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