing into the causes of the de­ba­cle. Some of Mitt Rom­ney’s erst­while sup­port­ers are treat­ing him now as a punch­ing bag. Mean­while, Rom­ney seems to have van­ished from the scene af­ter his con­ces­sion speech. Repub­li­cans are an­gry. A few have even been pho­tographed weep­ing be­cause they still be­lieve that Obama is a Mus­lim. Those who sank their mil­lions in the race are count­ing their losses.

In re­ac­tion to Obama’s oc­cu­pancy of the White House, 20 states have ap­plied for se­ced­ing from the Union. Though they would need 25,000 sig­na­tures be- fore the pe­ti­tions can be con­sid­ered, the move re­flects the depth of racism in the world’s “old­est democ­racy.”

What mat­ters most is that Pres­i­dent Obama is back in the sad­dle with adren­a­line gush­ing through his sys­tem. His re­turn has been greeted by the states of Maine, Mary­land and Wash­ing­ton with le­gal­iz­ing gay mar­riages and mar­i­juana use be­ing de­clared law­ful in Colorado and Wash­ing­ton.

At home, he faces a slew of chal­lenges of which the econ­omy with a 7.9% un­em­ploy­ment rate and health­care, are pri­or­ity. Obama’s plan to tax up­per in­comes is also go­ing to face tough op­po­si­tion from the House which is con­trolled by Repub­li­cans. Speaker John Boehner has been quite out­spo­ken on this par­tic­u­lar is­sue. A serious con­flict ex­ists with re­gard to Obama’s tax­a­tion plan and the Repub­li­can de­mand to re­duce ex­pen­di­ture. How the Pres­i­dent will reach a com­pro­mise on these is­sues and avoid what is be­ing touted as the “cliff,” re­mains to be seen.

Obama also has to reshuf­fle his team, re­plac­ing de­fence sec­re­tary Panetta and state sec­re­tary Clin­ton. He wants to sub­sti­tute Clin­ton with the Don­key Brand Rice (Su­san) in re­sponse to Ge­orge Bush’s Ele­phant Brand Rice (Condi). But his choice has met snags at the Hill.

Mean­while, CIA chief, Gen. Pe­traeus, one of Obama’s trusted gen­er­als, has re­signed amidst a scan­dal in­volv­ing ex­tra­mar­i­tal re­la­tions with his biog­ra­pher. A sim­i­lar scan­dal, in­volv­ing the head of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Allen, is brew­ing.

The only sec­tor where Obama may be able to ma­noeu­vre freely is for­eign re­la­tions. Here, the first pri­or­ity will be

the Mid­dle East. He will have to de­cide what more Amer­ica should do to bring the Syr­ian ruler, Bashar al As­sad down. Obama has al­ready spurned Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s of­fer of a safe exit.

Next is Is­rael. Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu seems to have over­come the ini­tial shock of Rom­ney’s de­feat. He is now go­ing af­ter Ha­mas in Gaza with Op­er­a­tion “Pil­lar of De­fence.” Is­rael has al­ready killed a prom­i­nent Ha­mas mili- tary com­man­der, Ah­mad al-Jabari and de­stroyed the of­fice of Ha­mas chief, Is­mail Haniyeh. De­spite Egyp­tian Prime Min­is­ter, Hisham Kandil’s visit to Gaza as part of Pres­i­dent Morsi’s ef­forts to defuse the vi­o­lence, it has fur­ther es­ca­lated. Is­rael con­tin­ues to carry out air raids and Ha­mas re­sponds with rock­ets, one of which has hit Jerusalem for the first time. Is­rael has also amassed tanks at the Gaza border and the cab­i­net has au­tho­rised the call-up of 75,000 re­serve troops. A ground of­fen­sive there­fore seems im­mi­nent.

Pres­i­dent Obama has spo­ken to Is­rael’s Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu be­sides the Ha­mas chief, the Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Tayyip Er­do­gan and Egypt’s Pres­i­dent Morsi in an at­tempt to bring a truce. As usual, he dealt un­evenly be­tween Ha­mas and Is­rael. As one an­a­lyst summed it up, “To Ha­mas and other Pales­tinian groups, the US pres­i­dent sent a strong con­dem­na­tion, say­ing there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for “the cow­ardly acts” of launch­ing rock­ets into Is­rael. To the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter, Benyamin Ne­tanyahu, he sent a mes­sage of sup­port, and sim­ply urged him to “avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.”

How­ever, Obama ig­nored the ris­ing tide of re­sent­ment against Is­raeli ag­gres­sion among his erst­while al­lies -- Tu­nisia, Egypt and Turkey, which have squarely con­demned Is­raeli at­tacks. If the fight­ing goes on, Obama may face di­plo­matic prob­lems.

Ne­tanyahu’s cur­rent en­gage­ment with Gaza has tem­po­rar­ily di­verted his at­ten­tion from plan­ning to attack Iran. But the lat­est IAEA re­port that claims that Iran has in­creased its nu­clear en­rich­ment ca­pac­ity should cause some con­cern to Pres­i­dent Obama.

Mean­while, on Novem­ber 1, the Pen­tagon al­leged that Ira­nian planes fired on a US sur­veil­lance drone fly­ing “six­teen miles” away from the Ira­nian shore and there­fore four miles be­yond Iran’s air space. It also claimed that the Ira­nian planes failed to hit the drone. Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard, on the other hand, de­fended its ac­tion say­ing that the drone was over its air space and that its planes fired a warn­ing mis­sile to drive it away.

Un­fazed by these is­sues, the US pres­i­dent em­barked on a whirlwind tour to South East Asia. His first stop was Thai­land, an old ally. In Myan­mar he met Pres­i­dent Thein Sein and urged him to fur­ther democ­racy and hu­man rights. To add sub­stance to his visit, the United States lifted the ban on im­ports from Myan­mar, of­fered $170 mil­lion as­sis­tance and de­cided to open a USAID of­fice. Fi­nally, he flew to Cam­bo­dia to at­tend the ASEAN-US Sum­mit.

But all these is­sues take a back seat be­fore the Afghanistan “ul­cer.” As the draw down date nears, prob­lems are sur­fac­ing. The rise in green-on-blue at­tacks where Afghan troops tar­get ISAF soldiers is al­ready a mat­ter of con­cern. For Pak­istan, Obama’s re-elec­tion raises the ques­tion of whether he will un­leash drones with greater fury or use re­straint.

The forth­com­ing changes in the po­lit­i­cal land­scape of the sub­con­ti­nent should also en­gage Pres­i­dent Obama’s at­ten­tion. Gen­eral elec­tions will be held in Pak­istan, Afghanistan and In­dia, dur­ing Obama’s term in of­fice. Re­gard­less of which­ever party wins, it is the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, es­pe­cially, in Pak­istan and Afghanistan that will re­quire a more ac­tive en­gage­ment by the United States.

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